Yes (January 2004)

Date of Performance: January 28, 2004
Venue: Sherman Oaks Galleria, Sherman Oaks, CA, US

Yes Unplugged Plugs Yes

Yes - The Ultimate YesThe Ultimate Yes, their 35th Anniversary commemorative CD box set was released in the US in January. As part of a Southern California mini-media blitz, Yes appeared on CBS's The Late Show With Craig Kilborn, played a live set on a popular Los Angeles FM radio show, and, to top it all off, they also staged a brief acoustic performance at the Tower Records in the Sherman Oaks Galleria.

More than 350 fans came out to hear and meet the band members on Wednesday, January 28th at the popular LA record store. A crowd of friendly Yes maniacs, in some cases with children in tow, stood in line for hours for a rare chance to meet and greet the progressive rock legends, all in one place, at the same time.

As I have grown to expect, Yes brought out the best in their fans, or perhaps only outgoing, just plain nice folks turn out to be fans of progressive rock in general, and Yes in particular. Everyone seemed to have a wondrous story to tell about Yes, their unique experience with this or that band member, or a tale of how they came to be a fan of these musical immortals.

The story started the day before, when my wife and I journeyed from San Diego to the LA mall to buy copies of the new Yes box set, in order to get wristbands assuring our entry into the next evening's concert/autograph session. We expected to see a huge line waiting; when we got in line, we were among a group of very hard core fans, numbering less than twenty. Soon our group was approached by a teenager bearing a portable stereo and an arm full of classic Yes CDs. This "youngster" received applause from the grizzled veterans we were with. Things like this happened over and over, as we waited this day and the next. Old friends met again, ex-girlfriends and boyfriends were found, children and grandchildren were introduced to long lost acquaintances, and an extended community was formed, and bonded.

The day of the show, we queued again for several hours, hoping to be in front of the tiny stage that had been set up inside. As is always the case, confusion reigned supreme. The band would only sign the new CD, now the band will sign the CD, and one other item, no, any two items, no back to just the new CD, and finally, anything you set before them.

When the store had been cleared of shoppers, and readied for the mass waiting outside, we trooped in and found our way to the front of the stage, directly in front of a shiny, new grand piano. Without much delay, the band members made their presence known, posing for some photos for the press, and chatting with each other behind the stage.

Chris Squire live at the Sherman Oaks Galleria Jan 2004 (photo: E Karr)Within a few short minutes, Yes stepped onstage and began tuning, and checking out their decidedly low tech gear. Chris was particularly displeased with the sound and level of his huge acoustic bass guitar. When Jon stepped up and began a halting version of "Long Distance Runaround," they all joined in one by one, with Chris still trying to catch the soundman's eye, and throughout this aborted version of this classic, we got to hear a variety of screeching or booming feedback instead of Chris's bass line.

In a matter of a few minutes, levels were set, and the song was begun anew. This was always one of my favorite songs from Fragile, and the acoustic version is not bad at all.

More stripped down versions were performed that evening, and without fail, they were excellent. Steve still has to have a number of stringed instruments to get him through even a short performance. Steve played two different acoustic six-strings, and what looked to me like a National Steel Dobro. He played beautiful slide guitar work on "Southside Of The Sky."

Rick Wakeman live at the Sherman Oaks Galleria Jan 2004 (photo: E Karr)The set list for this approximately 30 minute performance was, from memory now, "Long Distance Runaround," "Southside Of The Sky," "Show Me," then "Roundabout," and ended with a spirited reading of "Your Move/All Good People." Rick gave the fans a long piano introduction to "South Side...," and Jon treated the crowd to a bit of off-the-cuff humor.

Steve had to sit in order to play his acoustic, and held his dobro on his lap to knock out some great slide work, and those farther than two rows back could not see him over the heads of those closest. When calls came from the audience for Steve to show himself, Jon explained, and I paraphrase here, "Steve has gotten quite small lately, he's about three foot one now, but there's nothing wrong with that." This of course brought cheers and appreciative laughter from the adoring audience. Luckily, Steve then stood, calling Jon's assessment of his height into question.

Jon Anderson and Chris Squire live at the Sherman Oaks Galleria Jan 2004 (photo: E Karr)All the numbers were very well performed, and I, who had not yet opened and listened to my new box set, heard these new arrangements for the first time on stage. I must say that I thought, coming into this show, that the songs would be rather thin and unimpressive. Boy, was I wrong. The new versions are full sounding, and Rick's piano work was beautifully done, adding new depth and variation to some very old and well known cannons of the genre.

All in all, it was a triumphant appearance, and they basked in the glow of the fans obvious love and regard. This would be a short lived afterglow, as we all had to vacate the store again and line up anew, to be let in ten at a time to stand before a table where the five musicians sat and received the fans.

Yes signing autographs at the Sherman Oaks Galleria Jan 2004 (photo: E Karr)We soon noticed that some folks had left the store even before this very short appearance was over, in order to be at the front of the line to meet the band. By the time my wife and I got our minute of face time, it was past ten pm, and the group had been signing for more than two hours. Nevertheless, we were greeted warmly by Jon, and shook some of the most famous hands ever to touch a guitar, a keyboard, or hold a drum stick. Chris and Steve seemed to be in need of a rest, but Jon had the ever-glow of someone who possessed the energy of the universe. Rick was also quite animated, and in the highlight of my day, I shook the hand that had brought the mighty Hammond B-3 to life, the hand that called forth the sounds of the Mini-Moog into a thousand halls and arenas throughout the world. It was also my chance to be told "no" to my face. No B-3 on the upcoming tour, no real Mellotron live, no Mellotron in the next studio sessions. Well, you gotta try, don't you? I've never enjoyed the word "no" that much. Well, despite all that, we had our moment, and we left the store with our signed posters and 2002 tour program.

Outside, another touching scene was being unfolded, as grey haired fans behaved like the children we all were so long ago. We stopped again and again, comparing items with the new friends we had made that day. Excitedly, we all showed off our newly autographed items, and talked over each other, trying to blurt out every word that had been exchanged with our heroes. Time seemed to stand still for us, and we spent another glorious hour talking with friends and looking at books, posters and signed LPs.

Thankfully, there was virtually no traffic on Interstate 5, and the two hour trip up from San Diego took less than an hour and fifteen minutes on the late night trip home. It might have taken even less if our spirits had been able to lift the car off the ground the way it lifted our hearts.

Added: April 4th 2004
Reviewer: Tom Karr

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