No doubt: Yes still has it

Concert Review

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A tweet popped up on my phone during the Yes concert Sunday night asking, "Is that like waterboarding?"

To the music fan who doesn't favor siren vocals, abstract spirituality, 20-minute prog jams and guitar fetishism, it certainly could have been.

To the faithful assembled at Carnegie Music Hall in Munhall, the stage was like a shrine for the veteran British rock band here to perform three of its most accomplished albums in their entirety.

There were a few key questions going in, starting perhaps with the person holding the microphone, who was not Jon Anderson. This was Jon Davison, the Yes singer's second recent replacement and you could feel the suspense build during the long instrumental opening to "Close to the Edge," the opening track to that 1972 album.

Before he opened his mouth, the singer from Glass Hammer was already likable. He looked like a castoff from Phish with his long hair parted to the side, yellow hippie shirt and red pants. Most of all, his body language suggested how worshipful he was of the music. When he finally sang, we who hadn't seen this version of Yes were enlightened that there is in fact a third person on the earth who can sing just like Jon Anderson -- who, apparently, doesn't sing quite like the Jon Anderson of old.

Not only did Mr. Davison reach those heavenly highs. he did it robustly for two-and-a-half hours, making the case for youth over authenticity.

The other question, perhaps a silly one, was whether Yes could reproduce these challenging studio pieces, with deep album tracks, live. The answer to that is that the longtime core of Yes -- Steve Howe, Chris Squire and Alan White, with keyboardist Geoff Downes -- are virtuosic enough to do anything and smart enough to know if they couldn't.

Mr. Howe, who looks like the most severe professor you ever had, is quite simply one of the greatest and most underrated guitarists on the planet. Yes fans and Guitar World subscribers have known this forever. Anyone who walked into the Carnegie would have been schooled to this fact. (If you think Eddie Van Halen could touch him, you're crazy.)

Just about any magic that someone could do on guitar he did over the course of the three albums. Astral melodies, delicate acoustic finger-picking, slide, Spanish, power chording, solo shredding. He did it all, and if you looked away for a second, he was holding a different guitar. At times, he would wear one and play one on a stand. Some songs involved three or four.

Speaking of which, Mr. Squire, working brilliantly on the subterranean levels, came out for "Awaken" with a triple bass, and demonstrated through the course of the song why he needed all three tones. Mr. White held down the beat, but seemed woefully undermiked.

"Close to the Edge," with a mere three songs, is the kind of heady, intricate piece of music that would only get made now somewhere deep in the prog underground. It opened the show taking us to the river beside Siddhartha and into the ethereal beauty of "And You and I."

"Going for the One," the 1977 entry that found Yes at the refocusing and tightening its efforts, gave us the poppy yet swirling title track, the wonderful Howe-Davison interplay of "Turn of the Century" and Mr. Squire's hooked-filled Age of Aquarius beauty "Parallels."

"The Yes Album" came first chronologically (1971) but was played last over Mr. Howe's mild protestations, because it's the crowd-pleaser, containing two of the band's biggest harmony-powered radio tracks ("Yours is No Disgrace" and "I've Seen All Good People"), solo acoustic gem "Clap" and a pair of space-rock wonders ("Starship Trooper"). More rousing, melodic and familiar, it was like a dessert on top of the other two.

No Yes show is complete without the band's signature song and one of Mr. Howe's finest moments: "Roundabout." After a tremendous ovation, the gentlemen tacked it on as a tasty encore that got the crowd up and clapping along furiously to the chorus, making this seem like a rock 'n' roll show.

We've seen classic rock bands do a variety of things to show their vitality at this late date. For Yes, it's dipping into the archive, multiplying by three, and fearlessly reproducing some of the most complicated and taxing rock music ever made.

The concert repeats Monday night.

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Scott mervis: smervis@post-gazette.com; 412-263-2576.


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