I didn’t see this tour. I seldom go to concerts; plus, I was in the wrong hemisphere for this one. But I recently downloaded a field recording of one of the shows (10/14/06, Opera House Buxton), because I wondered if this might be Yes in disguise.
What’s not surprising about this recording is that neither Jon nor Rick sound much different than they did in their prime, ca. 1973. Jon’s voice has a very slightly detectable hint of the huskiness that comes with age, but for all intents and purposes is the same startlingly high, clear, and agile instrument it was all those years ago. Rick’s fingers haven’t lost a step, so to speak: he can still stroll, saunter, trip, canter, or gallop up and down the keyboard at will. They’re both still virtuousos, if you’re into that kind of thing.
What is surprising is how perfect they sound together, just the two of them. For the most part this consists of Rick playing a grand piano and Jon singing; often Jon will join on acoustic rhythm guitar; sometimes there are solo interludes. In other words it’s just the two of them, but it’s still a full sound, as full as it needs to be. Rick fills up all available spaces (as you always knew he could) with frills and fillips, and Jon proves to be more adept at rhythm guitar than I, at least, had ever given him credit for. Jon’s given plenty of room to stretch out vocally, and Rick’s accompaniment, despite what I said about frills and fillips, is always tasteful and sensitive, supporting Jon’s vocals, not upstaging them. They’re playing together, listening to each other, making each other sound good.
The arrangements are wise. The old songs often shade off into moodier keys than they were originally written in, or shiftier rhythms, the kind of things that are almost impossible to pull off in full-band situations. These changes reinvigorate songs you’ve heard a million times. The new songs sound written to perfectly complement the older ones: constantly changing settings that flow in and out of the older selections. The result is that rare Yes bird, live versions that actually work on their own, rather than as copies of the studio versions.
The only real flaw is the lyrics to the new songs. The tunes are fine, but the lyrics are pretty much the same New Agey slogans Jon’s been writing for the last twenty-five years. His lyrical content has always been New Agey, mind you, but in the ‘70s this content was couched in quite arresting imagery and word-music. You never knew quite what he was singing about, or even what he was singing, but you could tell it was abstract, or more precisely, concrete in an abstract way; very visual, very evocative. “Crawling out of dirty holes their morals disappear.” Somewhere along the way, though, he got evangelical about his New Ageyness: he decided he needed to tell you, in every song, that love is all around, and it’s all you need, and it gives you hope, yadda yadda. All of which may be true, but saying it so directly doesn’t make for good lyrics.
That aside, this is good stuff. Startlingly good, at times. Good enough that you wish they’d pursued the idea. Evidently they got halfway into recording a studio album as a duo, but stalled. The show, though, provides an old double elpee's worth of good stuff. They ought to release it.
Sometimes Yes disguises itself.