I know what you’re thinking, “Holy crap, I didn’t even know that Yes was still around!” Sure, the legendary progressive rock band has only one original member left, but I can assure you that Yes is still alive and kicking. You know you’ve been making music a long time when your youngest demographic is still middle-aged and can’t stand for the entire show. I had never been to Théâtre Saint-Denis before, so I was shocked to find long rows of seats instead of the large open spaces that I am used to. This suited the performers and audience just fine, because ultimately this wasn’t a high-energy show. Yes are still some of the finest musicians in rock, but they are certainly not at an age where aerial gymnastics are going to be a part of the proceedings.
Even if most people in the crowd seemed insanely mellow, they were quick to give a standing ovation to Yes as soon as they walked onto the stage. They would go on to do this after every single song. It was hilarious! For most of the show, they would stare wide-eyed with mouths open, but as soon as a song would finish, the whole venue would shake with thunderous applause and glass shattering whistles. It was almost as if everyone was pacing themselves. In all honesty, though, the band rightfully deserved every minute of it. There were malfunctions with Jon Anderson’s microphone at the beginning, and it took him two or three songs to properly warm up his vocal chords, but other than that these guys were clearly still virtuosos.
The only time they showed their age was when they were called upon to rock out. Anderson in particular seemed hesitant about moving too much, and at one point expressed his wishes to have a nice, warm cup of tea. Getting old is a bitch, but if I handle it as well as these guys do then I will have done something right. Besides, by the end, they had found their groove and we’re kicking serious ass. Guitar God Trevor Rabin was particularly feisty from the get-go. He was so agile and his fingers so dexterous that I honestly mistook him for being a younger replacement. For me, he easily stole the entire show!
In terms of the set-list, you really couldn’t have asked for a better batch of songs. The boys really made sure to select a mixture of big hits, fan favourites, and long, drawn-out prog epics. I will admit there was a little bit too much 80s cheese in the mix, but anyone who says they don’t like “Owner of a Lonely Heart” is a fucking liar. I really admired that they stuck to their guns and played some deep cuts that may have alienated those who really only came to hear “Roundabout.” Some of it was absolutely ridiculous (Anderson playing the harp, and Rick Wakeman sporting his shiny, sequenced cape), but then again, that’s prog-rock, right? That’s what I’ve always liked about Yes; they are always in on the joke!
The best part of the night had to be when the band finished their set with “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” Not only did it get every audience member out of their seats and dancing, but the band seemed to really come alive. At one point, the legendary Rick Wakeman got out from behind his wall of synthesizers and started walking down the isles with a keytar (of all instruments!) Everyone was allowed to try and shake his hand or pat him on the back. This might sound nerdy, but like everyone else, I completely lost my shit. If you are not familiar with the man, he has played on everything from David Bowie’s “Life On Mars” to Black Sabbath’s “Sabbra Cadabra.” In the words of Ron Burgundy, he’s kind of a big deal. I’m surprised we all didn’t bow instead.
Things got wilder, as Wakeman moved to the middle room and just started soloing on his keytar like no one’s business. Not to be undone, each band member had a chance to show off their chops, which then culminated in an extended jam of Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” How the fucking hell could the band follow that? Only one song could even compare to what we had just witnessed, and that was “Roundabout.” The classic rock staple has been played to death, but at that moment it sounded brand new to all of us, and we danced until what seemed like forever. As soon as “Life on Mars” blared from the speakers, signaling us to head home, I got a rush of goosebumps. Yes might not be the most hardcore band ever, but my brain and heart undeniably felt some whiplash that night.
Written by Shawn Thicke
Photography by Michael Kovacs
*edited by Kate Erickson