“Biff Bam Pop, right. You were in the front row tonight. Are you going to review the show?”
So asked Geoff Downes, keyboardist for legendary progressive rock band Yes when I reintroduced myself at the band’s meet and greet following their sold out performance at Massey Hall Thursday, April 11th. Last summer, Geoff and I had met at the band’s summer tour opener after he and I had conducted an email interview about the band. I told him I would indeed be writing about this stop on Yes’ three album tour, where the group was performing their classic albums The Yes Album, Close To The Edge and Going For The One in their entirety. This was the first time the band was attempting something like this since the early 70’s, when they toured their double album Tales From Topographic Oceans. It’s an ambitious undertaking, but one that is paying off nicely for the group. Shows have been selling out and reviews have been positive.
This shouldn’t be surprising. Yes is performing at a level that has got to be as high as it was all those years ago. Though the internet minority may continue to gripe that founding member Jon Anderson is not in the band, new singer Jon Davison is firmly entrenched in the group, and, to my ears, continues to be the ideal frontman for Yes. His range appears to be limitless and he sings songs like Close To The Edge, Awaken and Perpetual Change as if he was the artist who wrote the lyrics. Listening to the various fans at Massey Hall during the intermission, I heard multiple people talk about just how spectacular a job Davison was doing. So, as always, to the naysayers out there, you don’t know what you’re missing.
As for the rest of the band, spot-on is the absolute right word. Drummer Alan White, bassist Chris Squire, guitarist Steve Howe and the aforementioned Geoff Downes are master musicians who made the job of playing three defining albums seem effortless. Kudos especially to Downes, who was playing material that he didn’t originate but that he managed to make his own. The man is equally adept at the heady runs of Rick Wakeman and the more reserved phrasings of original Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye, which is why he remains my favourite of all the players who have held down that role during the band’s lifetime.
If there was one song more than any other that really blew me away on this evening, it would be Turn Of The Century, the second track off the Going For The One album. Never a favourite, on this night, the twists and turns of this mid-tempo prog rock track was beautifully delivered, highlighting a beauty in the song that I’d never really noticed before.
Also worth noting was the Toronto crowd. Keeping in mind that Yes hadn’t played the city proper since November 2008, they were treated as returning heroes, with standing ovations after virtually every single song (I know because I was standing with everyone else). The usually stoic Massey Hall crowd was completely engaged with Yes, which no doubt was a treat for all the musicians.
Once again, Yes delivered in a live setting like no other prog rock band. With the band in tip-top form, I can’t wait to see what comes next. There’s talk of a new studio album, which I’m all for. Regardless, the fact that they’re out there performing with the magic, brilliance and grace they’ve always been capable of leaves me hopeful for their future.