Monday, September 17, 2012

When Did Yes Jump The Shark? (And Jump It They Have)

I have been trying to pinpoint when, in my opinion, the band Yes jumped the shark. Among the last remaining Yes fanatics, this is a topic of great discussion. Any post about the most minor Yes tidbit on the Facebook fan page Notes from the Edge is met with comment after comment about the value of what keyboard player, which era, when the band should have wrapped it up etc.
Soaking up all of this noise started to influence my memory and respect for the band, so I thought I’d do my own research and listening. I had not really listened to Yes at a good clip for a few years. I was certainly disillusioned by the replacement (twice) of Jon Anderson due to his continued respiratory failure clashing with the band’s desire to continue to tour. And at the risk of alienating readers and crucifying my credibility, despite my disillusionment about HOW Anderson was dismissed, I am not an Anderson snob: I love the 1980 first Anderson-less album Drama, and I quite enjoy 75 percent of the recent Anderson-less Fly From Here.
But after delving back into the catalog from pre-Close to The Edge to the present, my opinion is that the band was past its prime when it embarked on its 35th anniversary tour.
Let’s go back a bit. I discovered Yes in high school in the mid 1980s. I knew of the 90125 album but didn’t own it. No, my first Yes album was Tales from Topographic Oceans, the double album with four songs on it. My friend Tom turned me onto it and I listened to it non-stop, fascinated. I was already a Rush fan but this music made Hemispheres sound like the Go Go’s. I branched out from there, to Going for the One, Close to the Edge, Drama, Tormato, The Yes Album and then Relayer. Hell, anything with a song 20 minutes long, I’d buy. I even had the Yesshows album, which I think is long out of print.
I was only able to see Yes live once they hit the road on the Big Generator tour, which to this day gives me goosebumps thinking about the live rendering of Shoot High Aim Low. But I long missed live Yes in its heyday for sure. I caught Union. I saw Anderson Bruford, Wakeman and Howe at the show they recorded for the live album and DVD. I had a major boner when the classic version of the band (Anderson, Howe, Squire, Wakeman, White) finally got back together and put out the live Keys to Ascension CDs. I loved the Ladder album and tour, and thought the Masterworks/Magnification tour was a gift, finally hearing Gates of Delirium and Ritual live.
But from there, I think the band should have packed it in. I mean, they had played ALL of their cards – get together with members of all eras (Union tour and shit album), do a record with a symphony (and check out the awesome DVD that came from that effort), do a tour playing all the 20 minute epics. Not much left up the sleeve for the 35th anniversary except to FINALLY play South Side of the Sky (great idea) and do an acoustic bossa-nova version of Roundabout (not a great idea).
On paper the 35th anniversary tour was groovy – really deep set list, Roger Dean era stage, classic lineup. But somewhere along the line, the band stopped giving a shit. I saw the first night on the tour and they were rusty as hell. The Roger Dean stuff was lame balloons painted and illuminated. Steve Howe’s tone was weak and brittle (and has been for the last few years). The tempos were ungodly slow and the band was not engaged (and the Key Arena was about half full). They were under rehearsed and made errors. It was frankly embarrassing.
Listening to the live DVD they put out from that tour confirms it. By the recording they were much tighter but still, slow tempos, uninspired playing, and yeah Anderson’s voice was really raggy. They didn’t even bother to fix that in the studio. Or maybe like Paul Stanley, Anderson just needed a long break that he was unable or unwilling to take.
So for me, the band surely had its ups and downs, good periods and so-so periods, and there are probably as many opinions about which were best as there were yes keyboardists. But for me, the band was done by the 35th anniversary tour. It should have been a farewell tour.
Fortunately the band has left a long legacy of albums and live recordings, DVDs and bootlegs that will continue to freak out music fans for generations. But based on the YouTube's I have seen from the last two years, the band is now shitting on its legacy. Wrap it up boys. You shouldn’t make your 50th anniversary, even if you can.

