Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Yes - Sheffield City Hall, 3rd May 2016

Last year (2015) was a difficult one for Yes fans around the world, bringing with it the sad death of founder
and only consistent member of the band, Chris Squire. Many speculated as to whether the band would - or should - continue, but as Chris himself had made contingency plans in appointing Billy Sherwood as his heir in the bass department, the band continue to play, and their current tour reached Sheffield last evening.

In the past 5 years I've seen Yes three times now in the City Hall in Sheffield, each time with a different line-up: the 'Fly From Here' tour, the '3 Album Tour' (Close to the Edge, The Yes Album & Going For The One), and this one. I, like many others, was keen to see how Billy would fit back into the band, and how they would manage to perform some of the material that the two albums on show present.

The show began with a moving tribute to Chris: a single spotlight on his cream Rickenbacker bass, centre-stage, as the screen showed a montage of the man and the PA played 'Onward'. Simple, poignant and gut-wrenching. Then into the set proper. 'Drama' is not, I must confess, my favourite from the Yes back catalogue, and I'd listened to it again in the car on the way down to familiarise myself with it again. It is quite a bass-heavy album, which would test Sherwood from the off, and I have to say he did not disappoint.
Billy Sherwood
Technically brilliant throughout the show, he did lack some of the theatricality and bombast of Squire, but if you closed your eyes you could hardly notice the difference. There were, sadly, one or two technical issues for other members of the band, and Jon's voice was struggling in one or two places, I thought. The first half of the set concluded with 'Time and a Word', played as a tribute to Peter Banks, who died in 2013, and 'Siberian Khatru'. During 'Time...' it struck me that none of those performing on stage had played on the studio recording of the song - was this (as some have suggested, following Chris's death) a tribute band?

Following the interval, we began the second half with a couple of hit singles: 'Don't Kill the Whale', and 'Owner of a Lonely Heart'. I must say that Steve looked almost comfortable playing Rabin's guitar parts on 'Owner...' and had the sound down perfectly. Then 'Fragile'. The band numbers, most of which have been live staples for years, came across very well, as did 'The Fish', which Sherwood made his own without losing its iconic nature. 'Mood for a Day' was played perfectly by Steve, and Geoff gave an almost flawless rendition of 'Cans & Brahms'. Even '5% for Nothing' passed muster! Where things came unstuck was 'We Have Heaven', where backing tapes and live performance just didn't mesh at all, and I was left feeling embarrassed for them. Maybe with three singers on stage and some creative use of looping, they could do something better with this material?

Despite my criticisms above, it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening. There is a kind of world-weariness about Steve Howe, but when he's in 'the zone' and gurning away as only he can, he is still a delight to watch and hear. Alan White kept things ticking over, but nothing more really. Geoff Downes was only OK, even on his own material, apart from 'Cans...' which he nailed. Jon Davison seemed quite tired, and that showed in his performance which lacked the spark that I'd seen in him on the last tour. Billy Sherwood was a revelation on bass (which was very prominent in the mix throughout), though not as strong for me on vocals: the Yes Choir was a little lacking.

How long the band will continue, I don't know. There are plans to return to Europe next year to play parts 1&4 of 'Tales from Topographic Oceans', and 2018 would be the band's 50th Anniversary. All good things must come to an end: has Yes's time come? The music will still live on, but how often can the band that plays it change and still be 'Yes'?