Yes to Yes at State Theatre New Jersey

English prog rock stalwarts celebrate 50th anniversary of “Close to the Edge” album and other classic tunes

When I learned a few weeks ago that Yes would play right in my backyard, I spontaneously decided to get a ticket. After all, what would be the chances that would happen again anytime soon or perhaps ever? Plus, prices were fairly reasonable and State Theatre New Jersey in New Brunswick is a nice midsize venue only 20 minutes away by car from my house. But as the show was coming up, I started second-guessing myself. After all, Yes have seen multiple lineup changes over the decades, and none of their current members are original. Plus, while I’ve generally come to dig their music, there’s only so much love I have for prog rock. It turned out to be a good decision, so let me share my wonderous story from last evening (October 9)!

Yes are among the few exceptions of prog rock I’ve sufficiently come to appreciate to a level where I dig them, though it did take me a while. My journey started in 1983 when the English group scored their biggest mainstream hit Owner of a Lonely Heart and released 90125, their most commercially successful album. Both marked a significant departure from the band’s original sound. In fact, by the time that music appeared, Yes had ended their initial 13-year run from 1968-1981 and reunited with a modified line-up: Jon Anderson (vocals), Trevor Rabin (guitar, keyboards, vocals), Tony Kaye (organ, electric piano), Chris Squire (bass, vocals) and Alan White (drums, percussion, backing vocals, synthesizer).

None of the musicians who recorded 90125 was on stage last night, though White who sadly passed away this May at the age of 72 after a short illness did have a presence. In addition to being listed on the tour poster, he was remembered with a video at the beginning of the night. In 1972, White replaced the group’s original drummer Bill Bruford. The currently performing line-up of Yes features longtime members Steve Howe (guitar, vocals), Geoff Downes (keyboards, vocals) and Billy Sherwood (bass) who first joined in 1970, 1980 and 1989, respectively; together with Jon Davison, lead vocalist since 2012 (also acoustic guitar, percussion, keyboards) and Jay Schellen (drums, percussion), who first toured with Yes in 2016.

Yes: Left: Steve Howe; right (clockwise from upper left corner: Geoff Downes, Jon Davison, Jay Schellen and Billy Sherwood

The concert was part of the ongoing U.S. leg of the band’s tour to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Close to the Edge, their fourth studio album released on September 13, 1972. In addition to performing the record in its entirety as the second set, Yes played an introductory set that mostly drew from their ’70s catalog, including Time and a Word (July 1970), The Yes Album (February 1971), Fragile (November 1971), Relayer (November 1974), Going for the One (July 1977) and Tormato (September 1978).

The set also featured two tracks from The Quest, the most recent Yes album that came out in July this year, their first in seven years. While it was a legitimate reminder the current version of Yes is more than their own touring tribute band, perhaps somewhat selfishly, I wished they would have kept it to one new song and instead included Owner of a Lonely Heart or thrown it in as an encore. For the latter, the band picked two other excellent tunes from Fragile and The Yes Album.

I’d say it’s time to finally get to some music. Capturing clips of a group performing songs ranging from approximately four to 19 minutes in length is a challenge. I’m not only talking about physical endurance but more importantly the real possibility of testing the patience of people seated around you. Luckily, the conditions turned out to be great, so I decided to rely on my own clips for the most part.

Let’s kick it off with Yours Is No Disgrace, the opening track from The Yes Album, which was credited to all members of the band at the time including Steve Howe. Jon Anderson told Songfacts the song’s lyrics were about “how crazy we can be as a human race to be out there flittering money around and gambling, trying to earn that big payout, when actually that’s not what life is truly about.” Another influence was the Vietnam war: …Death defying, mutilated armies scatter the earth, Crawling out of dirty holes, their morals, their morals disappear… Killing is brutal and cruel, but the disgrace falls not on the soldiers, but on those who orchestrated the war. This is the only footage I didn’t capture myself, and I could only find a partial clip on YouTube. It still nicely illustrates this line-up of Yes has the necessary chops to master the band’s complex tunes.

Next up is a tune that at under 5 minutes presented a good opportunity to film in its entirety without overly taxing my arms from holding up the phone. Why can’t prog rock acts have more tunes with that duration? No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed was co-written by Richie Havens and Jerome Moross. As such, the song held the distinction of being the only cover in the set. It originally appeared on Havens’ sophomore album Something Else Again, which came out in January 1968. Yes also chose their second album Time and a Word to include their rendition.

