by Gary Graff, 9 April 2013, The Oakland Press
Playing a landmark album in its entirety has become a regular rock ’n’ roll concert occurrence in recent years.
But playing three albums front to back certainly stands out. And that’s just what Yes is doing this year.
The veteran British progressive rock troupe is on the road playing three of its ’70s albums — 1971’s “The Yes Album,” 1972’s “Close to the Edge” and 1977’s “Going For the One” — back to back to back, then throwing in “Roundabout,” the hit from 1971’s “Fragile,” as an encore for good measure. Guitarist Steve Howe notes, with audible pride, that “we seem to have radically upped the game.”
And he thinks it’s high time, too.
“I’ve been saying for quite a while that it’s about time we didn’t just go out and play songs,” says Howe, who joined Yes in 1970 to replace original guitarist Peter Banks, who died March 7. “Songs are nice. I love the songs, but it’s about time we had a bit more concept around it, and doing albums really appealed to me. So they finally listened and we finally got everybody on board, and everybody seems to like it.”
And, Howe adds, Yes — with its penchant for lengthy, symphonic compositions such as “Close to the Edge,” “Tales From Topographic Oceans” and “The Gates of Delirium”— is well-suited for playing entire albums like this.
“We are an album band, for goodness sake,” Howe, 66, notes with a laugh.
Yes is not necessarily new to the idea, in fact. Back in the ’70s — “when the album was king, in many ways,” says bassist Chris Squire — Yes would routinely play all of its latest album in concert. But nearly 45 years on, and with 18 studio albums to choose from, selecting three for this year’s informally dubbed Triple Header Tour was a challenge.
“There’s quite a wide range,” acknowledges Squire, 65, the lone founding member of Yes remaining in the lineup. “I think we just thought that these denoted certain landmarks in Yes’ career.” “The Yes Album,” for instance, was Yes’ third overall but first to make a significant impact in the U.S. “Close to the Edge” contains Yes’ first sidelong (on vinyl) composition, while “Going For the One” marked a reunion with much-loved keyboardist Rick Wakeman after a four-year absence.
“They’re all slightly different in a way,” Squire notes, “so they definitely represent our career in the ’70s.”
Preparing the music, meanwhile, presented its own challenges — especially for keyboardist Geoff Downes, who was with Yes during 1980-81 and rejoined in 2011, and singer Jon Davison, who joined the band in 2012. Howe says the idea was “we wanted an easy time and a hard time — in other words, we wanted some challenges to rise to.” He worked particularly hard with Downes on seldom-played pieces such as “Perpetual Change,” “A Venture,” “Turn of the Century,” “Parallels” and the “Going For the One” title track, making sure the “formidable arrangements” were understood and crisp in their delivery.
“We got together and looked at the songs and discussed how we were going to go about them,” Howe says. “We had a rough sketch of an idea, and I’d fill in a few bits of detail and say, ‘Oh, watch this bit,’ or ‘This bit is the problem bit’ or ‘Check this out. …’
“We had to do a lot of work, but that’s OK. We’re pretty hard-working guys. Always have been.”
Howe, for his part, wants Yes to continue the full-album trend on future tours.
“I hope this is where we’ve just started, and another time it will be ‘Fragile,’ (1980’s) ‘Drama’ and something else,” he says. “We could mix the bag, change it around, keep one in, throw two out. I hope it’s the way we go forward.”
What could change that, however, is a new album, which is also on Yes’ radar for the near future. Squire says that process is “really just in the germination stage at the moment” but he adds the group is “already looking at bits and pieces and starting to gather music together.” Nothing will happen until fall at the earliest, but Howe notes that “we’ve got enthusiasm” and plenty of material to bring to the party.
“I’m happy to say I’ve always got music backed up,” says the guitarist, who left his other band, Asia, early this year to focus on Yes and other musical concerns (keyboardist Downes remains a part of Asia, however). “In January and February I had time to do more of that, with some fresh ideas and getting some demos together. We’ll see where it goes, but I’d be very surprised if we didn’t have something new from Yes in the near future.”