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Yes 50 Live in Birmingham 2018 – 327

Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Produced by Robert Nasir, Jeffrey Crecelius, Wayne Hall, Preston Frazier and Bill Govier

We are taking a break from the Yes singles episodes because of the YES50 celebrations over the next couple of weeks. In an unusual episode this week, Mark interviews me about my own YES50 concert experience in Birmingham. There’s some time for a brief news section as well.

  • How was the Birmingham YES50 concert?
  • Was the set list satisfying?
  • How was Tales live?

Listen to the episode then let us know what you think!

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Robert Nasir | Jeffrey Crecelius | Preston Frazier | Bill Govier | Wayne Hall |

Joseph Cottrell | Michael O’Connor | Paul Tomei | Geoffrey Mason | Lobate Scarp | Fergus Cubbage | Steve Dill | Steve Scott

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Theme music

The music I use is the last movement of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. This has been used as introduction music at many Yes concerts. My theme music is not take from a live concert – I put it together from the following two creative commons sources: thanvannispen and

8 replies on “Yes 50 Live in Birmingham 2018 – 327”

So much agree with Kevin’s observations and reactions to the Birmingham concert which I also attended, stalls row G. I loved hearing that arrangement of Sweet Dreams again, based as I am sure it was on the performance given on the tour for Relayer in 1974/5 when it was a surprise encore piece. Apart from that I would pick out Onward and And You And I as highlights of the first set, the latter being very powerful but with great attention to detail which included Billy playing Chris’s wonderful harmonica part. The attention to detail and the care taken over the arrangements was a strong feature that helped to make the performances throughout the evening so great and this is an area in which Steve sets such an example to his fellow musicians. I love Revealing and thoroughly enjoyed hearing it played live again, the atmosphere as the band came on to the ambient sounds that lead into the opening chant was just electric. To follow it with the ‘simplicity’ of Leaves of Green worked really well and Ritual was just magnificent! This piece has all of the ingredients that make Yes music so special and uplifting, be it power, precision, lyrical beauty, contrasting dynamics, beautiful soaring guitar lines, melodic use of the bass, inspired arrangements and recapitulation of themes, every element is there in a satisfying whole. It takes you on a journey as do all of the great Yes epics. It was great to see Alan White cheered onto the stage and then to power his way into those drum rhythms in one of the best versions I’ve heard, and certainly the closest to the original recording, except possibly for 1973 when I heard it debuted at the Liverpool Empire! The encores were great too, and it was good to hear Roundabout played in full within the celebratory atmosphere at the end of the gig. So hats off to Yes for pulling off such a great show, fully worthy of 50 years of music, even if the setlist could be tweaked to cover a greater span of those years. I suspect that this will be something that American fans will be treated to first (in place of the Tales segment) and then we will have to hope that in another year or so we will hear some of it in the UK, perhaps even teamed with Relayer! A great feature of the superb tourbook (and it is worthy of being called a book) is how forward looking it is and there are some wonderfully teasing hints about band members who are itching to get to grips with Relayer, so we really hope that even if the Yes 50 experience is not to be surpassed it can still be equalled in the future. Like Kevin I am now looking forward to the fan convention and evening performance at the Palladium on Sunday – see you there!

Very neat to hear your live concert review. I’m wondering if you are going to try to get others to add to your intro to the pod cast????
Having seen these songs or great master works performed live when they came out and know that they are still being able to perform these great tunes to this day is in of it self amazing.
I have order every thing I can from this 50th tour such as the program the Fly again CD and Vinyl (thanks Mark)…lol
I can’t wait to hear how Sunday goes for you It would be a dream come true to be able to attend such an epic event.
Great show gentleman

Before offering my my main impressions of Saturday night at the Palladium I should add a disclaimer here that even when I first discovered the band around the time of Yessongs Rick and Jon were the members who least interested me and the words were the least important part of the experience. To me it was Chris and Steve’s band (just as Crimson was Fripp’s band) and it was their approach to their instruments and the collective vocal sound that hooked me in and kept me hooked ever since.

