Music of Yes, I

by Peter Saint-Andre


I must have waited all my life for this! I've been listening to the music of the progressive/symphonic rock band Yes for 20 years or so but had never made it to a concert until the last two days, when I saw them in Albuquerque one night and Denver the next. Wow!

Although I have listened to Yes music since my early teens, my purchase in September 1999 of The Ladder (1999) inspired me to delve more deeply into their music -- up to that point I had owned only their self-titled first album and The Yes Album (1971) through Close to the Edge (1972). At that point I went Yes-crazy and traded in some other CDs in my collection to purchase all the remaining works of theirs I did not own. It turns out that some of the music I didn't have is now among my favorites, especially Tales from Topographic Oceans (1973) and Relayer (1974). I have focused on their music for about 80% to 90% of my listening over the last year! There is a nobility, grandeur, and spirituality in their music that I have not found anywhere else in popular music, and seldom even in art music. Indeed, as my appreciation has continued to deepen with each listening (helped along by several readings of Bill Martin's book Music of Yes), I would say that some of their music crosses over into art music.

So it was with great anticipation that on Tuesday morning I drove down to Albuquerque from Denver. And I was not disappointed -- the venue was great (an outdoor amphitheatre, so different from the hot and stuffy Fillmore where I saw them the next night in Denver!) and the music can hardly be described. This concert confirmed my judgment that Steve Howe is the greatest guitarist who has ever lived -- his mastery of so many styles and types of guitars (from classical to pedal guitar to all-out rock) is complete and a source of awe for this long-time guitarist. At the Albuquerque show and (even more so) the Denver show the next night he made subtle and not-so-subtle fills and changes to established phrases on the fly at incredible speed. His playing at the end of "Starship Trooper" just burned -- and was set up by an extended lead-up during the "Würm" section by the band, with Chris Squire taking his time to build up to the climax in an incredibly dramatic fashion. Awesome.

"The Gates of Delirium" (from Relayer) and "Ritual" (from Tales from Topographic Oceans) were the high points for me, although "Close to the Edge" wasn't far behind. I feel privileged to have heard these true masterworks in the flesh. This is music that will live on for a long time. Jon Anderson said they enjoy playing this large-scale music and it showed. Personally I don't know how they can play these 20+-minute pieces night in and night out, but I'm thankful they can. Word has it that the band wants to continue the "masterworks" format and include more large-scale works in their future concerts. I sure hope so! I'm especially looking forward to the possibility of their performing "To Be Over" (from Relayer), which is perhaps my favorite Yes piece and which I feel would be so powerful in concert.

Yes are such consummate musicians that they have also inspired my own musical efforts. Now I really want to record my own music, which even though written five to ten years ago bears in some places the influence of my early love of Yes music. And after I do that, I'd like to turn to a project I call Squire Variations -- extended works for solo bass guitar founded on bass lines by Chris Squire. He is the acknowledged master of the bass guitar in rock music and I would really like to explore some of his bass lines and make them into more extended works. And after that, I'm contemplating an even larger project: recording the Bach Cello Suites for electric bass!

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