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Yes / Moon Safari (live at the Royal Albert Hall)

10 May 2016

Yes live at the Royal Albert Hall May 2016Tonight initially felt like it was going to be a strange experience. As a Yes fan for many years and seeing them play live quite a few times (oddly, the first time was on the Drama tour) this would be their first London outing without founder member and bassist Chris Squire, who passed away last year. So in a strange way, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Sure, the band has had several key members leave before (Jon Anderson  and Rick Wakeman beingthe two most famous), but Chris had always been there throughout all those different line-up changes. His presence onstage will always be missed by fans, so there was a bit of anticipation in the air about how the band was going to pull it all off without the giant of prog rock.

First off though, we have a support slot from Moon Safari. They are not a band that peak up on my particular (prog) radar so, it should be interesting to see one of the newer bands do their thing (saying that, this Swedish group has been around since 2003; so not really that new, but compared to Yes…). First off, their musicianship is quite amazing, intricate and tuneful and tips its hat towards the first wave of bands of the Sixties and Seventies.

Simon Akesson and Petter Sandstrom’s joint lead vocals are beautiful, singing their angelic harmonies together. Johan Westerlund’s drumming has a touch of the early Phil Collins about it, while Sebastian Akesson’s keyboards touch slightly towards Geoff Downes. The sound of the songs remind me of a mixture between Star Castle and early Kansas at times, and of course originators like Genesis. The last song they perform is a beautiful acapella number dedicated to Squire that the whole group sing around a single microphone. A sublimely wonderful way to end their short set.

Yes live at the Royal Albert Hall May 2016

Before Yes hit the stage there is a tribute to Squire, one of his famous Rickenbaker basses is put centre stage beneath a spotlight while the video screen shows images of the man himself along to a soundtrack of the classic Yes number “Onward” from Tor-marto. It’s quite a moving experience and one that gets a massive cheer at the end. The band then enter onto the stage and launch into “Machine Messiah”, one of the heaviest songs they have ever recorded. Steve Howe’s guitar playing is on fire, while Geoff Downes seems to be all over his vast arsenal of keyboards. It’s a fantastic opener and today still sounds like the soundtrack to some type of dystopian sci-fi film.

Tonight, Yes play two of their classic albums, Drama and Fragile in their entirety live for the first time ever. So as the band finish the first track they move quickly into track two on the album, the short (and Buggles-) sounding “White Car”, and this is where Downes comes into his own as he takes centre stage with his multitude of synthesizers. Then they leapfrog into “Does It Really Happen” and it’s here that I have to give a massive thumbs up to Billy Sherwood’s bass work. He manages to capture the essence of Squire’s playing but adds in a few little twists of his own. Throughout the whole show, Sherwood is in top form and any doubts about him filling the big fish’s shoes are certainly forgotten at this point.

Yes live at the Royal Albert Hall May 2016

Jon Davidson’s vocals are as light as air and he is an excellent front man for the band. He has that wild, hippie otherworldliness that suits the songs perfectly, as he dances and plays his instruments like he is on some inner spiritual quest. For “Tempus Fugit” they are joined onstage by Trevor Horn, the original vocalist for the Drama era, who gets a standing ovation as he stands at the mic. He gives an outstanding performance of the song and the only disappointment is that he doesn’t sing another number from the album.

Yes live at the Royal Albert Hall May 2016

After this the band slip into performing some other classic numbers from the Seventies, including “Time And A Word”, which ends with a nice visual tribute to Peter Banks, the first Yes guitarist who passed away in 2013. Next is the wonderful “Siberian Khatru”, with Howe’s choppy, sublime guitar fugues. But the real joy of this segment is the inclusion of the final section of “The Gates of Delirium”, “Soon”, which Howe informs us was specially added to the set for tonight’s performance.

It’s at this point that Howe announces that the band will be playing in the UK again next year, but will perform their entire concept album Tales From Topographic Oceans. This causes much conversation after the gig among audience members, some predicting that Jon Anderson will return to sing his magnum opus and even that Wakeman would be back to play too. Both of these I doubt very much, especially Wakeman, who has gone on record many times as saying that he’s not enamoured with the suite of songs and even ate a curry onstage during one of its performances.

Yes live at the Royal Albert Hall May 2016

Fragile is the album that broke Yes to a wider audience and also to the multi-million selling LPs that they became synonymous with during the Seventies. As they kick into its opening track “Roundabout”, the audience are up on their feet and clapping along to this prog rock classic that starts with a beautiful acoustic guitar piece from Howe. Tonight they perform the whole album, including the solo tracks. Alan White does wonders with Bill Bruford’s “Five Per Cent Of Nothing” and proves yet again what a marvellous percussionist he is live.