Starting with the foundations … Jay Schellen reminded me of the early years of Alan White – very precise, rock steady, navigates the rapids of the complex arrangements with ease and hits the drums really hard. All the time. Serves the music not his ego. I think it is fair to say that he is not a jazz player and the uniformity of his snare sound did began to grate a bit as the second half wore on. Only a bit mind. When Alan White came out and played the Ritual solo there was a discernible broadening out of what sounds could be produced from pretty much the same set of drums (snare aside).

That said if Jay ends up being the Yes drummer long term I am sure he will grow into the jazz and orchestral aspects of the music the same way Alan White did. Speaking of Alan, suffice t say he didn’t look especially well when taking his bow but showed not a bit of that frailty on the stool. Reminded me of seeing Patti Smith a few years back at the Roundhouse who looked every minute of her 70 years climbing the stairs to the stage and yet magically became 30 again once she hit her mark.

After the ARW tour it was really nice to hear the bass right back where it belongs – loud, proud and in the centre of the mix. Billy isn’t Chris Squire and isn’t pretending to be but he honours the music, has a monster sound and considering he didn’t write those parts he inhabits the role brilliantly. In fact he has moved the bass seat back to its pre 1980s position in the Yes orchestra when the standard rock fare of root notes, octaves and 5ths played in 4s, 8s and 16s were virtually unheard of in Yes music. Not many pop hits to be had in 13/8 but then pop hits weren’t really the point. What Billy’s playing amply demonstrates is that the music in general is back in its rightful place as the focus of the night rather than a platform for selected individuals to have their moments in the spotlight while others support from the sonic shadows.

Moving to the front of the stage and to state the obvious, Jon Davison is the singer in Yes and judging by last night’s reception the hard core fans are long over it being any kind of issue. He has more than earned people’s respect over the previous two tours and it would be an understatement to say that he’s taken the role in both hands and made it his own. There is a humility about him as a performer that I sense has rubbed off on all concerned. He also has age on his side. Thinking back to both the ARW shows and the Living Tree tour it is pretty evident that there is a point where wear and tear really matters to a singer working with a repertoire where a lack precision is absolutely deadly. The benefit of those extra 25 years really counts especially in the upper register. Jon A’s force of personality has been making up for a lot of those issues but it was nice to hear those familiar lines sung so effortlessly. As for the rest, the Yes choir will never be the same without Chris but it still transcends what most rock bands can do (or will even try to do) with three voices.

Where there still seems to be grounds for controversy among some fans is in the keyboard department but I tell you no one needs to be harbouring doubts about Geoff Downes’ ability to play this music. He is maybe a little too humble back there and I would actually like to hear him play out a bit more. Rick does have incredible facility but the fact that he makes playing complicated music look so easy does nothing for what he brings to the emotion of that music. I would rather have someone with 85% chops play with 100% passion than the other way around. One listen to Rick’s recent covers album reminded me of that. Nicely executed but kind of bloodless. For me, over all the years and all the different people who have occupied that seat, only Khoroshev has had the perfect balance between the elements of soul/passion, technique and showmanship. Must be that Rachmaninov / Mussorgsky / Stravinsky thing. Shame it didn’t work out for him but I have no regrets while Geoff Downes is playing this well.

In terms of the set list I could probably have done without both Parallels and Tempus Fugit. They rock out in a perfunctory kind of a way but they are not songs that hold a lot of musical interest for me. I did love hearing so much of the Yes Album played again but I sorely missed Close to the Edge. For the Chris tribute I would prefer to hear them tackle Survival to Parallels. I also would like to hear them bring back Astral Traveller and I would have loved to hear some of Fly From Here but with Jon singing. That is nit-pickery though and the show is long enough as it is.

The TFTO section was really interesting. It’s not easy listening even by Yes standards but there was no rush to the bar and no fidgeting with mobile phones. At least not around us. It is good that a band this legendary and with a catalogue so choc full of fan favourites is still up for giving people a bit of a challenge. As for how they handled that music, Ritual has an inner logic that I suspect makes it the easier of the two pieces to play from an ensemble perspective. Revealing Science of God was always ten minutes too long on an album which already had two sides too many and it is a piece of music that I think actually probably needs an old fashioned conductor / band leader with a baton to make it work properly. Even with such a precise drummer the music didn’t seem to have the inner pulse, suggested but rarely actually played, that all great Yes music tends to have. Imagine an orchestra trying to make sense of Rite of Spring or a Bartok concerto without a conductor. Same problem.

