Three albums end to end – YES that is a brilliant idea that effectively transcended time to bring us back and forth from the 70’s.
March 29 2014 – Almost one year ago Yes came to Toronto and conquered Massey Hall in a concert that eventually ended up on T-Mak World’s Top 10 concerts of 2013. Tonight we got on Highway 401 and drove east for about 40 minutes to see Yes once again in Oshawa. The venue was the General Motors Centre (GM Centre) and we are now officially in love with this venue (on our inaugural visit nonetheless). Imagine a mini ACC without the jacked up prices and big crowds and you can understand why we are jacked about the GM Centre (and lets not forget to mention that Jason Bonham and Heart will be playing there in June 2014!) Enough drooling about the venue – we will draw upon our Massey Hall show review because the show was identical and really the venue was the only difference(i.e we reused large portions of the review). Read on lovers of good prog rock because this is a show not to be missed.
One of the most prolific classic rock bands put on a musical workshop tonight. Yes delivered a mind-blowing set of progressive rock that transported the sold out venue to the 70’s. The current incarnation of Yes includes Chris Squire on bass, Steve Howe on guitar, Alan White on drums, Geoff Downes on keyboards and vocals compliments of the new guy Jon Davison. Even casual fans will note that the band’s original vocalist Jon Anderson is not listed as he has not been part of Yes since 2004.
The concept for tonight’s show was very simple – the band played 3 albums in their entirety. What a brilliant idea! On tap were 1971’s The Yes Album, 1972’s Close To The Edge, and 1977’s Going For The One. The concept of a band or artist playing an album from end to end is not a new one, but this is the first show that we know of that offers 3 of them! This is a perfect ode to vinyl records (which are actually having a bit of a revival currently) and the memories many in attendance had of holding any one of the three aforementioned records in their hands, listening to 1 side and then flipping it over to listen to side 2. It must be noted though that of tonight’s lineup only two members played on all of those 3 records (Howe and Squire), and one member played on 1 record (White).
As many bands go through lineup changes it becomes very rare to see a classic rock band play with the exact same lineup as their glory days – some bands even tour with only one original member. That whole concept provides a topic which can be debated for hours; was one seeing Yes tonight, or a tribute band with a couple of original Yes members? The answer is really irrelevant because the end result is the same. A night of fantastic old school guitar and keyboard influenced masterpieces of a bygone era.
The concert began with some pre-recorded classical music (Firebird Suite by Stavinsky) and a video featuring iconic album covers from the band and previous musicians in Yes (according to Wikipedia there have been 18 musicians that have been part of Yes – including the 5 on stage tonight). Tonight (as in Toronto’s show a year earlier) the band flipped the earliest album to the end of the show and delivered Close To The Edge first, then Going For The One, and then The Yes Album.
Howe was in top form. Certainly a highlight of the night, most people (myself included) were blown away by the technical mastery required to consistently nail the time changes of the songs. Howe was all business and although he looks a lot older than he is, his fingers were as agile as ever. He switched between multiple guitars within songs, and even had a lap steel on a trolley – which he kicked away after using it with a grace of a youthful rock star during Going For The One. A huge highlight of the night was Howe’s solo acoustic effort on Clap which lead to massive clap along. Oh Yes!
Squire (65), White (63) and Downes (60) filled out the musical foundation with a consistent display of prog rock that touched areas of jazz and classical composition structures at times. The escalating keyboard drove neurons to images of a boat being rocked in a dark sea storm, or bacteria multiplying under a powerful microscope – in fact the images played in one’s mind were helped with the on-screen visuals behind the band that gave people something to look at peripherally when not looking at the musicians on stage. The screen they used seemed somewhat cheap and small and the band would have been better served with a much larger visual backdrop. The screen was kinda cool but mostly irrelevant to the show. Most people did not even notice that the song title was displayed on the screen at the beginning of each song. The stage also was full of lights (which appeared to be emulating laser effects).
Last but not least Jon Davison (who looks like half the age of anyone else on stage) really had the toughest shoes to fill. Bands split with their main lead singer but find a way of continuing (Black Sabbath, Van Halen, Supertramp, Journey, Styx, etc) and Yes is no exception. I have stopped having doubts about the replacement singers. These bands are big business and they will not jeopardize pissing off their fans by bringing in a new guy that sounds nothing like the original. Davison as expected is damn good and the cool part is that he looks like the guy that should be singing for Yes. Hippy-ish wardrobe, long hair and the meditative stance while singing were all there. In fact the only thing Davison was missing was the gemstone robes of the 70’s prog bands. Joking aside I overheard “wow” more than once from people around me at his singing abilities. Davison slipped on a guitar for Wonderous Stories as well and was clearly having fun. Well done Jon!
The hypnotic nature of the music, really got people to tune in and enjoy. This was not a concert of standing rowdy drunks screaming out loud, but a concert full of complex music fans that were clued into every word and note of the performance. The end result was a performance that would please hardcore Yes fans, owners of any 3 of the albums presented or even rock fans who have never seen Yes before. Starship Troopers was a clear highlight of the night. If you saw one song tonight this was it. Majestic!
The encore consisted of simply one song – arguably the band’s most famous one at that – Roundabout really was a perfect climax to the roughly 150 minute show (20 minute intermission and 2 hours and 10 minutes of music).
Verdict: 4.5 out of 5 – The concept of delivering 3 records end to end is absolutely perfect for a band with a deep discography. Transporting the audience to the 70’s was clearly their objective of this tour and they succeeded. Only minor flaw was that the records should have been presented in chronological order so the audience can witness the musical progression of the progressive rock titans. Easily one of the best rock concerts Oshawa has ever seen. Thank you GM Centre for being our new favorite arena for such events – we will be seeing lots of you. That’s all folks, hope you dug our YES Oshawa review.
BONUS COVERAGE: On the way back home we found out the GTA’s best pub show was being performed in Whitby so with great joy we knew where our after-party would be. The Phil & John Show was in full effect and the lads played dozens of classic rock staples all from requests being shouted out to them between songs. What a perfect ending to a perfect night. Phil Naro and John Rogers are major league musicians and if their show is ever anywhere close to where you are, make sure you stop in for a pint and enjoy the tunes.