Downes does justice to Wakeman’s “Cans and Brahms”, while Sherwood performs a fantastic bass solo during Squire’s “The Fish”. Howe sits down and gives a great rendition of “Mood For A Day”, but the real star of the show is the band’s performance of “Heart of the Sunrise” — with its menacing battery of sound and wild keyboard parts, it really is a tour de force in Yes’ canon. The band leave the stage to rapturous applause, but return to play a corking rendition of “Starship Trooper” to finish off the evening.

Yes live at the Royal Albert Hall May 2016

Walking back to the tube station, it seems that most people thought that tonight’s performance was fantastic and are gushing about the musicality of the band. And to be honest, I have to agree with them. Yes always deliver a good live show, but tonight seemed more like a celebration for them, one where they were all going to do their damnedest to enjoy the moment. That love of their music and legacy somehow soaked into every member of the audience, it just proves that high vibrations do work.

-Words: Gary Parsons-
-Pictures: Dave Pettit

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12 comments to Yes / Moon Safari (live at the Royal Albert Hall)

  • Nigel

    I first saw Yes at the Reading festival (1974 I think), again in 2004 for their 35th anniversary tour with the ‘classic’ line up. So I too was very interested to see them in Oxford the night before the Albert Hall gig and I was vey impressed. Sadly no support so didn’t see Moon Safari but will check them out. When does a band become a ‘tribute’ band if there are no original members left? Does it matter if the quality of the sound is this good. Deep Purple still tour with only Ian Paice from the Mark 1 set up. Agree with all that was said in the review but wish I could I have been at the Albert Hall which has a special magic that enhances performances even more as I witnessed at David Gilmour last year.

  • Lawrence

    I first saw them in 1974 at Southampton with my brother , I was hooked . Even though I’ve tried to see them over the last few years .
    At last on 7th of May at Brighton I went to see them with my brother , we weren’t disappointed . They were superb and the long wait was totally worth it.

  • Bob Harris

    Johan Westerlund is the bass guitarist for Moon Safari.

  • I never liked the Drama album, which was my first YES disappointment, but I’ve finally understood how to enjoy it! I’ve seen YES 3 times – at QPR with Patrick Moraz on keyboards in 1975, then as ABWH with Tony Levin on bass in 1989 at Wembley, then at Colston Hall, Bristol on Wed the 4th of this month. Drama makes so much sense live, and with Jon Davison singing! May they go on forever, bringing in just the right person as each member retires from performing with the band.

  • Kevin Kemp

    I have been a fan since 1971 and seen all various incantations of the group including AWBH but the show at the RHA in my opinion was the best I have ever seen/heard.

    Moon Safari, what a find. Had to go out and buy their CD’s during the interval.

  • Freq

    @Bob Harris – thanks for the correction; will amend shortly…

  • Bob Myers

    That is sometimes the key to understanding a complex work by Yes, that the studio gear may not have entirely captured: hearing it live. I didn’t understand Relayer until I heard Yes twice on the Solo Albums tour, and then it was just sizzling, searing, sophisticated, synergistic, adrenalinizing fun.

  • saw them in Philadelpia but I was a yes fan from Yessongs…My ultimate fantasywas tossing like johnand play bass like Chris after I watched a 45 min solo

  • saw them in Philadelpia but I was a yes fan from Yessongs…My ultimate fantasy was to sing like john and play bass like Chris after I watched a 45 min solo on BASS

  • Ben Naylor

    I good review of a fantastic gig. I have seen Yes twice on 90125 and solos tour but never with Howe. Initially I would not see Yes without Anderson but I’m glad I did. Howe was fantastic and Bass and vocal were tremendous but I’m glad Anderdon is back with Wakeman and Rabin, touring soon so let’s see what happens. For me Anderson is a key member of the band and their musical identity. Still what a gig they should be proud.

  • Ian C

    I was at the RAH gig especially to see Trevor Horn.
    I remember seeing Yes back in 1980 after Horn and Downes had just joined the band.
    I was so looking forward to the ‘reunion’.


    just a single song from Horn whereas I would have hoped for most of if not all of the Drama set.

    Wish I hadn’t bothered.

    I hope the Milan gig next week is better.

  • Kurt Edlund

    Rick Wakeman once said in an intervju “there will allways be a YES”,

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