Wonderous Stories, off Going For the One, was the shortest song of the night. Therefore, I decided to, well, go for it and record it as well! Penned by Anderson, the beautiful ballad also became the album’s first single in September 1977. Peaking at no. 7 on the Official Singles Chart, it remains the band’s highest-charting single in the UK to this day. Anderson said he wrote the tune on “a beautiful day” during a stay in Montreux, Switzerland, “one of those days you want to remember for years afterwards.”

While the night was mostly a celebration of the band’s ’70s catalog, as noted above, Yes did include two tracks from their most recent album The Quest. At first, I was going to ignore it. Then I changed my mind. After all, when listening to some of its tunes back in July, I thought they sounded pretty good. Here’s Dare to Know, written by Howe.

After Yes finished the first set with Heart of the Sunshine, a track from Fragile, and took a short break, they returned for the main reason of the night, to perform the Close to the Edge album. I decided to film the third and final track on that record, Siberian Khatru. In retrospect, I wish I would have recorded And You And I, the album’s second tune, which I thought was the highlight of the set. Yes also did a great job with Siberian Khatru, co-written by Anderson, Howe and the amazing Rick Wakeman, who in 1971 had replaced the group’s original keyboarder, Tony Kaye.

And then it was time for the encore, a terrific one-two punch with Roundabout and Starship Trooper. Since the former has become one of my all-time favorite Yes tunes, it was an easy decision to pick. Co-written by Anderson and Howe, Roundabout was the opener of Fragile. A single edit was also released in the U.S. in January 1972. It climbed to no. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming the group’s highest-charting ’70s single there and the second-highest to date. I guess you know the one tune that beat it: Owner of a Lonely Heart.

This was my first Yes concert, so I don’t have a comparator. I think while it’s fair to say that with Chris Squire, who died from blood cancer in June 2015 at age 67, and Rick Wakeman two essential members of the band’s ’70s line-up were missing, the current incarnation of Yes sounded pretty solid to me. I’m not only talking about Steve Howe who remains a great guitarist. Geoff Downes, Billy Sherwood and Jay Shellen demonstrated impressive chops as well. I must also call out Jon Davison, an excellent vocalist who perfectly nailed Jon Anderson’s parts.

Here’s the setlist:

Set 1
On the Silent Wings of Freedom [Tormato]
Yours Is No Disgrace [The Yes Album]
No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed (Richie Havens cover) [Time and a Word]
To Be Over [Relayer] (Steve Howe solo acoustic performance)
Wonderous Stories [Going For the One]
The Ice Bridge [The Quest]
Dare to Know [The Quest]
Heart of the Sunrise [Fragile]

Set 2 (Close to the Edge)
Close to the Edge
And You and I
Siberian Khatru

Encore
Roundabout [Fragile]
Starship Trooper [The Yes Album]

I’m also throwing in a Spotify playlist of the setlist:

I’d like to close with a quote from Steve Howe included in Guitar Magazine’s September cover story about the 50th anniversary of Close to the Edge: “Our spirits were very high,” Howe says. “We were young, enthusiastic, and adventurous, and we had this incredible breakthrough success with Fragile. We saw our next album as a real opportunity to prove our worth as a band. The door had been opened and we weren’t going to go backward. We wanted to sharpen our skills as far as writing and arranging.

“Concerts come and go, but a record is forever. I think we all had a sense that whatever we did next, it had to feel like some sort of definitive statement. A record like this was destined to be made, and we wanted to be the ones making it.”

If you’re curious about the remaining U.S. tour, which closes on November 19 in Westbury, N.Y., here’s the schedule.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Guitar Magazine; Yes website; YouTube; Spotify

Advertisement

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Good morning (in my part of the woods, New Jersey, USA), good afternoon, good evening, wherever you are – welcome to another Sunday Six! If you’re a frequent traveler, you know what’s about to unfold. For first-time visitors, I hope you stick around to join me and others on a new excursion into the great world of music, six tunes at a time. Off we go!

Nat Adderley/Work Song

Today, our trip starts in 1960 with music by jazz musician Nat Adderley, who became best known for playing the cornet, a brass instrument similar to a trumpet. After starting to play the trumpet in 1946 as a 15-year-old, Adderley switched to the cornet in 1950. Together with his older brother, saxophonist Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, he co-founded Cannonball Adderley Quintet in 1956 and frequently worked with the group until its dissolution in 1975, following the death of his older brother. In addition to playing bebop, Cannonball Adderley Quintet became known for starting the soul jazz genre. Adderly also worked with Kenny Clarke, Wes Montgomery, Walter Booker, Ron Carter and Sonny Fortune, among others. Nat Adderley passed away in January 2000 at the age of 68 due to complications from diabetes. Work Song, composed by Adderley and Oscar Brown Jr., is the title track of an album Adderley released in 1960. The tune features Adderley (cornet), Montgomery (guitar), Bobby Timmons (piano), Percy Heath (bass) and Louis Hayes (drums). Groovy stuff but not too aggressive – perfect music to start a Sunday morning!

