2018 marks a half century of varied existence for progressive rock band, Yes. Formed in London in 1968, vocalist Jon Anderson, bassist Chris Squire, guitarist Peter Banks, keyboardist Tony Kaye and drummer Bill Bruford joined groups like Genesis and King Crimson as prog progenitors. The band found their early successes with a trio of albums in 1971 and 1972, The Yes Album, Fragile and Close to the Edge, respectively. Those years also noted the band’s first of many replacements. Tony Kaye was replaced on keys by Rick Wakeman, while Bill Bruford gave up the drum throne to Alan White. Both successors remain in both current versions of the band. More on that to follow.
While the 70s belonged to the band as each release and tour was highly anticipated, Yes’ subsequent yield leading up to the early eighties was mediocre at best. Wakeman became disinterested in some of the new musical directions the band was taking and stepped back. While Anderson left over financial disagreements. Howe, Squire and White remained in an instrumentalist version of the band. They reformed with Jeff Downes and Trevor Horn of The Buggles and recorded Drama in 1980. The album was successful enough that the band sold out 16 consecutive shows at Madison Square Garden. Following the tour, Horn, Downes and for the first time, Steve Howe left Yes. Keeping it within the prog family, Howe and Downes formed Asia with former King Crimson bassist, John Wetton and the ‘P’ in ELP, drummer, Carl Palmer. However, by 1983, a Yes core of Anderson, White and Squire had reformed again, with session musician, Trevor Rabin filling in on guitar and keyboards. This incarnation produced a string of hits for the band from the albums 90125 and Big Generator. By 1988, Anderson left the band concentrate on solo work. He eventually brought in his old bandmates (and bassist, Tony Levin) and yet another version of Yes came to be. Although this time they chose to use their last names. Anderson Buford Wakeman Howe toured and recorded as such until 1993. In Los Angeles, the other members of Yes, Chris Squire, Trevor Rabin, Tony Kaye and Alan White were working on their own project as they searched for their vocalist. Supertramp’s Roger Hodgson had a go, as did Kansas singer Steve Walsh. Neither fit and eventually Jon Anderson crossed the aisle to lend his voice. Out of this confusing time, Yes reformed with all members of both factions to record Union. The album contained a couple singles that charted but was mostly loathed by the band. Rick Wakeman reported threw his only copy of the album out of a limousine window and since calls the album ‘Onion’, because it made him cry. Following the tour, Bruford, Wakeman and Howe left the band. Again. Led mostly by Trevor Rabin, the band released four more albums in the 90s but failed to make a mark, despite having a reformed classic lineup for two albums. More ins and outs of former members ensued prior to a hiatus in 2004. During this time numerous solo albums and collaborations happened until Howe, Squire and White got the band back together again. Jon Anderson, who was recovering from acute respiratory failure was not included, much to his chagrin. This rift would continue till present while the trio hired a small handful of vocalists to cover, before settling permanently on Jon Davison. Sadly, this lineup lost a founding member when leukaemia took Chris Squire in 2015. As was his wish, the band continued with Billy Sherwood taking on bass and backing vocals. To add a continuing source of confusion, in 2010, Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman formed their side of the band catchily called ‘Yes Featuring ARW’. In 2016, Yes was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. All the members but Kaye attended with the highlight being Rick Wakeman’s hilarious and bawdy speech.
In terms of honouring the band’s 50th anniversary in 2018, the possibility of a full band of remaining members was quickly quashed from both factions. Any celebratory touring will be done as is. Bringing Yes to present day, both versions of Yes have embarked on separate tours in 2017. Tragically, Steve Howe’s son, Virgil unexpectedly died, cancelling their tour.
ARW came to Massey Hall on September 16th.
The ARW show opened with first the sidemen walking onto stage to a symphonic version of Perpetual Change. Next came Rabin, then Wakeman, resplendently garbing his enormity in a, brightly-coloured, tarp-sized sequined cape which covered his less formal black sweats and t-shirt). As they moved into 90125’s instrumental, Cinema, Jon Anderson appeared onstage to conduct and prance before the band launched in a full band, rolling version of Perpetual Change off their 1971 album, The Yes Album. The band then launched into Hold On, one of several hits off 1983’s 90125. Next up was a number that took me back to the smoky basements of my wayward youth as Trevor Rabin dug into the riff of South Side of the Sky. Then Yes played And You And I, their 4-part protest ballad from 1972’s Close to the Edge. Next another hit off 90125 with Changes, this time with Rabin taking lead vocals. Next up was a pair of totally forgettable 80s songs , Rhythm of Love and I Am Waiting. But the crowd picked right back up with the crashing opening of Heart of the Sunrise. This classic started off with booming drums from Lou Molino and bassist Lee Pomeroy exploring around the riff. It also demonstrated that these men in the 60s and 70s are as good as they ever were. Heart of the Sunrise was beautifully sung by Anderson. As the set wound down, the band moved into Awaken (and unfortunately not the title track of Going For The One) before playing their biggest hit of the 80s, Owner of a Lonely Heart. The encore could only be one song, Roundabout from Fragile. As cynical as I may be at times, there was zero irony in all of Massey Hall on their feet and adding the hand claps to this song. As it ended and the band left the stage, the audience was still on their feet after the last glimpse of Wakeman’s robe faded from view.