I am a longtime Yes fan and quite the connoisseur of their music, if I have to say so myself. Such a fan, that for years I have boycotted seeing the band live since Jon Anderson was not in the lineup. I finally relented and decided to see one of the two versions of the 70s progressive rock band touring simultaneously. The version I saw Tuesday night at the Ford Theatre in Los Angeles, features the venerable guitarist Steve Howe. The lineup consists of: Howe, Billy Sherwood, (who according to reports is the handpicked favorite of original member Chris Squire, now deceased), Geoff Downes, Keyboardist and former member of the supergroup Asia, Jon Davison vocals, Jay Schellen drums and longtime band mate Alan White, who only played drums for the last 4 or 5 songs of the second set. Curiously, and without any explanation, Howe announced early in the first set that we would be hearing White play drums later in the show. Hmmm… Okay, this limited playing time seems to suggest that something is wrong with White, but we can only speculate.
The first thing you notice as a Yes fan, is that although Davison is up for the task of stepping into the giant-sized shoes of lead singer and primary songwriter Jon Anderson, he is in over his head. His voice is adequate, but he certainly doesn’t make you forget the fact that Anderson is not the easiest singer to replace. I give him an A for effort, but unlike the band Journey who found an exact replica of former lead singer Steve Perry in Filipino singer Arnel Pineda, Davison falls far short of his mark. Primary drummer Schellen does a good job filling in for White for most of the show, while Downes seems to be trying too hard to stand in for Rick Wakeman’s keyboard virtuosity. Downes definitely has chops, but just like Anderson, Wakeman’s contributions to the “Yes” catalogue of music is specific in sound and tonal quality. The song choice was also questionable, because apparently the songs chosen are Howe’s favorites and since this is his band, he can play whatever he pleases. Some songs I assume are from rather unknown albums, because I did not recognize any of them. Including titles like; “Nine Voices (Longwalker),” “Leaves Of Green” and “Fly From Here, Part 1: We Can Fly.” There were, however, some great choices such as show-opener “Close To The Edge,” crowd favorite “Mood For A Day,” featuring the classical guitar work of Howe, “Heart Of The Sunrise,” “Awaken” and of course the Yes-Anthem: “Roundabout.” The encores were enjoyable as well, especially with Alan White finally warming up on “Yours Is No Disgrace” and the always powerful “Starship Trooper.”
What is happening in “Yes World,” is not good for the fan base. What, with two different versions trying to vie for the affection of their 50-year dedicated and loyal admirers, this is a no-win situation. Jon Anderson is heading up his own version featuring Rick Wakeman and “Owner Of A Lonely Heart,” guitarist and collaborator Trevor Rabin, along with Bassist Lee Pomeroy and drummer Louis Molina III, who are currently touring the same cities. Although both Howe and Anderson claim there is no animosity between the bands, I find that hard to believe because if there were no problems, they would put their efforts together and truly be “Yes.” The only issue between the camps, according to Anderson, is that each “Yes” explicitly differentiate who’s in which lineup, to avoid confusion among fans. Uhh, too late! “They've been really cool about it,” Anderson said of the Howe/White version in an interview with Metal Express Radio. “It's never been a problem.” Alright, if you say so. I hope to see the Anderson/Wakeman/Rabin version in the near future to determine which group I will support as my choice for “Yes” music. Meanwhile, they are scheduled to appear at the Greek Theatre in August and try to prove to the fans who indeed is “Yes.” But for now, it's not a yes, it's just a maybe.
(Editor's Note: In my haste to post the Yes concert review, I did not include a couple of important points. First, inside sources confirmed that drummer Alan White had back surgery last year and his physical activity is limited.And I failed to mention the cameo appearance of original keyboardist Tony Kaye who played on the encore portion of the show… my bad!)