In The Present (Amity 051)
Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom, Hampton, NH, USA – 7 November 2008
Disc 1: Firebird Suite, Siberian Khatru, I’ve Seen All Good People, Heart Of The Sunrise, Tempus Fugit, Onward, Astral Traveller
Disc 2: Close To The Edge, Parallels, And You And I, Mood For A Day, Clap, Long Distance Runaround, The Fish
Disc 3: Aliens (Are Only Us From The Future), Machine Messiah, Soon, Starship Trooper, Owner Of A Lonely Heart, Roundabout
This is one of the first releases from the In The Present Tour featuring Benoit David on vocals and Oliver Wakeman on keyboards. Amity credits this release to Yes, although the identity of the band is an issue that has been fudged. Posters for the tour advertise performances by “Steve Howe, Chris Squire, Alan White of Yes. Introducing Oliver Wakeman and Benoit David.” However, the names of these individuals appear in relatively small print above and below a large “Yes” logo in the classic Roger Dean incarnation. The website Where Are They Now?, which explores the issue in great detail, states that, “the line-up are being perhaps somewhat ambiguous about whether they are or are not actually Yes.” Bassist Chris Squire, who seems to have been the prime mover in recent events, suggested that the recruitment of David was a short-term solution to Jon Anderson’s inability to tour due to his respiratory ailment, stating: “This isn’t an attempt to replace Jon Anderson…We are bringing in a talented singer so that we can go out and honor the music of YES for the fans who have waited for the past four years to see us perform.” He has also stated that Anderson is still “absolutely” a member of the band. However, at this first American show (the initial two having been in Canada), Squire twice made comments that suggested that he regards the two newcomers as full members of the band.
It is, of course, the replacement of Anderson that is the most controversial issue and it has clearly caused much vexation among the band’s followers, as shown by their comments on the Yes Fans website. Some fans are simply not willing to accept another vocalist, posting opinions such as, “I am sure that Benoit David is a great impressionist but he is not Jon Anderson,” and, “without Jon, it is not ‘Yes.'” Unsurprisingly, some maintained that they would not attend the In The Present concerts.
Those who have actually experienced the shows have tended to be more positive. Walter Tunis (www.musicalbox.bloginky.com), commenting on the Cincinnati concert, states, “Benoit David more than vindicated himself in the role of what Squire termed as ‘understudy’ for Anderson…Admittedly, David’s performance was more of an act of imitation than interpretation…but this was no Karaoke act. If anything, David revealed a tone more muscular (and certainly more youthful) than the artist he was imitating.” The latter point is backed up one contibutor to the website Forgotten Yesterdays, who argues that, “Benoit David sounds like Jon 20 years ago.”
Oliver Wakeman’s presence has, for a variety of reasons, excited less controversy. However, he seems not to have impressed concertgoers to the same extent as David. One contributor to Forgotten Yesterdays contends that: “Oliver Wakeman was somewhat disappointing, he certainly does not play as well as Rick, and during many of the good keyboard parts he seemed to be playing a simplified version that required less virtuosity.” Others have been less condemnatory, such as the contributor who, comparing Rick Wakeman to Oliver, remarks that, “there’s a certain roughness to his son’s playing that made me feel it was 1970 and not in a bad way.”
The show begins in traditional fashion with the culmination of Igor Stravinsky’s music from his ballet score The Firebird. Although other openings have been used during the band’s long history, this is regarded as the classic start to a Yes concert and it has therefore prompted further vituperative comment, one contributor to the Yes Fans site claiming that he would walk out of the concert he planned to attend if it began in this way. (I wonder if he did.) At the end of the Stravinsky piece the band, as so often, launches into Siberian Khatru. Patrick McCormack, the Forgotten Yesterdays contributor responsible for the above comment on Oliver Wakeman, contends that, “from the opening bars of ‘Siberian Khatru’ it was plain this is a band on fire.” The quality of David’s vocals is immediately apparent and he sings confidently in a voice that is uncannily similar to Anderson’s. It is, overall, a superb and very tight performance, featuring effective keyboards from Wakeman and stunning guitar work from Steve Howe. The end of the song is greeted, most deservedly, by tremendous applause and cheering from the audience.
I’ve Seen All Good People, one of the highlights of The Yes Album (which saw the introduction of Steve Howe and the initial development of the band’s classic sound), follows, and it is another very pleasing performance with effective vocal harmonies in the opening slow section which, generally, David sings well, although a slight strain in his voice is apparent in the line “For the queen to use.” As has become standard practice, John Lennon’s “All we are saying/Is give peace a chance” lyric is interpolated into the end of the slow section. The second, faster section, again featuring some fine playing from Howe, is most effective and the audience claps along enthusiastically. Heart Of The Sunrise, from the band’s first classic album Fragile, is next up and the opening section, featuring Squire’s bass playing augmented by Wakeman’s keyboards, is most atmospheric. At one point, however, Wakeman audibly stumbles over his keyboard part. Again, David sounds uncannily like Anderson in this song and the effect is most gratifying. Once more, members of the audience show themselves to be warmly appreciative as the number reaches its close.
