YES at 50 @ Liverpool Philharmonic Hall

YES at 50 @ Liverpool Philharmonic Hall

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Words and Photos: Anthony Firmin

There is a lot of diatribe about the various YES unions at the moment but the one we are witnessing this evening is the one that uses the infamous bubble logo. It is the YES has kept going, failing to be derailed by the death of founder and bassist Chris Squire and the health problems of long-term drummer Alan White. It is the YES that has managed to survive for 50 years - a wonder in itself considering the revolving door of band members - which has allowed the band to evolve and progress from their beginnings. 

Tonight is all about celebrating the 50th anniversary of a band who have sold in the region of 50 million albums. The audience is fairly geriatric too, many as old as some of the band members but they are still enthusiastic, as is heard when the lights go down and the intro of the Firebird Suite starts. The band then launch into a double whammy from their breakthrough release, The Yes Album with both Yours Is No Disgrace and All Good People/Your Move and both sound fresh, as do Sweet Dreams and South Side Of The Sky. Geoff Downes like his predecessors, is surrounded by an array of 10 keyboards… and three laptops, he messes up the end of South Side... and looks at guitarist Steve Howe for reassurance but the look isn’t returned, nobody in the audience seems to notice. At this point I am thinking that Downes reminds me of someone but I just can’t put my finger on it. 

For all the flack Jon Davison gets for not being the original singer, I really like his voice. It works, it sounds similar and there isn’t any baggage to drag along either. Billy Sherwood continues to impress on bass as the “chosen one”, chosen by Squire himself, and he does a cracking job, his basslines cutting through perfectly.  Onward is dedicated to the memory of Squire and slows things down sufficiently to allow the audience to reflect on his contributions over much of the 50 years. This is followed by a Steve Howe solo, tonight it is Clap, showcasing his virtuoso guitar playing skills, which are still as sharp as ever.

For this tour Alan White’s drum stool is occupied by Jay Schellen as his health problems sadly continue - he is currently battling a viral infection in his joints. However, Schellen has connections with YES dating back to the early 80’s when he played with Peter Banks and Tony Kaye, and in the 90’s with Squire and Sherwood, as well as Asia, so he is no stranger to the band. His playing is solid and gives the band an edge and an urgency which is quite refreshing, he is clearly enjoying himself too.

Wonderous Stories is short and sweet and Parallels reminds us they can rock out although Downes solo in the later is somewhat lacking and possibly in the wrong key at one point (again he looks at Howe for affirmation).  Ending the first set And You And I is simply sensational and Howe’s playing is on fire, he is energised and animated, he moves around the stage like he did in the 70’s which is even more amazing considering he is 70!

The second set is made up of selections from Tales From Topographic Oceans (the same as those on Topographic Drama which was released last year) an album that split opinion when it was originally released and continues to split opinion today. The Revealing Science of God (Dance of the Dawn) is played wonderfully, the synth solo two thirds of the way through is a huge improvement on the live version too. Leaves of Green is beautifully sung and the connection between Howe and Davison is honest and warming, his voice works well in the songs all the way through the evening and at least there are no calls for his predecessor unlike when Trevor Horn sang for the band in 1980.

The final part of the second set, Ritual (Nous sommes du soleil), see’s White return to the drum stool. The difference in playing is quite remarkable, White’s swing is very noticeable compared to Schellen’s driving rock style and it isn’t until you hear them side by side that you realise the contribution White has made over the years. Howe’s guitar playing continues to dazzle and Sherwood’s bass solo is one Squire would be proud of. The excellently executed encores of Roundabout and Starship Trooper are the icing on the YES50 cake.

Much has been made of the projections for Topographic Oceans and that they would be retired after this tour but to be honest I hadn’t really noticed them much and although this has been an incredible evening of music, I do feel that they missed an opportunity to have been more inclusive of YES music from the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s as Drama, 90125 and Magnification could easily have been represented, after all this was YES at 50, there is far more to the bands music than the 10 years they covered.  But what we did get was outstanding and will be remembered by many for years to come.

As I am leaving it finally dawns on me who Downes reminds me of… Boris Johnson! The drive back to Manchester has me chortling all the way.

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