March 3, 2024

Oh, Yes!

Prog rock ain't dead. Yes is alive and kicking its way to Northern Michigan
By Ross Boissoneau | June 23, 2018

 

 

Most bands don’t get a recording contract. Most that do don’t make it big. Most groups that make it to the top don’t hang around for long.

Yes isn’t most groups. The band is celebrating 50 years of its progressive rock by taking the show on the road yet again, with a stop at Interlochen Center for the Arts June 28 (the band also plays 20 Monroe Live in Grand Rapids the night after). Currently consisting of de factor leader Steve Howe on guitar and vocals, Alan White on drums, Geoff Downes on keyboards, bassist Billy Sherwood and lead vocalist Jon Davison, the band is being joined on this tour by original keyboard player Tony Kaye.

White said the years of touring and recording both take their toll and keep the band going. “It’s harder to do all the touring – pacing is everything. You want to get a good night’s sleep. New songs and material keep us young.”

There has been no shortage of drama within the band, even before it recorded the album Drama in 1980. It’s famous for the numerous defections over the years. Original guitarist Peter Banks was replaced by Howe following the group’s second album, Time and a Word. Howe in turn was bumped by Trevor Rabin, then rejoined, left again, returned for Keys to Ascension in 1995, and has been with the band since. Drummer Bill Bruford left in 1972, whereupon White joined the fold. Keyboard players came and went: Kaye, Rick Wakeman (several times), Patrick Moraz, Downes, Igor Khoroshev, Tom Brislin, and Eddie Jobson, who was in the band for less than a month and never even played with the group, but did appear in the video for “Owner of a Lonely Heart.”

Founding member Chris Squire died in 2015 and co-founder Jon Anderson (lead vocals) also has been in and out of the group. He was first replaced by Trevor Horn, then returned for 90125 which was produced by Horn. Eventually he left again and was permanently replaced, first by Benoit David and then by Davison. And while Davison is the band’s official lead singer, the group has also released a new version of its album Fly From Here this year featuring Horn instead of David on lead vocals.

As if that’s not enough confusion, the comings and goings have been so complex there have been two other bands claiming the Yes moniker. First was in 1989, when a group comprised of Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman and Howe released their eponymous album and toured under the banner “An evening of Yes music plus.”  That led to the two bands creating the Union album, which Wakeman called “Onion,” because he said hearing it always makes him cry. Currently Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman have teamed up in Yes featuring ARW. That group has toured and is creating new music.

Meanwhile, back at the Yes ranch, White and the official band are trekking across the country for #YES50: Celebrating 50 Years of YES. “Others leave and come back. I’ve never been in any other band,” White said.

He prefers not to address the dispute, instead concentrating on the current band and tour. “I have been blessed to be a member of this amazing band’s rhythm section for the past 46 years, mostly in the company of my great friend Chris Squire, and latterly alongside Chris’ chosen successor, Billy Sherwood,” White told Yesworld.

He followed up on that thought in this interview. “He (Sherwood) does as good a job as you can get. Chris was his mentor.”

With such a rich back catalog, the band’s set list is bound to exclude certain audience favorites. Add the fact that the band is known for its sweeping epics, many of which range in length from eight to 20 minutes, and there are bound to be entire albums whose music doesn’t get played. Howe’s disdain for the Rabin era, which produced the band’s biggest hit, “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” is well-known. White is asked if it is fair to the fans to disregard all those songs and if he misses playing material from that time. “You like everything you do. That was #1 obviously but the set list is very different.”

Kaye was also in the band during the Rabin years, as well as playing keyboards on the band’s first three albums. Bringing him back means the band will play to some of his  strengths as well, on tracks such as “Yours Is No Disgrace” or “Starship Trooper.” Those tracks and others such as “Roundabout” and “Heart of the Sunrise” are invariably part of the band’s sets. Curiously missing from the online set lists from the first part of the tour is much of anything from Heaven and Earth, the band’s most recent recording. Otherwise it’s a cross-section of the band’s material, concentrating on its 70s heyday.

And really, who can blame White, Howe and company? Progressive rock is dead, isn’t it? Try telling that to the thousands who come out to hear the band on its tours, or who fill Cruise to the Edge, the band’s annual voyage through the Caribbean, which attracts fellow prog stalwarts like Steve Hackett, Marillion, Focus, Carl Palmer and others. The 2019 version will be the sixth such cruise. “They’re all friends of ours. It’s a really good time,” said White.

Tickets are still available for the band’s Interlochen date as well as its other Michigan appearances (it also plays Detroit June 30). Go to Interlochen.Tickets.org.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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