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English prog-rock heroes Yes put on a properly epic show at The Tower Theater

Yes | Photo By Noah Silvestry | silvestography.com
Yes | Photo By Noah Silvestry | silvestography.com

Epic (adj): heroic or grand in scale or character. It is perhaps one of the most over- and misused words in the English language. Yeah, that grilled cheese may have been tasty, but it wasn’t quite as monumental as Odysseus. But I’ll tell you what was epic: English prog-rock legends Yes’ concert at the Tower Theater. It would have been easy to doubt a group whose 46 years together do not by any means belie them, not to mention that founding singer and frontman Jon Anderson left the group in 2008. I don’t think Yes cared about these things. When you’re the band that played the most attended festival-style show in United States history here in Philly (the “Spirit Of Summer ’76” show at JFK Stadium on June 12, 1976 for 130,000 fans), a few grey hairs (or more precisely, a full head of white ones, but who’s counting?) aren’t going to get in the way of putting on a show of, that’s right, epic proportions.

Yes | Photo By Noah Silvestry | silvestography.com
Yes | Photo By Noah Silvestry | silvestography.com

Yes opened up their extremely sold out Tower Theater show with their 1972 Close To The Edge LP played in reverse. What became immediately clear as they rumbled their way through “Siberian Khatru” was that Yes’ sound is massive, which has a hell of a lot to do with founding bassist Chris Squire’s bold playing (and as it happens, his appearance isn’t much different). And while guitarist Steve Howe may have gained a few wrinkles here and there, his hair is as long as ever, and more importantly, he still knows his way around a guitar like his 5 consecutive “Best Overall Guitarist” victories in Guitar Player magazine would suggest. That, or the 3,000-odd fans bellowing out their love for him during the intricate flamenco guitar solo piece that is “Mood For A Day”. Oh, and Jon Anderson’s replacement, the similarly named Jon Davison, wasn’t half bad. Wait, scratch that. He was, to use appropriately English lexicon, bloody amazing. I can honestly say that I have never seen a frontman gesticulate, prance about and sing more passionately that Davison did. His oriental patterned shirt was pretty cool too.

After playing a couple new songs, both of which were decent enough, Yes made their way through all of the 1971 LP, Fragile. All of it. The thing about that album that I didn’t realize until I saw it live is that each song seems better than the last. Sure, the record’s opener, “Roundabout” was a hit, but “South Side Of The Sky” easily makes my top 10 guitar riffs list, and “The Fish [Schindleria Praematurus]” is probably the second best rock song ever to be written in 7/4 (“Money” by Pink Floyd takes precedence in my book, and so would Led Zeppelin’s “The Ocean”, but that song isn’t really in 7/4). They encored with the timeless classic, “I’ve Seen All Good People”, which, come to think of it, includes one of the best 3-part harmonies known to rock & roll. As for the final encore, “Starship Trooper”, I’m going to have to refer you back to the beginning of the review, because no word describes it better than “epic”. Keytar and guitar (or should I say, geetar) solos from Geoff Downes and Steve Howe respectively were unbelievable. I left the room in shock. Yes still rocks.

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Tonight’s Concert Picks: Spank Rock at Underground Arts, Ceremony at First Unitarian Church, Chelsea Reed and Fairweather Five at Ardmore Music Hall

Spank Rock | Photo by John Vettese
Spank Rock | Photo by John Vettese

Philadelphia via Baltimore hiphop artist Spank Rock (aka Naeem Juwan) will be playing Underground Arts this Saturday. Last year, Spank Rock teamed up with longtime collaborator Amanda Black for their club track “We Can Go All Night”. He also played alongside the Walkmen, Sun Ra Arkestra and Sharon Van Etten at the Rail Park Benefit at Union Transfer. He recently released another single, “Gully” which promptly got remixed by Brodinski. In addition he made a mixtape for Jump Philly with DJ Sylo. Listen to the remix of “Gully” below. Get more details about the show at the XPN Concert Calendar.

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Yes in Philly in the Seventies

Art by Roger Dean http://www.rogerdean.com/
Art by Roger Dean http://www.rogerdean.com/

Today is the 12 hour Prog Rock Marathon on WXPN hosted by Dan Reed and his returning guest, local prog rock expert Biff Kennedy. From Noon to 5 they will be upstairs at World Cafe Live, welcoming special guests and spinning classic prog-rock; King Crimson, Can, Genesis, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and of course, some Yes.

Philly has always loved its Yes, prog-rockers who are still at it – during this summer’s Yestival tour, John DiLIberto called them “dinosaurs that have been reborn.” Introduced to many radio listeners in Philly by Ed Sciaky on WMMR back in the early Seventies, Yes performed in Philly regularly, playing the Spectrum 12 times from 1971 to 1979. While they often played two nights in a row here, they once played twice on the same day, including a matinee show, on February 16th, 1974 during the Tales From Topographic Oceans tour.

In June, 1979 the band performed three nights in a row, “in the round,” on a rotating stage, and the show on June 21st was recorded and released on DVD. The band at the time included Jon Anderson, Steve Howe (guitar), Rick Wakeman (keyboards), Chris Squire (bass), and Alan White (drums). Below, watch a couple of songs from that performance – “Starship Trooper,” and “Siberian Khatru” – followed by a recording of a complete show during the Relayer tour from the Spectrum on July 22nd, 1977.