Another issue that caused discussion among Yes fans before the tour began was whether the band would play any songs from the 1980 album Drama, on which Trevor Horn sang in place of Anderson. In an article in The Tennessean (8 December 2008), Dave Paulson quotes Alan White as saying that, “there are some songs that we haven’t played for a long time. We’re doing material from Drama, which Jon would never sing. We’re getting to play songs we haven’t played for almost 27 years.” The first number from Drama performed here is Tempus Fugit, which, together with Machine Messiah, is one of the two highlights of the album. (It is unsurprising that these are the two songs from the album which appear on the 5-CD retrospective In A Word.) Before the song starts, Squire introduces the two new musicians, to copious applause, and then fuels the controversy surrounding the band’s identity for the first time during the evening by stating that Tempus Fugit had not been played since “the last time we had two new members of Yes.” The song itself is given a taut, furiously-paced reading, propelled by Squire’s beguiling basslines and White’s powerful drumming, perhaps releasing the pent-up frustration of musicians who have been unable to play material in which they they have invested time, energy and creativity for the best part of three decades. (I cannot comprehend the opinion of Martini on the Yes Shows site [www.yesshows.blogspot.com] that the performance “lacks energy and feeling.”)
The next song, Onward, from the Tormato album, is clearly a favourite of David’s, as he introduces it as “a special request from myself.” This slow, uncomplicated song is given a graceful reading of great beauty. Despite being from the LP Time And A Word, which predates his tenure as the band’s guitarist (although he joined the band shortly after its release and was included in the group photograph on the American edition of the album), the next song, Astral Traveller, is a song much loved by Steve Howe and he introduces it here. Clocking in at nearly a minute-and-a-half longer than the album version and shorn of the rather dated production effects, it is a superior reading. This rendition also features, in the words of Martini, a “short and awesome drum solo.”
The final song of the first part of the set, Close To The Edge, opens the second disc. One of the band’s greatest songs, it is described by David Watkinson in Yes: Perpetual Change as containing, “soaring vocals, shifting moods, grand themes, vituosity and tangible emotion.” It receives a superb rendition here, featuring a tremendous contribution from Steve Howe. The quiet section, containing effective vocal harmonies as well as solo singing from Benoit David, is gorgeous and when he holds the final note before the entry of the church-style organ he receives an ecstatic response from the audience. The song ends with a brief instrumental coda and is one of the highlights of this release. As Martini writes, “Oliver delivers his father’s solo perfectly, and Benoit’s voice really fits the song.” Another contributor to Forgotten Yesterdays writes that David ” nailed the part in CTTE.”
The second half of the concert begins with a straightforward run-through of Parallels, from Going For The One, one of Yes’ less complex numbers. “After the intensity of [Tales From]Topographic Oceans] and Relayer,” notes Chris Welch in his book Close To The Edge, the Going For The One Album represented “a return to…melodic simplicity…It was a breath of fresh air.” The band then returns to the Close To The Edge album with And You And I. This begins with a few bars which normally occur later in the song before Howe enters with his distinctive acoustic guitar part, ushering in an excellent rendition of another of Yes’s finest songs. The only caveat I have about this rendition is that Squire persists in playing the utterly unidiomatic harmonica part that has long been a feature of live performances.
Squire then leaves us “in the capable hands of Steve Howe and his box of tricks.” Howe’s solo acoustic slot begins with the delicate Mood For A Day. After playing for a short while he stops, then begins again but appears to lose his way and stops again. Clearly irate, he then gives up entirely. “I mean, really,” he says to the audience, “enough is enough.” This is puzzling to the CD listener as there is little to suggest any impropriety on the part of the audience. There is some chattering, but no more than you would hear on many other audience recordings. However, a clip on YouTube reveals the true level of loud conversation and shouting out, clearly prompted to a great extent by consumption of alcohol, that Howe rightly took exception to. Howe can be seen motioning to his guitar technician after the first occasion on which he stops playing, and the few bars he plays thereafter are seemingly intended to fill in time until the instument he requires for the next number arrives. This second solo number, the jollier Clap, duly has the audience back onside and (as the title suggests) clapping along. Unfortunately, problems persist and further into the song Howe can be seen in the YouTube clip standing up and taking a few steps towards the side of the stage, seemingly about to hand over his guitar and give up again. The pause in the song caused by this is so brief that the CD listener is again unaware of any untoward situation. The inconsiderate and entirely inappropriate behaviour displayed by some members of the audience has attracted much opprobrium from Yes fans on online forums. One contributor has suggested that the unwillingness of some fans to accept the new line-up has resulted in audiences containing “a greater ratio of idiots to diehard, respectful Yes fans.”
Fortunately, things get back on track when the other band members return for a fine version of Long Distance Runaround, another old favourite from Fragile, and the delightfully playful melodies of this song lead, as is also the case on that album, straight into The Fish. This song, written by Chris Squire, is one of five on the Fragile album showcasing the individual talents of the band, and, as the notes say, “each riff, rhythm and melody is produced by using the different sounds of the bass guitar.” The entirely instrumental performance here is considerably more atmospheric than the album version and it closes the second disc.
