How many bands are still performing 50 years after they were formed? Not many. The debate starts when you ask how many original members are still with the band. In the case of Yes, that’s where the battle begins and gets furious. This year, there are two different groups of Yes alumni touring with the “Yes” name. Yes fans take their loyalty seriously and social media posts reflect their strong allegiance. Through the years, the Yes lineup has changed like the passing of seasons, and although Yes fans generally accept some of these frequent lineup changes, the times that Jon Anderson has been outside the band have caused the greatest division between fans.
The concert on June 10 offered a somewhat unusual Yes lineup, a mix of old, new and distant past members. The current Yes lineup has no original members. The closest are Steve Howe, who joined in 1970, and Alan White who joined in 1972. Interesting, two other current members are former members, Geoff Downes who was in the group from 1980 to 1981, and Billy Sherwood, who was a previous member from 1994 and sporadically ever since. Sherwood rejoined in 2016 after the death of original bassist Chris Squire. The 50th Anniversary Tour also includes original keyboard player Tony Kaye, who joins the band for the encore songs. Kaye was a member from 1968 to 1971, and rejoined the band when it splintered in the mid 1980s, when there were two Yes bands. See a pattern here?
Of all the various lineups and split versions of the band, my favorite is the “classic lineup” of the band that included: Jon Anderson (vocals), Steve Howe (guitar), Chris Squire (bass), Rick Wakeman (keyboards) and Bill Bruford (drums). This line up was intact only from 1971 to 1972. Bruford left the band and was replaced by Alan White, who remains to this day, although White’s health has moved him to only part-time duty behind the drums, and maybe close to retirement. Rick Wakeman, the most famous of the former members was in the group five different times, and has been a member of two off-shoot bands including the “other” Yes group currently touring. Wakeman’s son Oliver has also been a member of Yes. Going through these lineups gets quite confusing for the casual fan.
The strength of Yes has always been their live performances. These are very good musicians. Maybe the best live album ever, Yessongs, released in 1973, was produced with the classic Yes lineup (Alan White is credited on some of the songs). Through the years, the group has released 15 live albums since Yessongs, including a multi-disc collection of performances from the Yessong tour. The live recordings encompass about every conceivable Yes lineup, so if you have a favorite lineup, there is probably a live recording, and at least one studio album.
Yes is readily identified with the progressive brand of rock that was popular in the late 1960s and through the 1970s. Prog, as it is affectionately known, is often generalized as very long, complexly structured songs with middle Earth lyrics and some variation of classical or jazz chords and a folkish sensibility. Yes fit that trippy description well, with long instrumental passages, heavy on the organ/synthesizer undercarriage and rapid-fire guitar noodles, wrapped around dreamy, lilting lyrics. Somehow out of this confection were some classic albums that have carried the band through 50 years of loyal fans. In the mid-1980s, the band with a lineup change, took a detour into 80s pop, and even got into the MTV music video rotation with their “Owner of a Lonely Heart” musical phase. Thankfully, they returned to a more traditional prog sound in the 1990s.
The setlist for the 50th Anniversary Tour changes from city to city. Originally, when the tour was announced, the initial release said the tour would rely heavily on the album Tales From Topographic Oceans, which is a rather dense and rarely played grouping of songs. Somewhere the decision was to back off and play a more fan-friendly collection of songs. The June 10 concert drew heavily from the early part of their career, and then fast-forwarded to a few more recently released songs. Missing was much of their 1980s work (the MTV period) when they underwent a career rejuvenation, in part due to Howe’s replacement at the time, Trevor Rabin, who is touring with that other Yes lineup. With the death of Chris Squire, and health issues of Alan White, the current version of Yes is clearly Steve Howe’s band.
Kansas City setlist. Song and album it first appeared on.
Recorded intro: The Firebird Suite- (Igor Stravinsky song)
- Close to the Edge – Close to the Edge
- Nine Voices (Longwalker) The Ladder
- Parallels – Going for the One
- Mood for a Day – Fragile
- Leaves of Green – Tales From Topographic Oceans
- Fly From Here, Part I: We Can Fly – Fly From Here
- Sweet Dreams – Time and a Word
- Heart of the Sunrise – Fragile
- Perpetual Change – The Yes Album
- Does It Really Happen? – Drama
- Soon – Relayer
- Awaken – Going for the One (Alan White joined for remainder of concert)
Encore: (Tony Kaye joined for the encore)
- Yours Is No Disgrace – The Yes Album
- Roundabout – Fragile
- Starship Trooper – The Yes Album
The June 10 concert was hard to dislike. The venue was about two-third filled but there is not a bad seat in the house. The band was punctual and began at the announced start time. The first set was about 75 minutes, followed by a very short break. The second set and encore was about 80 minutes long. Toward the end of the second set, drummer Alan White appeared and took over the drums. At the end of the second set, a Roland keyboard was wheeled out and when the band returned, original Yes keyboard player Tony Kaye joined the band onstage. The encore was a rousing collection of three classic Yes songs, which were met with thunderous applause and nearly everyone on their feet for the duration. When it was over, the band took a bow and showed their appreciation to the fans.
Having attended other Yes concerts in forty years, this was easily the best of their concerts since the late 1970s. The band is older and not the same caliber as either their 1977 or 1978 shows, but the energy and effort was off the charts. As a fan, I miss Rick Wakeman, Chris Squire, Jon Anderson and a younger Alan White. I particularly miss Jon Anderson. The classic lineup is long gone, so what I have now is a group with a few new players, some with a Yes pedigree, but a band that gave it 110 percent. I’m okay with that. I just like the music. Long live yes, in whatever lineup they can field.