ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, JULY 6, 1998
By Steve Newton
Guitar legend Steve Howe first hooked up with Yes vocalist Jon Anderson and bassist Chris Squire back in 1971, just in time to help steer the British prog-rock outfit to glory with best-selling albums such as Fragile and Close to the Edge. While the progressive sound of the ’70s seems to be a near-dead issue in the twilight of the ’90s—with even the once-mighty Rush hard-pressed to draw a crowd—the three Yes-men still soldier on. Along with longtime drummer Alan White and newcomer Billy Sherwood on guitars and keys, they’ll be at GM Place on Friday (July 17), leading me to wonder about the resilient bond that finds them together after 27 years.
“Uh, dear…” ponders Howe from his Ohio hotel room. “Well, I’ve had some nice retreats away from it—’cause I was in Asia in the ’80s—but I guess what it is is just sheer determination that we all found something in Yes and we still find it. It’s still there, so in a way we’ve got to get together and stay together to make that work as much as we can.”
Yes has encountered some obstacles to its alliance over the years, the most notable fracture occurring in the late ’80s, when Squire and Anderson split up and the latter—because Squire had legal dibs on the Yes name—formed a band called Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe. In 1991 the two opposing factions—which included guitarist Trevor Rabin and original Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye—united for the aptly titled Union album and tour, which played the Pacific Coliseum in May of that year. According to Howe, it was “an experience” performing with the entire Yes clan, but the stage did get a little crowded at times.
“I enjoyed the first leg very much,” says Howe of the Union tour, “and then we went to Europe and it got a little bit everybody-for-themselves, you know, a bit of spotlight-stealing going on. When we got back to England it seemed to bring everybody back into order again, so we had periods where it was quite satisfying, and a few periods when it was a little bit off-the-wall.”
Rick Wakeman—who replaced Kaye in ’72 and helped guide Yes through its most successful career phase—isn’t in the current lineup. (The band’s main touring keyboardist is Moscow native Igor Khoroshev.) Wakeman has been with the band on and off, his most recent return being for the two-volume Keys to Ascension live recording of ’96-’97.
“Rick came back just for that period,” explains Howe, “then decided he didn’t want to tour with us. We were convinced that Rick would stay with Yes and we did everything we thought we could do towards that end, but there was always a great skepticism by Rick about some of Yes’s goals or intentions. Basically, we wanted to form a band that would play together for maybe six months of the year, and he didn’t have the space for that commitment.”
Back in its Wakeman-enhanced, mid-’70s heyday, Yes sported one of the most acclaimed live shows around, designed by fantasy artist Roger Dean, whose work graced many of the band’s album covers. The cosmic Dean designs are no longer part of the group’s “minimalist” staging, but the sound of the ’70s will be well-represented—even before Yes hits the stage. The opening act is the Alan Parsons Live Project, featuring the guy who engineered Abbey Road and Dark Side of the Moon. Parsons’s own albums aren’t quite as timeless as those, but his hypnotic instrumental works—such as “I Robot” and “Mammagamma”—could get the early arrivals reaching for their stash.
“We had no idea what it was gonna be like,” says Howe of the pairing. “It was one of those interesting chemistry things we thought was gonna either work or not. We all prayed it would work and it does work; it seems to be a good marriage. They have some nice instrumental sections in their songs that are quite elaborate and quite dramatic.”
Nostalgia-starved ’70s-rock holdouts will surely be the majority at GM Place come Friday, and while Yes is obliged to perform a modicum of material from its latest CD, Open Your Eyes, the real treat will be the oldies, many of which Howe still likes performing. “There’s something great about playing the big pieces,” says the 51-year-old rocker. “We just added ‘Yours Is No Disgrace’ and ‘Close to the Edge’, and they’re quite exciting because we haven’t played them a hundred times, so we’ve actually got to kind of hold on to the railings quite closely there.”
Longtime Yes followers who aren’t thrilled by the mainstream direction of its latest CD find consolation in the fact that, according to Howe, the band is now headed back to its more progressive roots. “Open Your Eyes is a kind of distraction from our normal course of action,” he admits, “where we’re developing and expanding and allowing big instrumental sections. It’s certainly a very tight and rather song-oriented record, which I don’t think is very Yes-like, but every now and again we do something like that. I don’t think it’s really what the fans want, so hopefully now that Jon and I are teamed up much more closely, we can steer the group back to more of its original scale.”