The third disc opens with another Squire composition, Aliens (Are Only Us From The Future). This is one of four songs that he has recently recorded demo versions of in preparation for a proposed solo album, and it is the only new song inclused in the set. This slow-paced song is led by Wakeman, while Squire himself takes lead vocals and contributes some low-key bass and David provides some backing vocals. The song is pleasantly melodic in an inoffensive kind of way, but it is certainly not a major contribution to the band’s song catalogue. Despite the song’s limitations, it is surely a positive move to include a new number in the set.
Quality control is restored with the other highlight from Drama, Machine Messiah, which is given an enjoyably energetic performance. The song, in the words of Chris Welch, “contains elements of…traditional Yes values expertly blended with a highly organsed, more contemporary approach.” I have often hoped that Jon Anderson would consent to perform both this number and Tempus Fugit in live shows and it is a positive feature of Benoit David’s inclusion in the band that we can hear these songs once more. “It’s been a while since that was played,” Howe reminds the audience at the end of the song. The next number is Soon, the culmination of the lengthy The Gates Of Delirium from the Relayer album which was extracted from it for release as a single. In their sleeve notes to the latest CD incarnation of Relayer, Doug and Glenn Gottlieb refer to Soon as “beautiful and uplifting…a poetic meditation of hope and redemption,” and it receives a gorgeous rendition here, with David singing most beautifully and idiomatically. The set then closes with Starship Trooper, another track from the transitional The Yes Album. Before this song Squire makes his second reference to the make-up of the band, stating that, “you have a new president and we have two new members.” It is a fine performance with David perhaps sounding more like Anderson than at any other point in the concert.
The encore begins with Owner Of A Lonely Heart, described by David Paulson as “the band’s one-off pop hit,” and concludes, in time-honoured fashion, with a triumphant rendition of Roundabout, another track from Fragile. It is noteworthy that ten of the nineteen songs performed are drawn from just three albums released in the brief period 1971-72 (The Yes Album, Fragile and Close To The Edge). Indeed only the popular hit Owner Of A Lonely Heart and the new song Aliens (Are Only Us From The Future) date from more recently than 1980. Despite this, the choice of songs seems adventurous, due, of course, to the inclusion of numbers not performed for a long time, including the two from Drama.
Overall, this is a fine performance by a band which seems invigorated by playing together again after a four year hiatus and which, with two new members, has a great deal to prove. Some contributors to online forums have suggested that the band seems a little under-rehearsed, understandable after only three shows, and, to my ears, not particularly noticeable. Benoit David is not as accomplished a vocalist as Jon Anderson, but there is not a great deal to choose between them. He is certainly a much finer singer than Trevor Horn, and possesses the advantage of sounding more like Jon Anderson. Anderson possesses the most distinctive voice in rock music and to perform the music of Yes effectively and idiomatically any other vocalist needs to sound like him. David was recruited by Yes at the instigation of Chris Squire, who, having already been made aware of the existence of David’s Yes tribute band, Close To The Edge, watched them perform on YouTube. (I believe that Squire accessed the clip through the band’s own site, which now bears the legend “Close To The Edge…as recommended by Chris Squire”). This makes it easy to dismiss David as a mere imitator or impressionist, especially as he has admitted in an interview on the Notes From The Edge website that the voice he sings with in the tribute band is different from the one he uses when performing with his other band, Mystery. (Anyone listening to that band’s CD Beneath The Veil Of Winter’s Face will encounter a recognizable but less high-pitched voice.) However, his vocal resemblance to Anderson is precisely the attribute which makes his presence in the band work. It is surely significant that audiences (even one that showed such disrespect to Steve Howe) have reacted positively towards him, whereas Trevor Horn was pilloried mercilessly. (Horn later recalled that, when he was deciding whether or not to join the band, he was aware that, “whatever I did there was no way I could win.”)
The sound quality on this release is excellent. The sound is full and detailed and there is clear distinction between the various instruments and vocal parts. Indeed, the vocal harmonies come across extremely well. Perhaps the sound is just a little “flat” at times and I would have liked David’s vocals to be somewhat more prominent in the sound picture, but, overall, listening to this release is a most enjoyable experience. The taper has captured the audience in a way that adds to the atmosphere without being overly intrusive. This is no mean feat considering the levels of unpleasant noise some audience members were making at times, particularly during Steve Howe’s solo spot.
This release comes on three CD-Rs packaged in a thick jewel case. The discs themselves have the title, venue and date printed in black and the Yes logo in colour. The double-sided front and back inserts contain concert photographs which I assume to be from the show, although this is not specified. There is no booklet. The catalogue number is given as 045 on the packaging, but as 051 on the discs.
This is a most enjoyable release, both in terms of performance and sound quality and I warmly recommend it to all open-minded Yes fans. Amity have aready issued further CDs of In The Present concerts and, after listening to this release, I look forward to both hearing and reviewing them.