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Concert Review/ Yes

img  Tobias

Symphonic structures, ten-minute Drum solos and lots of grey hair: „Aren't you too old for this concert?“, a curious visitor a row behind us asks good-humouredly. It's not as though we hadn't asked ourselves the same question. While the intellectual headbangers out there are probably off attending a Dream Theater gig somewhere else on this planet while the cools kids are still recovering from the latest Porcupine Tree-tour, paying 40 Euros a ticket to see a band founded in 1968 will make most of your classmates frown. The plain and simple truth, however, is that Yes couldn't play current material even if they wanted to: Their last studio album, „Magnification“, already dates back to 2001 and over the last approximately two decades, the band have published a mere five records in total. After their 40th birthday last year, some are increasingly beginning to see them as mere administrators whose main task is to keep the legacy alive on stage.

Then again, there are far more easy and comfortable ways to spend the autumn of your career. The bewildering fact that there are now probably just as many live recordings of the group as compilations and „Best Of“'s (and there's a lot of those) is anything but a cause for concern and rather an indication that Yes have perhaps entered the final stage of their career with just as much determination as their more limelight-oriented earlier ones. There is no more need to reinvent themselves and after a plethora of genre-defining classics, evenly spread out over the 70s, 80s and 90s alike, new compositions are mostly reserved for solo albums. But in the act of interpretation, they are subtly exploring their own history through naive eyes again, adding a hippie-esque Harmonica solo here, a delicate chord change there and working on penetrating the same notes with stubborn insistence.

And then, of course, fresh blood has been added to the organism of lately in search of sonic rejuvenation. Even though, strictly speaking, Oliver Wakeman is no stranger to the band, not just as the son of probably the most influential Keyboarder of the entire Yes-story but also as a sidekick to Steve Howe, his youthful appearance, long hair and pitchblack Wave-outfit alone are enough to add a pronounced counterpoint to the long-standing trio of How, Squire and Drummer Alan White. His musical contribution, on the other hand, is neither as idiosyncratic as his father's or as futuristic as Patric Moraz' nor as virtuoso  as Igor Khoroshev's. In the more balladesque movements, such as on ingeniously recomposed slowburner „Onward“, he displays a pronounced affection for sweet flute sounds and warm horns, while juxtaposing some of the most quiet moments with sweeping synthetics. While his rhythmical work is mostly aimed at supporting the song rather than stroking his ego, his real forte, however, may probably lie in the darkly romantic moments: On „South Side Of The  Sky“, as a prime example, his classical training comes to the fore, adding Rachmaninov-like Piano dabbers to the mix.

But it is by default the persona of Benoit David that is drawing most attention. When the Canadian was approached by the band as a replacement for currently ill frontman Jon Anderson, the task seemed both so daunting and overwhelmingly exciting that David almost feel off the boat he was repairing the seats of in his day job. In terms of stage presence, he certainly hasn't yet caught up with Anderson completely and announcements like „The next song is one of my favourites and I hope you will like it a lot, too“ are not going to change that anytime soon. What really counts, though, is voice of course – and in that respect, it is hard to believe your ears as soon as he starts singing. In fact, when you close your eyes, you'd be hard pressed to detect any difference in their respective timbres. Perhaps David's lower vocal regions are just a tad less sonorous, but his high notes ring just as clear and crystalline. Add to that the fact that Squire's timbre, who congenially complements his lines most of the time, has remained equally powerful and pristine and you find yourself listening to a heavenly fanned-out polyphony which at times sounds even more tactile than on the original studio cuts.

Even though the program focuses firmly on their progressive back catalogue, it is a completely unexpected side of the band that is being highlighted tonight. Thanks to the flamboyancy of their arrangements and the literary ambitions of their lyrics, Yes have often been mistaken for an outfit exclusively driven by complex concepts. In reality, their work was always just as much about intuition as it was about intellect and much more physical than most outsiders would usually suspect. Here in Düsseldorf, they are celebrating the magic of the groove more than anything. „Tempus Fugit“ turns into a thunderstorm of riffs and rhythm and a lot of the older material is fired up by passionate Organ-runs and Guitar-arpeggios. Squire's dry and aggressive Bass adds a spartan funkiness to the music that makes perfect sense on their rendition of „Heart of the Sunrise“, which sounds sexy and seductive. The efforts of some of the audience to actually do the appropriate thing and shake their hips to the beat, are unfortunately stymied by the security-crew, but in the end, they do find their private spot at the far left of the hall, where they continue dancing with closed eyes and expressive movements.

With this in mind, it is all the more regrettable that either the band, the sound engineers of the Philipshalle or both have found it impossible to find a suitable balance to support this seminal aspect of the performance. White's drum set sounds muffled and lacks spine, his bass drum is almost non-existent, his snare drum cardboardish, while a nervewrecking virtually triangle jumps into your face. David's microphone is confusingly quiet, his voice at times finding it hard to make itself heard against the united force of the instrumentalists. In striking contrast, Squire's Bass feels like an acoustic ray gun, sending heavy, overmudulated oscillations into even the most remote corner of the hall. Wakeman's keyboards, meanwhile, never really blend in with the rest of the ensemble either, with especially the string sounds appearing sharp, inorganic and distant. As a result, the band are at their most powerful when he reverts to more discreet sounds and segues seamlessly into the mix.

This lack of sonic sharpness reinforces the overall impression that this particular reincarnation of Yes is still searching for unity. It is not so much in their interpretations as such: „Tempus Fugit“ sounds spirited and hungry, „Astral Traveller“ mean and visceral, aforementioned „Onward“ (a track from often despised „Tormato“) tender and soulful, „And You and I“ both determined and delicate. It is rather in the way they are all more or less playing their parts all by and for themselves on stage. A well-oiled machinery like this of course doesn't require bland MTV-smiles to come to an understanding, but the perceived divide between the protagonists in front is preventing the spark really striking the audience until the jump-up-and-clap-your-hands-finale of „Roundabout“. A completely ripped-apart version of „Owner of a lonely Heart“ is the pefect example in this regard: Wakeman's cues and samples seem extremely laid-back, David is struggling to come to the fore and Howe disrupts the flow with a solo, whose atonal obscurity makes for an uneasy companion to the song's pop-appeal to say the least.

One of the early reactions to the concerts on the official homepage read: „Looking forward to seeing and hearing more of that lineup with new material“. This is an astute comment, as working on songs together might indeed be what could bind these forces together. As they proved tonight, after all, not only are they still capable of revealing new aspects to old pieces, the fun they were actually having showed throughout the better part of the show, a ghostly and haunting rendition of „Machine Messiah“ probably being the most explicit promise included here. With recording an album, however, come all the little feuds and wargames that have shaken and split this band over the course of its entire career. Yes are definitely not just keeping the legacy alive, but tonight's gig rather seems to suggest they may not want to go return to them.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Yes

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