Yes They Can
More than 40 years after forming, prog rockers Yes remain in a constant state of flux.
Thursday, March 7, 2013
Meet progressive rock, psychedelic rock’s stepson. The subgenre was born in the ’60s as the British attempted to bring more artistic credibility to rock and roll using influences like chamber and classical music, new instrumental inventions like the Moog synthesizer, and experimental composition, rhythm, timbre and form.
Prog rock’s biological dad is Yes. Its over-the-top, sci-fi-centric music – dusted in complexly orchestrated instrumentals – sets the standard for all the progressive rockers who followed.
Sure, Yes has lived through more lineup changes than a major-league baseball team; around 18 musicians have filled the fives spots in the seminal symphonic rock group throughout the years. That hasn’t affected the band’s critical and commercial success much. Nine of its 20 studio albums have reached the top 10 in either the U.K. or the U.S., and two reached the number-one spot across the pond. Yes has sold around 13.5 million albums in the U.S.
“I suppose we have a different kind of sound and that’s contributed to people listening to us regularly through the years,” drummer Alan White says.
The outfit hopes the success will continue in 2013 with one of the biggest changes to Yes’ lineup – featuring White, bassist Chris Squire, guitarist Steve Howe and keyboardist Geoff Downes – in decades. One of the band’s last original members, lead singer/songwriter Jon Anderson, recently left the group, and Jon Davison – in his 40s, much younger than the rest of the guys – took over.
In addition to his longtime affinity for the band, there are several reasons Davison – formerly of the Seattle-based trance-rock outfit Sky Cries Mary – scored the opportunity of a lifetime.
“He knew Yes material really well, and he’s been a big fan for many years,” White says. “He’s been interested in performing with Yes for a long time, and he sounds very much like Jon Anderson, so it’s a good combination.”
On a side note, for diehard Yes fans bummed about Anderson’s departure, a reunion is not necessarily out of the question.
“Who knows?” White says. “Maybe down the line. But I guess [Anderson] likes performing solo now.”
Yes will go on as if the five guys playing together have been doing so since the beginning four decades ago. For their current tour, they will be doing something they’ve never done before: performing The Yes Album, Close to the Edge, and Going for the One in their entirety each night of the 40-date spring tour, which comes to the Golden State Theatre on Sunday.
Close to the Edge’s three songs are definitively epic. The four-movement title track – inspired by Hermann Hesse’s book Siddhartha – is an 18-minute symphony that kicks off with birds chirping, wind chimes and flowing water before Howe’s foreboding guitar solo pounces on the scene like a rabid dog.
Meanwhile, Going for the One’s 15-minute-plus bookend “Awaken” is characterized by multifaceted rhythmic and harmony arrangements and existential lyrics. The tune is also known for its unexpected inclusion of a harp.
Then there’s Yes’ third LP, the platinum The Yes Album. Along with references to chess and Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, the record employs new-at-the-time instrumental innovations like the flanger, a guitar effect that yields a spacy electronic sound.
“[The albums] are a mixture of different years and different phases in the band’s lifestyle,” White says. “We’re experimenting with [playing all three], and it’s looking like it’s going to turn out great.”
Soon there may be more material to add to Yes’ 20-album roster: The members may be heading into the studio in the near future to work on a new record, their first with Davison on lead vocals.
White says Yes’ dynamic is pretty much the same as it was with Anderson. Davison has managed to jump into an operation that’s been going on for decades and mesh well with the seasoned players.
“Davison’s got a really great voice and he’s a really good songwriter,” White says. “He’s not just a hired hand. He’s now one of the guys.”
More big news in Yes’ world: In late March, the band’s heading out to sea on the Cruise to the Edge, one of those increasingly popular rock-themed cruises. They will join six other similar bands and play two of five nights as the boat sails to the Cayman Islands, Jamaica and back to Ft. Lauderdale.
“It sounds like old-hat kind of stuff, but it’s actually a progressive cruise,” White insists.
Though the group’s members are getting on in age, their careers are as active as they were in the early years.
“It’s a lot different later in life, but we think we’re handling it pretty well right now,” White says. “Everybody’s looking forward to the tour, and everybody’s in good shape.”
How many more years will Yes tour and produce new work?
“Who’s to know?” White replies. “We’re touring quite a lot, and there’s the possibility of an album, so we’re not looking at any kind of last-tour thing soon. We don’t believe in that kind of stuff. It’ll be over when we all need wheelchairs.”
YES performs at 8pm, Sunday, March 10, at the Golden State Theatre, 417 Alvarado St., Monterey. $70-$85. 297-2472.