YES at FREMONT THEATER
San Luis Obispo 03/06/1996
 

Some general impressions of the theater... It's about the size of our average first-run theaters in SF. The seats are nice and plush, and truly every seat would give you a good view of the stage. Actually, the theater would be able to fit more people if there was a balcony, but that's not the case here. I was in the middle section, Row "H", which is about the same place that I'd sit if I were watching, say, Toy Story at a movie theater. For once, Yes does not look like performing fleas. They're actually people-sized from my vantage point.

The "programs" were free, a little folded cardboard sheet with some black and white pictures of the band in the centerfold. The outside is graced with a simplified Roger Dean Yes logo. The "program" was designed locally by Cal Poly. Unfortunately, the little programs were probably produced in a last-minute rush, as the colored inks were not sealed. Folding, bending, scratching and abrasion all caused the inks to flake. But, hell what'dya expect for free?

The stage was relatively small, and the only decorations were three Roman columns. Otherwise, the stage was filled with instruments and speakers.

The show starts off with a taped "Firebird Suite". Once that finishes, Yes walks onstage and starts blasting "Siberian Khatru". I'm surprised, but by the first song, I'm already digging it! Doubts of whether or not Yes can deliver the goods vanish... Yes plays with finesse and power. Here we go again, flashback to the much-beloved shows on the late 70's!

Jon's voice is in good shape. He's not straining anymore (re: Talk tour), and he's singing in his comfortable range. Steve, Alan, Rick and Chris don't miss a note.

Jon has lost some of the excess weight that he was lugging around back in '94... for a guy his age, he looks good. He's had a haircut, getting rid of the ridiculous "hippy 1978" 'do. He looks quite a bit like he did during the ABWH tour. Jon is wearing baggy, flowing white pants and shirt, and white robe-like-thing that's about knee-length. Looks like the high priest of Zongo.

Steve is wearing a nondescript white shirt and pants. They don't look like LeatherPants (tm). His hair is long and tied back into a ponytail (the same way that he's been wearing it for the last few years).

Chris is wearing a billowing white shirt, black tights and a pair of knee-high, tan boots, folded over at the top. He looks more like a retired Musketeer than a wrestler. Chris has also slimmed down somewhat. His hair is the same length as it was in '94. Chris has a goatee (again) these days.

Alan is balding at the top, and he's wearing his hair a little longer in the back. Alan is wearing a sleeveless black shirt.

Rick has his hair short, and is clean-shaven. He's wearing a white shirt, and a black jacket and pants.

Next song is "Close to the Edge". I'm beginning to miss some of the old three-part harmonies... Steve is fairly silent and Chris is under-miked. Steve disappears during the "I Get Up" section, but returns a bit later with some killer guitar playing. Jon is singing "Seasons of Man" is a lower key, probably to avoid the risk of not hitting the right note(s). Anyhoo, that's fine with me!

It is at about this time when I decide to put Kleenex into my ears. The high-end is a little shrill, especially Rick's electronic keyboards and Steve's guitar. Much better! The Kleenex is muffling some of the music, but it's also getting rid of a lot of the distortion that my unfortunate ears are picking up.

"I've Seen All Good People" follows. Seems like we just can't get away from this song! At least we don't have to put up with the "magic guitar that plays all by itself" crap. Yes, at this time, is a four-piece band with vocalist. No apologies, no pretending. At the end of "All Good People", everyone stands up and dances. Some people were boppin' in the aisles.

"Time and a Word" is next. It has a new arrangement, with a keyboard intro. It does not resemble the ABWH arrangement, or any of Yes' previous versions. Steve is playing some instrument that resembles a really small guitar, but sounds like an electric mandolin.

"And You and I"- Ahhh, here we are, back to the 12-string acoustic intro, just like ABWH in '89. This feels GOOD! Jon looks like he's honestly having a good time.

"The Revealing Science of God" - Worth the price of admission. It's been over twenty years since Yes performed this, and it's magical tonight.