Last but not least we were quite deliberately sat right in front of Steve Howe 7 rows back and he completely reinforced my assertion that among the post-Hendrix generation only Lindsey Buckingham comes close to him in terms of bringing in equal measure incredible technique, originality of approach and unalloyed musical soul to the instrument in a classic rock or prog context. Even the most familiar licks and riffs retain a capacity to thrill and surprise. He is a one-off and we should soak up every phrase for as long as he is able to keep doing at this level . “Bravo” as the great man himself might say.

The biggest challenge to Davison and Sherwood taking the band forward post Steve’s retirement (whenever that comes) will be finding anyone who can do that job. Maybe Lindsey Buckingham will be available (!) or maybe the band goes forward without a guitar player at all. Going back to ARW again for a moment (sorry but the comparisons are irresistible) it’s not Rabin’s lack of technique that has been the issue for me over the years (though that itself became an issue on last year’s tour). The problem is that it’s simply not his music . If you didn’t go to an English school after the war and get exposed to classical music, hymns and folk song traditions (anyone else remember the BBC’s Singing Together?) then you wouldn’t have that weird post-war cultural bedrock that the likes of Steve Howe and the Floyd brought to Psychedelia. Character forming stuff at school bringing a sense of complex harmony, the radicalism of The Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Motown & all kinds of Jazz on the radio at home and the likes of Dodgson, Barrie, Lancelyn Green, Malory and Belloc on the bookshelf. You would have to have lived that kind of an adolescence in this country to come up with that kind of music. You couldn’t possibly have a Steve Howe or a Chris Squire emerge from any other era or culture and as long as Steve is in Yes then Yes is Yes and everyone else playing that music is going to be in catch-up mode.

Anyway it was in the end totally wonderful, a glorious way to tip a collective hat to 50 years of history and the best thing about it is that there is no reason for it to end for as long as the music is the star and the people in the band understand that they are its servants.

Wow , a brilliant piece of writing ! Loved every word and agree with most of what you have laid down . Do you write for a living ?
I have attended 4 of the shows and done meet and greet at 3 of them . Only because I’ve just attended my 50th Yes concert at Liverpool . The best of the 4 was easily the Birmingham one . Steve is in superb form and is easily my favourite guitar player of all time . I’m hoping to attend the Paris show , funds allowing , but I already have my ARW tickets for York and the O2

The Sunday night at the Palladium (sorry) left me with the feeling that maybe a little less TFTO and perhaps more from the remaining 38 years not covered might have celebrated 50 years of Yes more, for me. I thought this was about the whole Yes band over 50 years, not just the current members. I have to say that Jon was superb and no grumbles from me over his sitting in the vocal seat. I think he was the star, yes, that’s right, more than Steve. His stage presence and physical interaction with the music conveyed what a true Yes follower wanted. My 19-year-old daughter told me!

As for comments that pick on Steve versus Trevor Rabin, I just remember being a 15-year-old at Hammersmith Odeon on December 14, 1980 and being blown away. Next thing I know is the band I’d only just been allowed to go and see had disbanded! No more Yes! Three years later they were back and they were BIG! They also looked younger and more dynamic. I don’t think we would have Yes now, as they are, or even at all, if it wasn’t for Trevor Rabin. You could go on, Rick was also a product of post-war London but Khoroshev wasn’t. It’s more about the best man available at that particular time. Steve was busy popping it out with Asia, if it wasn’t going to be Trevor re-igniting Yes, who was it going to be? My girlfriend/wife didn’t like Yes pre-90125 and she didn’t like them after! So it MUST still have been (progressing) Yes.

I’m quite interested to see what becomes of the set list on this summer’s North American tour, after they leave ‘Tales’ behind – that’s going to free up almost an hour of show time for different material.

Over the two nights in London the only albums up to and including Drama not represented were the debut and Relayer. There was nothing from Tormato the first night but Onward got an outing in the second show.

They are going to have to bring one or both of CTTE or Awaken back into the set at some point. Would still leave time for To Be Over maybe. I can see JD making a good job of that one. I do wish they had played something of the first album though .

It was good to hear Kevin’s thoughts on the concert in Birmingham. Could have done with more of a proper conversation rather than the ridiculous “who was the most important player?” question.

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