July 28, 2012
St. Augustine Amphitheatre
St. Augustine, Florida
Yes fans are a special breed.
They are the aging hippies smoking Borkum Riff in wonderfully smoked and deep-wooded pipes who turned on early to the radical cross-pollination of classical music idioms with the rock revolution of the late 60s.
They are the corduroyed college professors (maybe even the same aging hippies) waiting for tenure but not really caring as long as they can continue to teach The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and How It Might Have Gotten There.
They are the geeky teenage guitar nerds who studied the riff to “La Villa Strangiato (An Exercise in Self-Indulgence)” rather than studying the girls field hockey team during warm-ups.
They are the ones who played “21st Century Schizoid Man” on the flute at the high school talent show without irony because well, this was pre-irony.
They are the ones who embraced synthetic and/or electronic interpretations of Toccata and Fugue in D minor before it was in all those humans-turning-into-robots dystopian films of the early 70s.
And they are the ones still making homemade tie-dyeds in bathtubs and they still enjoy counting time signatures in songs because it’s a form of brain exercise and also because collecting minutiae-like song data is a trait of said classification.
They are the Yes Heads and they are our brothers and sisters and we welcome them with open arms and open minds. Fans of the grand majesty that is Yes in all its avant-post-everything-that-is-deemed-cool glory unite—you are amongst friends and other astral travelers and you will not be judged.
At least not tonight.
And so we, the dedicated Yes Heads, have collected and are ready for a night of that old nuclear mysticism. We are here now for the space-age landscapes and the impossibly infinite spectral canvases of sound. We are ready to be taken to the spaces around the sun and beyond to the moonscapes across the solar system.
Editor’s Note: If you can sing the above paragraph in a Jon Anderson-like voice, it would make it that much more evocative and possibly even more enjoyable.
We are all here for the original Starship Troopers.
Yes takes the stage to a standing ovation and the band jams out a tense and edgy version of “Yours Is No Disgrace.” Instantly recognizable and absolutely classic. It’s hard-rocking prog as the middle dustup turns abstract as only Yes could conjure or pull off. Steve Howe is a revelation—his youthful energy belies his 65 years and he’s in complete control of his signature Gibson ES-175.
He does look pretty old though.
“I’ve Seen All Good People” cuts a clear and straight path right back to 1971 and the house has found its way back to that very moment in time and is soaring and maybe even having sort of flashbacks. But then again if you are somehow metaphorically transported back to 1971, wouldn’t that already constitute the flashback? Would it then be like a flashpresent at that moment? Could you even have a flashfuture in 1971 ahead to this very moment in time and what would that say about time-based metaphysics? Anyone? The instrumental break in “I’ve Seen All Good People” really cooks and Howe explodes into his first great solo of the evening.
“America” is a divine discourse and a total surprise. This deep cut cover of the Simon & Garfunkel classic features what is possibly Howe’s most fully realized, wildly expressive and perfectly constructed solo ever. And I mean ever. The song is a 14-minute Beowulf-sized epic and Howe spares no expense for this rare live airing and delivers a staggering solo that pushes the five-minute mark.
Look out folks because Steve Howe is here to play.
If Jimmy Page is the William Blake of the electric guitar (which the Rock File has previously determined he is), Howe is most certainly Sir Isaac Newton. (In fact, the Rock File is petitioning Buckingham Palace for him to be knighted, which he most undoubtedly deserves more than say Elton John.) He’s scientific and philosophical in his approach yet balances a purity of emotion that is singular and instantly recognizable. Howe’s solos are nontraditional in form and application—they soar in uncharted territories and contain melodic flights so daringly bold they recall action painting rather than rock music. Howe often stands at the very limits of control clutching his guitar with forceful fury and combustible energy.
Close to the edge indeed.
Howe then tops himself (is that possible?) by performing his signature acoustic solo piece “Clap.” It’s flawless, restless and a master class in acoustic guitar technique. Expressive glory and exquisite taste—Howe is the old mystic professor cutting through the night and soaring way above the band, the audience, the heavy Florida night. He is the chaos math misterioso, par excellence.
A foreboding lightning storm rips through the atmosphere as the band performs their new song suite “Fly from Here.” The power abruptly cuts out, the stage goes black and we are shocked back into a kind of harsh reality of being totally aware that we are all just a bunch of humans standing around in total darkness after some kind of harmonic convergence. And so there’s that.
If the evening’s music ends here we’d be happy but not necessarily fulfilled like spiritually. Lucky for us the band returns with full power and we’re ready once again for the moments of transference/transcendence and of course a little boogie-woogie which never hurt anybody.
“Wonderous Stories” is just that—a soaring and sonorous piece of music that highlights new vocalist Jon Davison.
Editor’s note: The Rock File reserves the right to leave the “Jon Davison versus Jon Anderson” debate to the rest of the blogosphere if you will. That and the inevitable “What, no ‘Owner of a Lonely Heart’?”
“Heart of the Sunrise” is monumental and scorches the rest of the set with that absolutely ridiculous opening riff (which must be considered one of the greatest prog riffs of all time if not one of the greatest riffs of all time period). Drummer Alan White and Chris Squire rock the syncopated intro with a fire and ice intensity that’s defiantly brilliant.
At this point you want to turn and interface with the gray-haired lady beside you but you notice she is in the throes of a deep spiritual undertaking and she is absolutely positively out there in the best possible sense so you decide to let it go and get back to your own inner trip which is unfolding quite nicely so to speak.
Chris Squire has pulled out a triple neck electric bass for “Awaken.” Yes that’s right a bass with three separate fretboards. That’s just completely nuts, even in Florida (which must be totally out-of-the-box-so-far-off-the-ranch-its-actually-sneaking-up-behind-you nuts). Is he even allowed to play that thing? Well of course he is, he’s Chris Squire. The original Yes bass man must be considered along with the very best of his generation of four-string masters—players like Jack Bruce of Cream, John Entwistle of the Who and Geddy Lee of Rush. Squire has honed an unmistakable sound and vision for his instrument: percussive, melodic, deep throated and loud. Very loud.
To close out the evening the band treats the audience to a rollicking version of “Roundabout.” The crowd is all in and another standing ovation is well warranted.
Can you feel the transference?
It’s not hyperbole to say that the audience on this very night right here on this small-town stage off the coast of nowhere and only a stone’s throw from a live alligator farm—and how strange is that really?—is witnessing some of the very best rock musicianship this world has to offer.
These are truly strange and wondrous times indeed.
Yours Is No Disgrace
I’ve Seen All Good People
The Ancient (Giants Under the Sun)
Fly from Here Overture
Fly from Here Pt I – We Can Fly
Fly from Here Pt II – Sad Night at the Airfield
Fly from Here Pt III – Madman at the Screens
Fly from Here Pt IV – Bumpy Ride
Fly from Here Pt V – We Can Fly Reprise
Heart of the Sunrise
Artwork by Roger Dean