Friday, 11th November, 2011
Birmingham Symphony Hall, Birmingham, the UK
Of all the times (possibly six and counting) that I have seen Yes, this was the one time when “Going for the One” was going to be a big ask.
Well, just look at the date - 11.11.11! The portents pointed it being a “one” –preferably a memorable one as opposed to a hideous one.
Of course, this was not helped by the recent release of Fly From Here, an album I have not heard in its entirety since I reviewed it for DPRP
– and with good reason.
But on the plus side, Birmingham Symphony Hall is one of the classiest venues in the UK with its gorgeous lacquered wood panelling
and clear as a bell acoustics.
The hall hierarchy even saw fit to lay on a warm-up act with a very competent jazz trio who were entertaining the crowds in the foyer pre-gig.
The view from the circle was an excellent one over an interestingly assembled array of instruments, an area of carpeting and,
in the case of Geoff Downes, a split level assortment of keyboards for which his more illustrious predecessor was often mocked and derided.
The rousing overture, Britten’s A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, was probably chosen to start the show
because the iconic Firebird Suite is too closely associated with the previous incumbent of the vocal berth.
The nu-Yes then appeared – three white haired men, a professorial type and a younger blade dressed in casual battle fatigues.
No hanging around as the dang de dang dang opening chords of Yours Is No Disgrace cranked into life and the Yes worlds past
and present suddenly fused together in sight and sound.
Though probably not quite so energetically executed as in the glory, glory days,
the song still retains a certain piquancy, especially in lines such as “Silly human race” which apply even now,
40 years after they were first brought to life on The Yes Album.
It also gave Benoit David a chance to start banging his ever-present tambourine.
That was a great start so now where in time in the Yes canon would we visit next?
One clue was seeing Steve Howe, now comfortably parked on his carpet, strap a Strat across his person –
not an axe usually associated with his back catalogue either solo or band-side.
The crashing opening chords showed we were heading back 31 years to Tempus Fugit
from Drama days. Though played at three-quarters of the original speed,
Benoit proved he could out-Horn Trevor in the sound-alike stakes.
Then it was back to Yesteryears with the perennial crowd pleaser, I’ve Seen All Good People and the first chance to clap-alonga-Yes.
A very good rendition it was too with Prof Steve Howe audibly singing “Give peace a chance” in the chorus line fills.
But there will be more about his individual performance later.
This was followed by the first of the nu-Yes tracks from Fly From Here and, to all intents and purposes,
Life On a Film Set did sound better live then it does on the album.
But it is not one to stick in the mind and sing along to unless countless refrains of “Riding a tiger” float your boat.
Not for the first time this evening did the two versions of Yes – nu and classic – run in Parallels.
The most sublime version of And You And I was swift to follow with Benoit dedicating it to our loved ones.
It was a particularly outstanding run-out for Steve Howe, excelling at slide, electric and acoustically programmed guitars during its loveliest moments.
That fitted neatly into the one solo spot of the evening with Maestro Howe taking centre stage to again demonstrate the old and the nu.
He began with the so-so Solitaire from Fly From Here, which morphed into a glorious, rousing and slightly modified The Clap,
still a consummate rabble-rouser and toe tapper.
Now we were all primed and ready for perhaps the keynote track of the evening, the eponymous Fly From Here in all its polarising glory.
Well, it certainly worked much better live than on the album, the matchless Chris Squire a focal point alternating between two bass guitars.
One of them was a fixed point upright black beastie which delivered some of the most basso profundo notes
this reviewer has ever heard while Benoit bashed away happily on the bongos.
Don’t get me wrong: some of the passages are absolutely gorgeous,
especially the “Sailor Beware” sequence with a flashing lighthouse visual to go with it.
The “Beware” was also a warning as to what was coming next and I still maintain Bumpy Ride is the only Yes piece which improves
when you hear it with your hands clamped over ears. I still do not get it and it seemed to go on longer live.
Accompanying it was the custom-made film for We Can Fly which to me still looks like an 80s A-Ha video.
To follow was Wondrous (One-drous?) Stories from Going For The One, which was beautifully executed especially with
“nu” boy Geoff Downes recreating those gorgeous “waterfall” keyboard runs with a certain reverence.
Back to the present with the “nearly” track from Fly From Here, Into The Storm.
It was so close to being a breakthrough song with the tight hallmark harmonies suddenly giving way to rather
directionless instrumental noodling which goes on for some time without actually arriving anywhere.
But putting it back to back with Heart of the Sunrise was not a good piece of strategic planning.
With Squire again taking the lead, prowling around the centre of the stage like a senior herd hunter-gatherer –
while Benoit appeared to be trying to fight his way out of a cobweb in time to the music behind him – this only accentuated the magnificence of this track.
Once Benoit had conquered the invisible cobweb, he put on a masterful vocal performance while maybe not quite hitting one or two of the money notes.
However, it all sent a shiver down the spine yet again.
Into the home straight and, for the record, Alan White was a powerhouse throughout on drums.
He could probably knock out most of those legendary rhythms in his sleep now.
Starship Trooper was the landing track to bring the show back down to earth.
It was also a chance for the band to exorcise the demons of those YouTube postings of them performing this on the US tour earlier this year
where it all looked ramshackle and under-rehearsed, and a tad embarrassing.
The Wurm passage brought together the players centre stage, Benoit on acoustic, Steve on his legendary Gibson semi-acoustic,
Chris on, well, need you ask and Geoff on the key-tar.
It was here that they could at last sense the smell of triumph in their nostrils as audience responded in kind to a surprisingly invigorating performance.
The choice of an encore was something of a no-brainer and thank goodness they managed to inject the iconic Roundabout
with some fresh harmonies and a slightly different vibe.
As a Yes purist who could watch the classic line-up on a continuous DVD link infinitum, it was a fascinating evening.
Putting aside that my two favourite players now operate successfully in another musical space, emotions had to be reined in to deal with this incarnation.
Instead, it was a journey through a major part of the soundtrack of my life (up until June this year).
I will never quite warm to the nu-Yes as to the one of yore, but on the strength of the evening, they delivered.
It was not perfect, especially in the sound mix for Benoit which muddied his stunning pitch at times and there were a few duff notes.
But I did come away feeling richly entertained, making it on reflection an enjoyable one rather than a memorable one.
7 out of 10.
Yes Official Website
DPRP's Review of "Fly From Here"
Birmingham Symphony Hall