Can a band that’s been around more than 40 years really hit the heights of yesteryear?
In the case of Yes, the answer is…well, you know.
Last night in Rama, Ontario, the band (one of my favourites) kicked off their summer tour, which also serves as a North American introduction to their new lead singer, Jon Davison, who has some pretty big shoes to fill. Did he do it? Find out after the jump?
Realistically, no fan likes the idea of a lead singer being replaced. In the grand scheme of rock and roll, it has only been successfully done a handful of times (AC/DC, Van Halen, Genesis). The thing about Yes is, the band is not looking to hit the top of the charts or score a number one single. Instead, they are looking to perform live and bring their music, both old and new, to a still hardcore group of fans. Unfortunately for some, founding member Jon Anderson isn’t along for the ride for various reasons not worth getting into, mainly because new singer Jon Davison is breathing a unbelieveable amount of life into the band.
On stage at Casino Rama, Davison wasn’t the new guy on stage. He wasn’t a fish out of water. He was the singer in Yes. And he was spectacular. With a natural tenor, he hit the highest of notes with an ease previous Anderson stand-in Benoit David simply couldn’t muster (no slight to Canadian David, who contributed vocals to the bands 2011 studio album Fly From Here, their best in 30+ years). Davison, with his long hair and hippyish attire, looked the part, but more than looking like he fit, he sounded like he’d been in Yes for years, handling classic material like Yours Is No Disgrace and Heart of The Sunrise as though he’d written those melodies and words himself.
While the other members of the band (Steve Howe, Chris Squire and Alan White) were their reliable, musically brilliant selves, for me, the night belonged to Davison and keyboardist Geoff Downes. No doubt, I have a personal bias here, as Downes is one of my favourite keyboardists (along with a recent Biff Bam Pop interview subject), but seeing him for the first time in Yes was simply a personal highlight. Like Davison, he played those classic Yes songs as though he’d created them, which is to say, flawlessly.
For me, the highlight of the night came when the band played their 1977 epic Awaken. To give you some context, this is not one of my favourite Yes pieces. I’ve never really been able to connect with it. Further to that, the middle section, a melding of harp and organ, has always felt like a very quintessential Rick Wakeman/Jon Anderson moment – two guys who aren’t in Yes anymore. I wasn’t looking forward to hearing Awaken when I found out it was part of the set. However, by the time the long piece was complete, I had a tear in my eye. It was simply astounding what Jon Davison and Geoff Downes were able to accomplish – they made that middle moment, not to mention the rest of the song, their own.
Yes has a very vocal fan base online, one that often seems as though they’d rather tear down or complain about group line-ups and set lists rather than simply embrace the band at what they choose to do and who they do it with. To them, I say, chill out. In 2012, the line-up of Yes that I saw perform last night (my lucky 13th show) isn’t Classic Yes. To me, it’s Ultimate Yes. Four virtuoso musicians, including a superstar keyboardist with a personality to match his bandmates, and a unbelievbly talented singer who, in being himself, managed to be the perfect Yes singer for the perfect Yes line-up for the 2010’s.