Warfield Theater, San Francisco
March 5, 2013
By Dan Wall
The Yes Album
Close to the Edge
Going For the One
Ever since Jon Anderson left Yes, the band has struggled along mightily with replacements. The last guy hired reminded you of a Broadway actor who was brought in to play the role of Anderson, and despite of what you might think of him, Anderson left an indelible mark as the vocalist of this legendary progressive act. Thus, a good replacement makes for a better Yes experience.
So fast forward to 2013, Yes is back on the road, and new singer Jon Davison is actually quite good. He looks like Anderson, circa 1972, and sings in the same lithing falsetto that Yes fans love but detractors would compare to the tragic (yet beautiful) voices of our time (Lemmy from Motorhead, all three chipmunks, Tiny Tim, the guy from the Darkness, etc…).
Thus, the band’s performance in San Francisco was the best of I’ve seen the quintet play since a show at the same hall back in 1997. Davison sang the songs just as Anderson would have (minus the rather strange and ethereal stage movements of Anderson), and the rest of the band played all of the songs from the three classic albums listed above with the same precision that fans have been accustomed to over the band’s 43-year career. But on this night, one Yes member stood above all others.
Guitarist Steve Howe, who on the past couple of tours looked about 20 years older than his actually age of 64 (and performed like it), played like a teenager again. His rippling runs and shading has always been a staple of the group’s best work, especially during the 70’s (every song played tonight came from that decade). But on this night Howe was engaged with the crowd (gasp!), moved around the stage rather joyfully (gasp!) and played the guitar like the legend he is (not so shocking).
The band’s only original member still active, Chris Squire, is easily one of the best bassists in rock history, and he can still play with a power and precision that leaves his contemporaries shaking their heads at his prowess. Drummer Alan White is rock solid as the foundation for the band’s rhythm section. Keyboardist Geoff Downes is familiar to Yes fans as Howe’s foil in Asia, and he can play just about anything that is thrown his way (and if you know Yes, the band throws quite a bit at the keyboardist).
Another reason this show worked (for me, anyway) is that the band played my three favorite albums, The Yes Album, Close to the Edge and Going For the One, one right after the other, all the way thru. Highlights included a spectacular “Yours is No Disgrace,” which opened the first set, the always amazing "“And You and I," and the set-closing “Awaken,” one of the most beautiful pieces of music every penned. The band would have been lynched if it hadn’t included “Roundabout” as the encore, and it did, despite the fact that it is on the band’s other classic record, Fragile.”
Yes will probably be around for a few more years, and while the group is performing at this level, you should go see these legends, even if Anderson is not included.