YES @ O2 Apollo Manchester
Prog rock’s elderly statesmen perform Drama and Fragile in their entirety
Words: Phil Weller | Photos: Anthony Firmin
If Yes’ appearance in Manchester last weekend was to solely commemorate the lives of their fallen members and fans, then it was a fitting ceremony, celebrating creative, flourishing talent.
Images of Chris Squire flash on a ginormous screen as the loving but sombre words of Onward drift out into the audience: “Proclaimed in everything I write/You're the light, burning brightly/Onward through the night.”
Later on in the evening, long-standing member Steve Howe took to the microphone to dedicate Time And A Word to the inspirational former guitarist Peter Banks. Alan White meanwhile did the same for lifelong Yes fan Malcolm Birkett, with Don’t Kill The Whale played in his honour. It all stands to show that the sands of time are always shifting and the band – and their audience – isn’t exactly getting younger. As such, as the band play through their marmite album Drama and the much cherished Fragile in their entirety, you are watching a very different Yes to the one that penned those albums.
There is a degree of emptiness echoing through the early stages of their performance as a result – the metallic adventurism of Machine Messiah and the algebraic Does It Really Happen? impressive nevertheless. Perhaps a consequence of the opening sets polarising songs, it never really feels like you’re seeing the true Yes, the real deal. Howe seems to take a few songs to really hit his stride and keyboardist Geoff Downes spends much of the set with his back turned to the crowd. Yet, the youthful exuberance of vocalist Jon Davidson – who also performs percussive and acoustic duties tonight – does at least give their stage presence a more agile vigour.
After the interval however, things are different. The band seem revitalised and as they roll out some of their biggest hits – Roundabout acutely executed and Howe unravelling Mood For A Day under a beaming spotlight – the atmosphere in Ardwick’s sizable theatre elevates.
Long Distance Run Around is handled excellently by Davidson, cloaking the song in individualism – where earlier he had occasionally not quite managed to hit certain notes recorded by Anderson, here he sings it his own way and the mimicry turns more into mastery.
Don’t Kill The Whale, Owner Of A Lonely Heart and the massive Starship Trooper – which make up the band’s encore – turn up the heat yet still. Witnessing the aging band tonight had made the event more stately than electrifying – although it was a joy to witness such talent infested songs played live – but here there was more energy, the crowd getting up off their seats for a dance and to savour the moment.
The thing is, with time always turning, the band could have long since laid itself to rest, left the legacy of Yes to remain frozen in the past, an artefact in the annals of time. But they deserve to still play live and tonight celebrate the lives of two souls who lived part of this legacy, and to give songs from Drama and Fragile their first live airing in a long, long time, has to be admired. It was nothing spectacular, but it was a evening very well spent.