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The Week So Far: 11 must-read stories on The Key (incl. Elvis Costello, Psychic Teens, The Quarterly Project)

Lawsuits four

Listen to new local music from Family Vacation, Purling HissThe Lawsuits and more [link]

Light Heat, Bardo Pond and Chris Forsyth will play August’s installment of the Race Street Pier free music series [link]

New show announcements include Elvis Costello, Brian Wilson with Jeff Beck and Willy Mason

Legendary New Jersey venue Maxwell’s closes after 35 years [link]

The Head and the Heart share a new song called “Shake” off of their upcoming LP [link]

Brian Wilensky Unlocks Psychic Teens‘ new record COME with a new song, review and more [link]

Get caught up on the weekend’s shows with John Diliberto’s review of Yes at Susquehanna Bank Center and photos from the 2nd Street Festival [link and link]

Dana Falconberry stopped by for this week’s Folkadelphia Session [link]

My Morning Downloads featured tracks from Saint Motel and Deer Tick [link]

Celebrate undiscovered local music with the Broad Street Music Group‘s launch party on 8/17 [link]

The Quarterly Project will released a charity compilation and will host a listening party / benefit concert at PhilaMOCA on 8/29 [link]

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Yes is a dinosaur band that has been reborn: John Diliberto reviews Yestival

Steve Howe photo by John Diliberto of Echoes
Steve Howe photo by John Diliberto of Echoes

This review of the Yestival by John Diliberto, host and producer of Echoes, originally appeared in The Echoes Blog. Listen to Echoes on WXPN Mon-Thursday evenings from 11PM-1AM.

In 1971 I went to the Orpheum Theater in Boston for a double bill of Yes and King Crimson. Being too hip for the room, I was there to see the Islands edition of Crimson. Yes, of course, were just too pop for me. I mean, they had actual hits with “Roundabout” and “I’ve Seen All Good People.” Krimson gave a good performance, although this was the least interesting edition of the band. But Yes, this night anyway, wiped them off the stage with a combination of charisma, impeccable musical virtuosity and Jon Anderson’s choirboy yearning. I walked out a fan, and would have to wait for the Lark’s Tongue edition of Krimson for them to catch up.

I found myself in a similar place this past Saturday night at the Yestival, a one day festival of progressive rock headed by the latest iteration of Yes, and the most controversial. This band always had trouble holding its personnel together, but there was always at least one constant, the signature voice and lyrics of Jon Anderson. But Anderson was effectively booted from the band in 2008, due to a combination of illness and apparent lack of commitment. With the absence of signpost members like drummer Bill Bruford and keyboardist Rick Wakeman, I felt like I was seeing a shadow of this band, no more credible than the Genesis tribute band, The Musical Box, who opened. This couldn’t be the Yes of Fragile or Close To The Edge. This was just a touring paycheck machine.

Uh, I was wrong, which was something that about 5500 people at the Yestival in the Susquehanna Bank Center in Camden, NJ already knew. Anderson’s replacement, (his second actually), Jon Davison, is frighteningly good. The singer for the American symphonic prog group Glass Hammer, he sounds like a clone of Anderson, except a clone who hits all the notes, sings with passion and ties the band together with his stage presence. By the time they hit the “Total Mass Retain” section of Close to the Edge, no one was missing Jon Anderson and no one was thinking Davison was a substitute. He is the lead singer of Yes.

Since this was a festival, Yes was slated to play only two albums straight through instead of the three they’re performing on their solo tour. But they decided to throw in the third album anyway playing Close to the Edge, Going for the One and The Yes Album. What magnificent works they are and beautifully performed. Bassist and co-founder Chris Squire and guitarist Steve Howe, a member of Yes beginning in their classic years, anchored the band. Howe switched between electric guitar and lap steel, whipping out the slides of “Going for the One” and nailing the intensity of “Starship Trooper.”

Yes photo by John Diliberto of Echoes
Yes photo by John Diliberto of Echoes

Still an underrated player, Howe matches fleet fingered runs with beautiful tone. Squire stalked, grimaced and yowled stage left, ripping out those chunky bass-lines that are such a Yes signature. Neither keyboardist Geoff Downes nor drummer Alan White, both members of later Yes editions, took much of the spotlight, but they provided the orchestral color and rhythmic thrust so essential to this group, who, for all their odd time signatures and multi-movement works, really drives as hard as any rock band. I don’t care about the excess; nine keyboards stacked up just have a certain gravitas and power that the smaller keyboard set-ups of Volto! and Renaissance couldn’t match. I can’t say the same for Chris Squire’s triple necked guitar he pulled out at one point. One Rickenbacker bass is really all he needs. Continue reading →

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Get your prog-rock on: “Yestival” to make only U.S. appearance at Susquehanna Bank Center on 8/3

Yes logo Progrockers Yes- Steve Howe, Chris Squire, Alan White, Geoff Downes & Jon Davison – bring their 2013 festival to the Susquehanna Bank Center on August 3rd.  The progressive rock legends will play Yes favorites and two classic Yes albums in their entirety including Close to the Edge  and The Yes Album. Also on the bill: the greatest Genesis tribute band ever – The Musical Box, (performing the classic Genesis album, Foxtrot), Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy and Rennaissance with Annie Haslam. There will also be a rare appearance by Roger Dean, the Yes album cover artist presenting “The Art of Roger Dean.” Tickets go on sale Friday, June 7th at 10 a.m.  More information will be available here. Below, listen to a 1973 recording of “Starship Trooper” from The Yes Album followed by a 1972 performance of the title track from Close to the Edge.

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