Keys To Chris’ Birthday (Highland HL124/125/126#Y26)
Fremont Theater, San Luis Obispo, CA – March 5th, 1996
Disc 1 (48:30): Firebird Suite, Siberian Khatru, Close To The Edge, I’ve Seen All Good People, Time And A Word, Happy Birthday To Squire
Disc 2 (51:02): And You And I, The Revealing Science Of God, Going For The One, Turn Of The Century
Disc 3 (65:39): America, Onward, Awaken, Roundabout, Starship Trooper
The decision for Yes to reunite with the most popular line up in 1996 can be seen in two ways. To the public the band issued a message stating that “21 years ago, at Stouffer’s Hotel in Cincinnati on Chris’ birthday, March 4, we, the members of Yes–Jon, Steve, Rick, Chris, and Alan–decided that if the world was still together and that we were able as musicians to work together, we would unite in 1995 on the 4th of March in order to perform yet again not just for one album or one tour, but for the next five years in order to take the band and its fans into the 21st century and beyond. A document was created which we all signed that evening in the year 1974. Thankfully, not only for ourselves but for Yes fans around the world as well, we have decided to follow this prophecy through into THE FUTURE! Be ready. KNOW that you are part of the future. KNOW that you were part of the past. KNOW that we will deliver the true YES MUSIC.”
But the reunion more likely came about because of the commercially disappointing (yet unfairly criticized) TalkLP, the low ticket sales on the tour and the Rabin-era Yes falling apart. Of course the actually truth lies somewhere in the middle. Rock bands go through a cycle where they attain popularity, attempt to expand their music, perhaps fall apart and reunite many years later when personal tensions and public tastes become nostalgic for what once was. In other words, the mid-nineties were the point for Yes where their eighties success ended and it was right to resurrect the “classic” line up for some shows, recording new material in the studio and finally touring.
The live comeback was three shows at the 800 capacity Fremont Theater in San Luis Obispo which were all filmed and recorded. Some of this material was released on Keys To Ascension and Keys To Ascension 2 but the “Know” tour, tentatively scheduled for the summer in 1997 never materialized and Yes had to alter their strategy again.
Keys To Chris’ Birthday is a very early release on the Highland label. It was recorded and issued the same year the label started production. The date on the cover is given as January 15th, but in reality this is the March 5th, 1996 San Luis Obispo show, the second of the three. Highland utilize an excellent sounding DAT recording of the complete concert. It has a power to it that is somewhat lost in the official recordings. “The Revealing Science Of God,” “Onward,” “Awaken,” and “Roundabout” were used on Keys To Ascension and “Time And A Word,” “And You And I,” “Going For The One” and “Turn Of The Century” appear on Keys To Ascension 2.
The setlist is cobbled together from the great tours of the seventies minus anything from Relayer. The focus is upon the songs themselves and the band playing together. The solo spots, such a feature for Yes dating back to the very early tours, is ignored in these three shows. The Firebird Suite begins the show leading into “Siberian Khatru,” a song that was completely ignored during the Rabin years and played for the first time since 1979. It is a tentative but correct performance of their most popular set starter.
“Close To The Edge” follows and for a song that had more recent public performances (it was part of the set for the ABWH tour and rehearsed and performed once on Union), this is fully of mistakes and missed cues. Rick Wakeman acts as director (as we will for the entire show) and holds the song together but the rust is evident and, to be fair, expected.
Jon Anderson greets the audience afterwards, saying: “Welcome to the show. I remember while we put that piece of music together and decided to call it ‘Close To The Edge’ and at that time, I was reading a lot of Herman Hess – A Journey To The East and understanding and I remember when the reviews came out, they said ‘close to the edge of disaster’ for Yes and I thought ‘no no no, it’s close to the edge of realization’. That’s what it happens to mean. So thankfully we never followed the critics, that’s why we’re are here tonight.”
“Time And A Word” is another holdover from the ABWH tours and is given a new piano based arrangement which Anderson acknowledges, saying, “you’re going to have a wonderful, wonderful introduction by Mr. Rick Wakeman.” Afterwards they all sing “Happy Birthday” to Chris Squire who turned 48 the day before with Wakeman playing the melody on the piano. “It’s gonna be a long birthday” Squire says afterwards.
The middle third of the show is dominated by “The Revealing Science Of God,” played at these shows for the first time in twenty-two years. Anderson mentions before they play it that it was “one of the first things we talked about was doing… It’s a very special piece of music for all of us, I think all of us here tonight because I think you understood a lot of things of our time that we are learning now, in many ways.” The tempo is slower than the recorded version and at times Wakeman tries to quicken the pace. There aren’t any disasterious mistakes however and it’s inclusion in Keys To Ascension is entirely appropriate.
Two songs from Going For The One follow, the title track played in a lower key and the once and future neglected classic “Turn Of The Century.” Chris Squire is singled out before “America” is given its first public performance in almost twenty-five years. Anderson mentions this is the song he spoke to Squire about when they first met to form Yes in the first place. “This song we’re going to do now goes sorta way, way, way, way zillion years ago and all I can remember is, really the first time, that I met this guy. This guy was in this bar. You’re always in a bar aren’t you. It’s like when you meet somebody it’s usually a UFO experience. Maybe it was. Maybe it happened, I don’t know, but this friend of mine said ‘you go on..go on talk to this guy at the end of this bar. He’s a bass player.
“Get on with the guy, he’s a nice guy. You can start a band’. So I wondered along the bar and to this guy and I said like ‘Hello Chris’. He said ‘Hello little boy’. I was cleaning up the glasses, c’mon you know, I swear I was doing at the time, you see. The first thing that we said was like ‘Say what kind of music do you like?’ He said ‘Simon and Garfunkel’ I said ‘Me, me I, I like that too, lets get a band together’. So it’s been nearly 30 years ago, this is what I’m talking about, so I think it definitely must be love, me and Christopher. Chris Squire on bass guitar. One of the times we ever toured America and we started to realize really what America really is and it’s sorta melting pot of so many different kinds of people and all over the world and we’re all looking for America. That’s why we’re going to do this song for you right now.”
“Onward” from Tormato is given it’s second public performance following the previous night’s show. The show ends with a seventeen minute version of “Awaken,” an epic shorter than some of the others but richer in detail and meaning. Before the second encore “Starship Trooper” Anderson reminisces, saying “We like this time thank you for joining us this evening in San Luis Obispo. It only seems like yesterday we were in row 21 whatever watching Hard Days Night and thinking, ‘Why don’t we play here?’ It turned out real well. So last but not least. The gentleman is going to count in this song. The one and only Mr Alan White on drums.” Anderson joins in during a Würm section, a true rarity. In general, having the video and official releases is essential, but Keys To Chris’ Birthday is a more authentic document of the event and one of Highland’s best releases from their first year.