Yes (September 2004)


Date of Performance: September 16, 2004
Venue: Viejas Casino, Alpine, CA, US

The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly - Yes And Dream Theater Live On The Green At Viejas Casino, Alpine, CA

Oh, what a difference a day makes. Or, .... uh, one hundred and fifty days, actually. The last time I saw Yes (April 18th, 2004, their third tour date appearance) they were pretty ragged and heading in a questionable direction. Tonight I have just returned from one of the best performances I have ever seen the band give, and all my doubts have been set to rest. In April, I wrote that a few weeks would cure the band's rather "raw" performances of their material and changes would be needed in their set list. Well, the band has tightened up immensely and changes have been made to the set list. I saw a band that was much more animated and, if I may be so bold as to delve into the psyche of the band members, far more satisfied and confident than the band I saw in April. Steve played well - astonishingly well, if I may say so - and Chris Squire was loud, resonant and cocky. Rick was a clown behind the keyboards; Alan was punchy, his playing in everyone's face and, ... umm, who else? Who else? Oh yes, Jon. Jon's voice was in wonderful shape and he kept himself busy in each extended instrumental interlude, playing acoustic guitar, percussion and harp. He was more talkative tonight than I have ever heard him before, and many of the bands selections were introduced with his ever sunny and inspirational observations.

As in April, the set opened with "Going For The One." Steve's pedal steel playing was gripping as always, but the vocals were all set at a very low level, and the song ended with chants of "turn Jon up." Before I could even look around to see what the crowd was doing, Alan launched into a brief drum solo and the band was kicking into "Sweet Dreams." The rendition of this gem was immeasurably better than that I heard on their third tour stop. Chris' bass was quite loud and punchy, the vocals strong all the way around and the song came across wonderfully. By the time Steve's guitar solo came up, he was clearly enjoying himself quite a bit, rocking and bopping across the stage. He played some ripping, speedy licks and showed that a blazing solo can be an important and pleasurable part of an otherwise great song. More on this later, ok?

Jon then asked the crowd to sing along with him, whereupon the band began "Your Move/I've Seen All Good People" with at least half the crowd singing along loudly and, and to my delight, in tune. Unlike my last experience with a live Yes show, this time the band played and sang as if this song had been written yesterday. The excitement was there, the magic was clearly there as well.

Jon began an introduction, telling the audience how he and his wife Jane have driven across America this year, seeing the beauty of this land, and telling how they'd all come to "look for America." "America" was a little tough for Alan in the early going and a small error in the first verse led to laughter and a lot of clowning around by Chris and Rick. Chris seemed to be uncontrollably giddy, almost leaping up on one bank of Rick's synthesizers and prancing and kicking his way through the second half of this lovely version of the Paul Simon classic. Jon continued with another amusing introduction, announcing that the next song would be a version of a song the band had written in "1957; well it seems like we've been doing it since 1957." This was the lead in to "South Side Of The Sky." I've seen this song performed live the last four times I have seen the band, and if the tempo gets any slower it will turn into a dirge. Nevertheless, it was as exciting as ever and the ending, with Steve and Rick trading solos, seemed to go on forever, with astounding licks by both players. Next up was one of my perpetual favorites, "Yours Is No Disgrace." This was performed to perfection, and Steve's extended guitar solo was a wonder to behold.

"Yours Is No Disgrace" ended the first set and the instruments for the acoustic set were in place practically before the band members could walk offstage. While the technicians were still moving mics and stands, Steve walked out onto the stage and began "The Clap." The people directly behind me had apparently never heard "The Clap" before and talked loudly amongst themselves, trying to divine just what this piece was. Finally, one made a judgment that satisfied and quieted all, saying authoritatively, "he's playing a bluegrass song, that's what that is." It's been almost thirty years since I've heard "The Clap" played with such vigor, and the tune was a pleasure to hear AND see, as Steve was happily bouncing along with this acoustic classic and banging out syncopated rhythms on the body of his acoustic. "Long Distance Runaround" followed another talk from Jon, where he explained that the song was written by him on a trip to Jamaica in 1971. The tune segued into "You Are My Sunshine" and then back to Jon, who began another version of the song, the reggae version, which, he explained, was his original intention for the tune. It was clear that the tune would have worked as a reggae number; but still, I thank whomever talked Jon into using the arrangement that appeared on Fragile. I was very, very surprised (and somewhat dismayed) to hear Jon at this point endorse the legalization of drugs, and the banning of all weapons of war. I know, Jon!!! Let's send the crazed Islamists a boat load of marijuana!!!! They'll all love us then and stop cutting people's heads off!!! Gee, I wish I'd thought of that. And people say that musicians don't think clearly about the implication of the political statements they make!