Behold this version of (the Anderson-less) Tempus Fugit from last year. Poor Alan White has slowed this song down to an intolerable level and can still barely keep up:

Compare with the (the Anderson-less) original:


Chris Whitmer said...

Hey Paul, saw your link from your post on NFTE on FB. I think you pretty much hit the nail on the head here. Most everything after Big Generator I think is pretty weak outside of The Ladder. I too have seen all the tours since 90215 and the 35th anniversary tour was a real let down, especially after being fortunate enough to see the SLO show. What's happened to the band since Jon's illness is nothing short of a tragedy. Oh well, we still have the music. I've lost a lot of respect for a few of the players though. I think you know which ones

Isorski said...

Chris, what did you think of Talk? I actually did not get that album until a couple of years ago - somehow that one slipped by me, and it turned out that I really love that album. Too bad Wakeman wasn't on it as planned, but still...

J-1-S said...

There were still good shows on the 35th anniversary tour. Yes concerts became somewhat hit-and-miss by then, but still some gems. Hiring a tribute singer who couldn't hit the notes was when they jumped the shark, IMO.

Bob K said...

Thanks, Paul - well thought out and reasoned post. I saw yes first on the 90125 tour but actually jumped on board in 1972 when Fragile came out in my senior year of High School. I've been an on and off fan ever since (mostly on) and just recently rewatched the excellent symphonic DVD.

I have not seen them since the 35th Anniversary tour (to which I took my son) and I enjoyed it a lot, although you're right about Steve's brittle tone.

I'm now mostly disappointed that they are so reluctant to play new music live - they've become a greatest hits band and are pretty clearly now touring to make money - which is fine, you gotta eat. And the economics of the situation might make it difficult to record and play new music (I frankly don't know about that) but I enjoyed much of Fly From Here and hope they get around to doing more new music with whoever is singing.

Sean Coleman said...

Great musicians, though the iterations of Yes lineups have made it tough to keep score. Very much agree with the points made in your post. I passed on an opportunity to see them in Toronto on the 35th anniversary tour. I should have gone as I probably could have caught them for little or nothing. (the venue wasn't even half full). The band fronted by stunt vocalists is OK, though I would rather see Jon at the mic.

drewzepmeister said...

Seen Yes twice. First time during the 90125 Tour in the big arena setting of Alpine Valley and the other being on a side stage on the Summerfest grounds in 2010.

Two different shows, two different view points. The Alpine show was prominently portrayed the 90125 album and a few classics under the direction of Trevor Rabin. The other one was a much shorter set showcasing their classics with Benoit David and Oliver Wakeman on hand.

Personally, I would have preferred hearing a longer set featuring the classic lineup. Steve Howe is must.

For the most part, Yes has been on a decline since Drama. The only post classic era albums I listen to regularly are the Keys to Ascension series.

VoxMoose said...

Nice summary, Paul. There is an argument that could be made (I've made it before, but not sure I believe it anymore) that Yes jumped the shark at Tales (I love Tales) and everything since has been an effort to recapture pre-Tales glory (which 90125 did, although briefly). Such views can make you vanish in the middle of the night amongst Yes fanatics. So, publicly, I'm not personally in that camp (I think you captured my views), but I think it is an interesting view.

Isorski said...

voxmoose, I get that and with the exception of Going for The One and Drama could agree with the statement. I also now understand people's impression that Yes was done when Bill Bruford left. Listening to Yessongs, there is a real difference between the tracks Bruford is on and the ones Alan White are on. It's a different band, really!

VoxMoose said...

Couple years I had the pleasure of seeing Jon Anderson do solo acoustic in San Luis Obispo, CA in a small theater that holds perhaps 200 tops (he lives in Arroyo Grande down the road). Lots of old Yes and some solo stuff too. His voice was in top form after his major health emergency. Absolutely phenomenal performance.