John Hiatt/Shredding the Document

The more I listen to John Hiatt, the more I dig the man! While Hiatt has written songs for 50-plus years and recorded close to 30 albums, his tunes oftentimes became hits for other artists. Perhaps the most prominent examples are Thing Called Love and Have a Little Faith in Me, which became hits for Bonnie Raitt and Joe Cocker, respectively. Hiatt’s songs have also been covered by an impressive and diverse array of other artists like B.B. KingBob DylanBuddy GuyEmmylou HarrisJoan BaezLinda RonstadtThe Nitty Gritty Dirt Band  and Willy DeVille. Shredding the Document, penned by Hiatt, is from Walk On, an album released in October 1995. Peaking at no. 48 on the Billboard 200, it ranks among his better performing records on the U.S. mainstream chart. Walk On did best in Belgium and Sweden, where it climbed to no. 10 and no. 13, respectively.

James Brown/The Boss

Next, let’s get funky with James Brown and The Boss, a tune from Black Cesar, the soundtrack album for the blaxploitation crime drama motion picture of the same name. The Boss was co-written by Brown, Charles Bobbit and Fred Wesley. The album and the film were released in February 1973. While reactions were mixed among music critics, Black Cesar peaked at no. 31 on the Billboard 200, making it Brown’s second highest-charting album on the U.S. pop chart in the ’70s. I love the guitar work on this tune. The lush horns give it a true ’70s feel.

Yes/Owner of a Lonely Heart

On to the ’80s and the biggest hit by English progressive rock band Yes: Owner of a Lonely Heart. After the group had disbanded in 1981, original co-founder Chris Squire (bass) and Alan White (drums) who had joined Yes in 1972 formed Cinema in January 1982, together with guitarist and singer-songwriter Trevor Rabin and original Yes keyboarder Tony Kaye. In November 1982, they started work on an album with a more pop-oriented sound. During the mixing stage, former Yes vocalist Jon Anderson joined Cinema, which subsequently became the new line-up of Yes. The album was titled 90125, after its catalog number of record label Atco. Owner of a Lonely Heart, written primarily by Rabin with contributions from Anderson, Squire and producer Trevor Horn, topped the Billboard Hot 100. Elsewhere, it climbed to no. 2 in The Netherlands, no. 14 in Australia, no. 28 in the UK and no. 30 in Ireland. 90125 became the group’s best-selling album, reaching 3x Platinum certification in the U.S., 2X Platinum in Canada, Platinum in Germany and Gold in the UK and France. Today, Yes (featuring longtime guitarist Steve Howe) are embarking on a U.S. tour to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their fifth studio album Close to the Edge. While Owner of a Lonely Heart has a commercial ’80s sound, it’s an awesome tune!

Pretenders/Alone

I trust the English-American rock band The Pretenders (known as Pretenders since 1990) don’t need much of an introduction. The group was formed in March 1978 and originally included Chrissie Hynde (lead and backing vocals, rhythm guitar, harmonica), James Honeyman-Scott (lead guitar, backing vocals, keyboards), Pete Farndon (bass, backing vocals) and Martin Chambers (drums, backing vocals, percussion). By the time the 10th album Alone was released in October 2016, Hynde was literally alone as the only remaining member. She relied on session musicians to record the album, essentially mirroring the same approach Hynde took once before, in 1990 for Packed!, the fifth album that appeared under the band’s name – the first released as Pretenders. Today, the group has a full line-up, with Chambers back in the fold. Here’s the defiant title track of Alone – I love Hynde’s feisty lyrics, which are a perfect match for the raw sound!

The Fuzztones/Barking Up the Wrong Tree

And once again we’ve arrived at our final destination, which takes us back to the present. This past April, American garage rock revival band The Fuzztones put out their latest studio release. Encore is “a collection of unreleased tracks packaged together as a way to say thank you to the faithful who have followed and supported the band through the years,” Tinnitist reported at the time. The Fuzztones were originally formed by singer and guitarist Rudi Protrudi in New York in 1982, who remains the only original member. Since their 1985 debut Lysergic Emanations, they have released eight additional albums including Encore. Barking Up The Wrong Tree, written by Protrudi, is the only original song. The other six tracks are covers of tunes by Rare Earth, The Wildwood and others. Fuzzy garage rock – I love that sound!