Ok, I feel much better now, thanks for asking. The acoustic set continued with "Wondrous Stories" and Rick's light speed piano solo. Man, can that guy tickle the ivories! Jon then asked Chris to explain and introduce the next song, and dutifully Chris began an explanation of how the new version of "Roundabout" came to be. Rick immediately opened the lid on his piano bench and took out a newspaper that he raised up over his face and began to read. This little prank brought about huge laughter and the crowd rejoiced. Alan left his tiny drum kit to go read the news, peeking over Rick's shoulder. Chris then turned to the topic of Rick's inability to initially grasp the new arrangement and Rick quickly demonstrated several examples of how to play "Roundabout" incorrectly. Again, this brought the audience to laughter and much merriment ensued. The surprise of the night (for me, anyway) was the final song of the acoustic set, "Owner Of A Lonely Heart." This was in my opinion, a better version of the song than the electric accounting of the song that we are all so familiar with. Throughout the acoustic set Steve and Rick teased each other, several times speeding through unison lines they played together, trying to leave the other lagging behind. Rarely have I seen the band so relaxed and confident that they would attempt to play with the song arrangements in an attempt to crack up one another. The audience's love for the band, and for this acoustic portion of the show, was palpable and the whole experience was an absolute joy to behold.

The stage was cleared while Jon began an extended introduction to "And You And I" while several members of the crowd (who were clearly not there to see and hear Yes) began to heckle Jon and yell for him to "get on with it." These knuckleheads were quickly hushed by the crowd (with the aid of a few well aimed cups and cans) and Jon was able to finish his story as Steve plucked the first notes of this masterpiece on his acoustic twelve string. The crowd sat and listened in reverential silence and were rewarded with a brilliant take of this treasure.

After a deafening round of applause, we sat in hushed rapture as the first strains of "Awaken" began. Rick has made a few changes to his scoring of this piece, and some sections that were previously played on his Korg CX-3 (his Hammond organ clone) were played on his Mini-Moog, some sections that had been piano were now played on his Mellotron clone. All in all, the changes did little to alter the impact of this wonderful piece, but if they serve to keep Rick happy, then so be it! During the rendition of "Awaken," my wife and I were able to move from our great seats (14th row, center isle) to even better seats (4th row) that some fool had given up by leaving early. Whoever you are, thank you! Yes left the stage to thunderous applause and returned quickly for their encore, "Every Little Thing." Five months of playing this old Beatles tune has done wonders for this number. Instead of the tepid rendition I heard last April, this song now rocks good and hard. Security backed off at this point and let the crowd move from their seats to the aisles and the front of the stage for the encore. We all screamed our lungs out in a failed attempt to secure a second encore, but to no avail.

In the hierarchy of the Yes sets that I have been lucky enough to see and hear, this one scores very high, perhaps the second or the third best show I have ever seen from Yes. There are only two or three more shows on this tour and, as on their 2002 Full Circle tour, where I saw the second from the last date, Yes is closing out on a high point. I've learned my lesson. Let someone else go to the first week or two of shows. Give Yes a couple of weeks to iron out the kinks and they will satisfy and astound you every time.

The show began with a short set by Dream Theater. Starting a bout fifteen minutes late to a half empty venue, Dream Theater gave the crowd a hour of blazing guitar and synthesizer solos and pounding drums. I got a good idea of what this set would be like when we entered the venue and saw Portnoy's drum set, which had three - count 'em, three - bass drums and probably about forty other drums and cymbals. Their set started with a chunk of "Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence" followed by "Learning To Live," a brief instrumental that I am not familiar with, then "Trail Of Tears" from Falling Into Infinity. They continued with the instrumental from their newest release, Train Of Thought, "Stream Of Consciousness," which was followed by a few more sections of "Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence." The set was over very quickly and they left the stage with no encore.

I mentioned earlier that Steve Howe had played a fast, ripping solo in "Sweet Dreams." Dream Theater's John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess played endless strings of speedy solos, but unlike Yes, there was no real music for these solos to ornament. The purpose of the "songs" that Dream Theater plays is to give the players a chance to solo, nothing more. I would defy anyone to hum a section of any Dream Theater song or to sing along with one of their compositions. [Um... well, "Pull Me Under" maybe -humming ed.] Every song sounds like every other song, and there seems to be no real reason or rhyme to anything they do. Vocalist James LaBrie has so little to do during these exercises that he spent much more than half of this performance off stage. Drummer Mike Portnoy spends most of his onstage time hamming it up, twirling his sticks, standing up and goading the crowd to applaud and generally trying to justify the size of his monstrous kit. I spoke to quite a few Dream Theater fans at this show and without exception, the only thing any of them had to comment on was the various players ability to perform fast solos. All frosting and no cake. I rest my case.

All in all, this was a great concert, one of the best I have seen in a while. The outdoor venue on the grass next to the Viejas Indian Casino just east of San Diego is a fabulous place to see a live band, and with its small size (seating about two thousand) there is not a bad seat or sight line. The one thing I would change is the sale of beer to the very end of the show. The concert experience, and general crowd behavior, would be much improved by ending beer sales after the first act's set. That said, I will definitely return to this venue any time a progressive act appears there.

So, another Yes tour nears its end. I can hardly wait until their next one.

Links: yesworld.com | www.dreamtheater.net


Added: September 19th 2004
Reviewer: Tom Karr

Artist website: yesworld.com
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