YES is a long and far cry away from their original 1968 lineup and these days is made up of Geoff Downes, the former key-stroker for The Buggles that joined YES full-time in 1980; Billy Sherwood, the bass player tapped to fill in when original bassist Chris Squier took time off and subsequently passed away in 2015; American drummer Jay Schellen filling in for Alan White as he recovers from surgery; Jon Davison, who has been the official voice of YES since the departure of Benoit David in 2012; and the remnants of one of YES’ earliest line-ups with the venerable Steve Howe holding down the majority of all guitar sounds.
For this particular tour, the band has chosen to recreate the 1980 release Drama in its entirety as well as two sides of their 1973 double-vinyl Tales from Topographic Oceans, the first album in the UK to certify gold before the record arrived at retailers.
In Saratoga, they were met with equal enthusiasm from a crowd that arrived early to catch the entire two-set spectacle. Growing up, Yes was always regarded as an unspoken favorite in my parents’ house. The unmistakably sci-fi landscapes and structures that decorated their albums and the technical proficiency of the sounds within were invitations to many.
The first set of the evening was Drama straight through. Their tenth album, it is a standalone in the Yes catalog: it was recorded quickly amid personnel changes and a rush that they adhere to a previously scheduled tour, after which, Yes disbanded for two years. Yes would not revisit any of the songs from Drama until 2008 and in 2015 before they performed the album in order for the first time in 2016.
Opening with “Machine Messiah,” one of the groups most heavy-metal songs, Yes came out of the gate flying. The LED panels center stage and along the keyboard and drum risers featured close up and expanded imagery from the album artwork; just one of the many incredible sights on stage worth getting lost in.
In “White Car”, a song that I couldn’t have told you existed before I had it burned into my memory last Wednesday, played out like a “what’s what” of essential rock and roll sounds. It was impossible not to hear snippets of inspiration picked up on by the likes of U2 and Van Halen. Sherwood took his rich, commanding bass tone to work, and continued dominating the spectrum into the third track from Drama, “Does It Really Happen?”
Sherwood started out with a low thumping intro and was quickly joined in crescendo by Downes and then Schellen before Howe dusted a light guitar riff off in what ultimately amounted to a very circus like aesthetic, musically. It was less campy, however, and more of a ‘we are performing this and it is extremely difficult to make it sound this intriguing.’
They didn’t miss a beat or take time to flip the record for the Side 2 opener of “Into The Lens”. Instead, Davison leapt onto the keyboard riser as Howe and Sherwood took turns completing each other’s lines in a truly orchestral fashion. “Into The Light” and “Tempus Fugit” brought the crowd to their feet, even for only a moment.
At the conclusion of Drama, Yes sort of faked out those who thought the end of the album was the end of the set. In reality, the set closer of “I’ve Seen All Good People” from 1971’s The Yes Album and “Siberian Katru” from 1972’s Close To The Edge were like a mini-encore than anything else - unexpected and a total treat.
For set break, the band utilized something that I would like to see become more widespread in the two-set world of progressive, improvising-friendly music world where two sets of music is the norm: on the main LED screen, they had a message that said “Back In 20 Minutes.” For every minute that passed, the number clicked down, and they were back onstage less than a minute after the countdown expired and was replaced with “Please return to your seats.”
The second set delivered hard, with the Topographic choices consisting of Sides 1 and 4, “The Revealing Science of God” and “Ritual: Nous Sommes Du Soleil” with a brief poetic excerpt of the ‘leaves of green’ section of Side 3’s “The Ancient: Giants Under The Sun”, featuring Howe alone on a stool, center stage playing a flawless classical guitar passage.
The conclusion of each piece of music in the second set erupted with a standing ovation, but the crowd was for the most part rather subdued and transfixed in awe of what they were watching in the moment. For the actual encore, however, there was hardly anyone in their seats.
A one-two punch encore of “Roundabout” from 1971’s Fragile and the second selection from The Yes Album of the same year, “Starship Trooper” proved that there is physically and emotionally very little holding this band back.