Guitarist Steve Howe says band doing three entire discs on tour

by John J. Moser, 6 April 2013, The Morning Call

Guitar wizard Steve Howe is a Yes man.

Howe even recently gave up his slot in the seven-year-old reunion of 1980s prog rock hitmaking group Asia to concentrate on the similarly reunited Yes, the classic band with which he sold nearly 10 million albums and had timeless hits such as “Roundabout” and “Owner of a Lonely Heart.”

When Yes was working through ideas of what to do on its next tour, Howe says it was he who suggested performing complete albums. And when it came to deciding what albums to do, Howe says he was an advocate for the classic albums of the 1970s: “The Yes Album” from 1971, “Close to the Edge” from 1972 and “Going for the One” from 1977.

That will be the playlist when Yes stops April 7 at Sands Bethlehem Event Center.

“I said, Why don’t we do some albums, ’cause we hadn’t played a complete album on stage since ‘Tales from Topographic Ocean’ in ’73,” Howe says in a telephone call from a Chicago tour stop, amazed that his reference is now 40 years in the past.

He said the band — which includes bassist Chris Squire, drummer Alan White, keyboardist Geoff Downes and new singer Jon Davison — decided on doing three discs.

“That’s a complete show, as opposed to the one or two albums, which means you’re going to play an album, but there’s other things, other ingredients,” Howe says. “This is a complete onslaught, if you like.

“I had a suspicion that people would like that, and the immediate reaction from promoters was astounding. And then ticket sales were pretty astounding. And then the reaction’s been pretty astounding. So it’s three hits so far.”

Deciding on which albums to play took more time, Howe says.

“There were different ideas; there were more adventurous ideas, and there were less adventurous ideas,” he says with a laugh. One idea was pairing “Close to the Edge,” which includes three long songs, including the 18-minute title track, with 1971’s “Fragile,” which includes “Roundabout.”

But Howe says he was the one who last year got Yes to perform the song “Awaken,” a 15 1/2-minute suite from “Going for The One,” that “put us in the mode” to perform that album, he says. The band had dropped most of the songs from “Close to the Edge” from its set some years back, so fans had not heard them live in awhile, he says.

“And ‘The Yes Album’ is very fundamental. Either way, the ‘Yes’ album helped just to make it easier for songs like ‘A Venture’ or ‘Perpetual Change.’ We sort of regularly play ‘The Yes Album,’ so that’s the least surprising. But of the three, it goes down very well ’cause people like it.”

After playing the three albums in concert, Yes has been closing with “Roundabout” as the encore.

“Basically, this hops nicely through the ’70s, starting at the beginning, a bit in and then further in,” Howe says. “So it’s a kind of balance of things.”

Balance is what Howe, who turns 66 on Monday, says he was seeking when he announced in January that he was leaving Asia.

The band’s original four members — Howe, Yes’s Downes, bassist/singer John Wetton and drummer Carl Palmer — had reunited in 2006. Since the 2008 reunion of Yes, Howe has played lead guitar in both bands.

“This is going to be the fifth year of me trying to juggle two important bands like that, and I really thought I couldn’t do it,” Howe says. “I mean, I couldn’t do it any more. I’d done it, and I’d been wedged sometimes between them … a Yes tour ending and an Asia tour starting.

“I just thought it was time to make a decision, you know? I based it on various other instinctive feelings I have about my guitar work and the music that I spend my time playing.”

But if anyone thinks that mean Howe is slowing down, think again.

“I did want to get, and I have gotten, back now to doing solo and trio work in the U.K. this year,” he says. He says that in June he has solo dates with his “one-man guitar show,” and in September has dates as a trio with his drummer son Dylan and organist Ross Stanley, with whom he’s released a second album, “Traveling.”

“Those are things that had taken a back seat over these last four years, when Yes and Asia had kept me so nicely busy,” Howe says, laughing. “But, you know, I was missing having those solo arms to my career, ’cause they do actually keep me balanced more than it does if I’m strapped across two bands and two schedules of two bands, both kind of going, ‘Aw, well, I wish you could give us a bit more.’ ”

Asia has decided to continue with guitarist Sam Coulson, a 26-year-old the band discovered on YouTube.

Asked whether he has any feelings about the choice, Howe says, “Well, yeah, I mean, I guess I do. But I keep them reasonably close to my side.”

“They are perfectly entitled to do what they like. … And I’m not ever going to be critical of their decisions of how they go on. But obviously the original lineup has ceased, you know, and their choice of guitarist, they didn’t consult me — as I wouldn’t expect them to.

“So it’s really in their ballpark how they do that. Obviously, you know, I can’t help having a toe, if not a foot, in the account,” he says with a laugh. “Just to see what they do. Because we do have some ongoing affairs and business. It’s quite an amicable split; they sort of understood.”

Yes, too has a new member. Vocalist Davison more than a year ago replaced Benoit David, who had been with the band since it reunited in 2008, singing the parts of original vocalist Jon Anderson.

“He’s an amazing asset to us – not only his professionalism, his dedication, preparation … he’s an all-around, hundred percent giver,” Howe says of Davison. “He provides and gives in the lead vocal department exceptionally well. And he’s never struggled to be in the register that’s required.”

And while Anderson and David both departed the band amid reports of health problems, Howe says he and Davison “prepare ourselves with getting in tune, getting in touch with relaxation, with exercise. That’s part of the reason why I admire Jon Davison, because he came to this party with a very clean slate, and he’s keeping it clean.”

Despite being reunited for five years now, Yes has put out just one disc of new music, 2011’s “Fly From Here” with the revived lineup. Yes’ last album previously was 2001’s “Magnification.”

But asked about new music by Yes, Howe demurs.

“Well, I’m not going to really talk about that,” he says. “It’s a bit early; we might do … certainly there’s some enthusiasm. And there are certain issues about it, and, well, they’ve thus far not been resolved. .. But it’s talked about, let’s say.”

john.moser@mcall.com
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YES
•When: 7 p.m. April 7
•Where: Sands Bethlehem Event Center, 77 Sands Boulevard, Bethlehem.
•How much: $45-$85
Set list: Performing in their entirety three of the group’s classic albums: 1971’s “The Yes Album,” 1972’s “Close to the Edge” and 1977’s “Going for the One.” It’s the first tour in 40 years in which the band has played albums in their entirety.
•Info: http://www.sandseventcenter.com