YES (Live)

At The City Hall, Newcastle, U.K., April 29, 2016

YES (Live at The City Hall, Newcastle, U.K., April 29, 2016)
Photo: Mick Burgess

The tragic loss of their founder member and only constant in the band since their formation in 1968, could well have marked the end for Prog Rock legends, Yes. However before his passing, bassist Chris Squire insisted the band continue and even helped to choose his own replacement. The huge influence of Squire loomed large over the evening and his image in a tribute video montage at the start of the show was met with a standing ovation. Squire may now be gone but he’ll always be the heart and soul of Yes.

Last time Yes played at the City Hall they played a marathon set featuring three albums in their entirety. None of this one album stuff and a few greatest hits for them. This time they took things a little more easy, splitting their show into two parts. The first featuring a complete run through 1980s Drama and a second half highlighting the genre defining Fragile album.

When Drama first hit the streets at the turn of the ’80s long standing fans were aghast at the departure of Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman, even more so when The Buggles (yes, THAT Buggles) duo Geoff Downes and Trevor Horn jumped aboard. The resulting album however was fresh and arguably the right move to take into the new decade. With Downes back in the Yes lineup, now was a suitable time to revisit that album.

“Machine Messiah” was the perfect opener, a big, bold, overblown epic that twisted and turned through highs and lows along its 12 minute journey. Steve Howe’s intricate finger picking and mazy runs across his fret board intertwined with Downes whose keyboard set up resembled something from the NASA control room. It sounded great on record but was sensational on stage as the impact of the atmospheric lighting created an intense audio visual aura.

The big plus of playing full albums is that tracks that have not been played for years, if ever get a dusting off and a new lease of life meaning the likes of “Into The Lens and Run Through The Light” breathed new life into their set.
Steve Howe recounted his first ever show at the City Hall back in 1967 before dedicating a haunting rendition of “Time and A Word” to guitarist Peter Banks, who Howe replaced back in 1970.

After “Siberian Khatru” brought the first set to a conclusion a short intermission brought a welcome toilet break for all. None of us are getting any younger and this was a long night.

With 1971’s Fragile, Yes set the Prog Rock bar high. A tour de force of musicianship and complex arrangements helped set the template for other bands to follow.

Opening with “Roundabout,” one of Yes’s most enduring classics, again set the pace for the second half. Steve Howe at times resembled a mad professor as he hopped across the stage suddenly contorting himself into unimaginable positions at just the right moment to tease the notes from his guitar. Yet during “Mood For A Day,” Howe be seated on a stool, delivered a master class in beautiful acoustic melodies. Such is Howe’s standing in the business that he has added his talents to the likes of “Innuendo” by Queen and Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s “Welcome To The Pleasure Dome” and tonight it was easy to see why.

Chris Squire certainly left huge shoes to fill but former World Trade bassist Billy Sherwood rose to the challenge particularly on “Long Distance Runaround,” where if you half closed your eyes you’d swear it was Squire himself up on stage.

The intricacies and dynamics of Prog Rock need crystal clear sound. The sound crew at the City Hall deserve a special mention for a perfect example of how to produce a top class show and this was especially evident on the album closing, “Heart of Sunrise,” another gargantuan epic of dive-bombing dynamics underpinned by Sherwood’s bubbling bass lines and the ethereal keyboards of Downes.

As the second set drew to a close there was just enough time to drop in a few Yes classics from other albums. Jon Davison on “Don’t Kill The Whale” brought a real sense of meaning to the lyrics before Howe kicked in with the riff to “Owner Of A Lonely Heart,” a song that brought Yes a No.1 hit single in The States. How do you follow that? This is Yes after all and only a vintage epic would do and “Starship Trooper” duly obliged.

For a musical genre that was supposed to have been blown away in 1977 by Punk, Prog Rock has proved to be a tad more resilient to safety pins and spittle than the music press would have you believe and fast approaching their 50th anniversary Yes, despite a few ups and downs along the way, are still very much alive and kicking at the top of their game.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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