Of course, this post wouldn’t be complete with a Spotify playlist of the above songs. Hope there’s something you dig.

Sources: Wikipedia; Yes website; Tinnitist; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Welcome to another Best of What’s New, my weekly revue of newly released music. This time, my picks include some alternative, rock, country and prog rock from a stalwart of the genre. All featured tunes except for the last one are on albums that came out yesterday (October 8).

Scott Hirsch/Big Passenger

Kicking off this week’s post is new music by Scott Hirsch, a producer and singer-songwriter I first featured in a Sunday Six installment last month with a tune of his then-upcoming new album Windless Day. Borrowing again from his Facebook pageYou’ve heard the sound of Scott Hirsch. You might not know it, but his audio production has lurked deep in the cut of many admired recordings from the late 1990s to the present. A founding member of Hiss Golden Messenger, he was integral to the band’s formative years in the studio and on the road. His sonic imprint remains on their productions; most recently mixing the forthcoming album Quietly Blowing It. He recorded and mixed a Grammy nominated record by the legendary folk-singer Alice Gerrard and has produced and played on records by William Tyler, Mikael Jorgensen, Orpheo McCord and Daniel Rossen. Here’s Big Passenger, another track from Hirsch’s above noted new album. To me it’s got a J.J. Cale vibe with an updated contemporary sound. Check it out!

The Wild Feathers/Side Street Shakedown

Here’s another group I first encountered in the context of Best of What’s New: The Wild Feathers, which I first featured in this installment from last December. According to a bio on AllMusic, they prefer the term “American” over Americana when describing their sound, which falls somewhere between the earnest, neo-Southern rock of the Black Crowes, the bluesy swagger of the Black Keys, and the wide-open-road country-rock of the Eagles. Founded in 2010 in Nashville, Tenn., the band’s current lineup features founding members Ricky Young (guitar, vocals), Taylor Burns (guitar, vocals) and Joel King (bass, vocals), as well as Ben Dumas (drums). The Wild Feathers began touring frequently in 2013, playing with artists like Bob DylanWillie Nelson and ZZ Ward. Their eponymous debut album appeared in August 2013. Side Street Shakedown is a track from the band’s fifth and new album Alvarado. This nice rocker was co-written by King, Young and Burns.

Natalie Hemby/It Takes One To Know One

Natalie Hemby is a country singer-songwriter who is also based in Nashville. According to her Apple Music profile, she first gained notice as a hit songwriter for Miranda Lambert, Little Big Town, and Toby Keith, penning the hits “White Liar,” “Only Prettier,” and “Automatic” (all recorded by Lambert), “Pontoon” and “Tornado” (two hits by Little Big Town), and “Drinks After Work” (Keith). After establishing this résumé, Hemby struck out as a recording artist, releasing her debut, Puxico, early in 2017. She became a Billboard 200 Top Ten-charting artist as a member of the Highwomen (Hemby, Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris, and Amanda Shires), who topped the country chart with their self-titled debut in 2019. Here’s It Takes One To Know One, a tune from Hemby’s new sophomore album Pins and Needles.

Yes/Minus the Man

I’d like to conclude this post with new music by progressive rock stalwarts Yes, who I trust don’t need an introduction. They are among a handful of bands I warmed to in prog rock, a genre I haven’t fully embraced. Since they were formed in 1968 by Jon Anderson (vocals), Peter Banks (guitar), Tony Kaye (keyboards), Chris Squire (bass) and Bill Bruford (drums), Yes have seen numerous line-up changes. The group’s last original member Squire passed away in 2015. The current line-up includes Jon Davison (vocals), Steve Howe (guitar), Geoff Downes (keyboards), Billy Sherwood (bass) and Alan White (drums). Howe, White and Downes are longtime members who first joined in 1970, 1972 and 1980, respectively. Last Friday (October 1), Yes released their 22nd studio album The Quest, their first with new music in seven years. “Much of the music was written in late 2019 with the rest in 2020,” Howe who produced the album said in a statement. “We commissioned several orchestrations to augment and enhance the overall sound of these fresh new recordings, hoping that our emphasis on melody, coupled with some expansive instrumental solo breaks, keeps up the momentum for our listeners.” Let’s check out Minus the Man, which was co-written by Davison and Sherwood. Davison’s vocals sound remarkably similar to Jon Anderson, even more so on some of the other tunes I’ve sampled thus far.

Sources: Wikipedia; Scott Hirsch Facebook page; Apple Music; Yes website; YouTube