"Going For the One"- What's THIS doing here? Ahhh, I guess I can sit through this, but was there SO MUCH demand for this song that it needed to be part of the show? Come to think of it, aren't they going to perform "Leaves of Green" (from "The Ancient")? "GFtO" is less shrill than it was in the old days. Jon is not trying to song over-the-top.

"Turn of the Century"- Beautiful 12-string guitar playing by Steve. Well, to be absolutely honest, I think Jon needs to brush up on his lyrics. Mebbe he needs to have the point-size increased on his lyric sheet. I don't think he has it quite right here.

Just a comment about this unique venue: probably due to the smaller-sized gig, people were NOT treated like cattle here, like they are at stadium shows. People were not frisked, and they even allowed camcorders and photography. This *IS* a first. Of course, since this show is being recorded, it's bootleg value would probably be minimal, once the official video comes out. Still, this could be a promising sign. If Yes starts allowing recording devices and pictures (like the Grateful Dead did), this could cause an upsurge in good-feeling towards the band from their hard-core clientele. The people attending were primarily over-30, mainly Caucasian.

"America"- what can I say? It's good to hear this little rarity unleashed from the vaults. Steve, who has been standing stock-still for most of the show, finally breaks into a little dance. Great fun.

"Happy Birthday"- dedicated to Chris Squire.

"Onward"- this song also has a new arrangement. It has a LONG intro, and I found myself humming the melody, but not quite placing it. Finally, it comes into focus. Highlight is Steve's 12-string acoustic playing.

"Awaken"- Chris is playing a triple-necked bass, and a steel-pedal guitar is moved back onstage for Steve. The first section, "High Vibration" is played on steel-pedal. After the harp solo, Steve roars back with a Fender Telecaster. "Awaken" gets a standing ovation.

The lights come back on. The audience shouts for an encore. What will it be?

"Roundabout"- Encore #1. Another go 'round of this. We've heard this all before, but at least this sounds better here tonight than it has been for the last few years.

"Starship Trooper"- Encore #2. Who didn't guess this one? Jon is wearing an acoustic guitar. Hopefully he's not faking it this time. Again, on "Disillusion" it strikes me- Steve is NOT singing harmony vocals. Hmmm.

And now, the show is over, I think. (examines the program) Hmmm, well looky here. Here's a picture of a chalkboard with songs written on it. But wait! Yes did not perform "Leaves of Green" or "South Side of the Sky". Minor bummer.

Okay gang, I'm convinced, Classic Yes is back! No more substitutions, no more adding additional musicians onstage, no more making excuses for hauling dead-weight around, no more avoiding their best material because the personnel can't cut it... Like Madonna sez: "Don't go for second-best, baby". Yes is no-longer second-best, or haunted by the ghost of their past. Yes has now embraced their past, and last night, the past became the present and perhaps, a beacon to the future.

If Yes never records another album of new material, I won't mind, really. If Yes becomes a "nostalgia act", catering to hardcore fans who want Tales and GFtO, I won't mind. We've been through some 15 years of Yes having an identity crisis, unable to decide what they are, who they are, and what they represent. We've seen the Yes name smeared with God-awful bargain-bin fodder like Union, and Yes' high-minded principles set to music diluted by the likes of "City of Love" and "Rhythm of Love". Yes has been wavering between Top 40 teeny-bopper appeal and the proggy/cosmic appeal of their Classic phase. Choose one, and choose wisely.

Welcome back, Yes. They're not flawless, but at last, the band is worthy of the name.

Many thanks to Gary and Dave, my companions on this little journey, Yes Magazine and Alex Scott, who supplied the ticket. YesMan, YesFan1046 and Steve Surly... nice meeting you guys at last!

Mind you, I'm writing this after waking up at 11:00 AM Thursday. I'm still flushed with excitement. I haven't grammar-checked this, nor have I carefully checked my use of present tense. This document is subject to change and modification, after I ahhh, examine some of the audio and video that's bound to be floating around soon.


This article is Copyright 1996, K.F. Louie. May not be reproduced without the written permission of the author.
This article has been previously published on Notes from the Edge

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