Ruth Eckerd Center, Clearwater FL • 8-23-2015
Carl F Gauze
It’s a bummer when your bass player dies just before a tour starts, but Yes is a bunch of troupers and they pulled in previous guitarist Billy Sherwood to replace Chris Squire. Both Yes and Toto have been around since Jesus was in the 3rd grade; the former an ethereal intellectual prog rock icon, the later a more straight ahead hard rock band with a penchant for power ballads. They appeared tonight at the spacious Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, this art deco looking building offers great seats, great sound and easy sightlines and tonight it was packed to the rafter. After sweating through the later afternoon westward exposure ticket line in the toasty Florida sun, I was soon inside, cold and caked with dried sweat. Ah, the joys of southern living…
As we age it’s more and more important to do things on time and on schedule, and Toto was on stage just few minute behind the official starting time. Steve Lukather wore a bright yellow Hawaiian shirt, lead singer Dave Paich went for a Harley Davison Lite look in a black outfit, black hat and black sunglasses. The set was a nice mix of old hits a new hopes, and there was even the Jimi Hendrix cover “Little Wing” in the mix. The first real crowd pleaser came out a few songs along, “Hold the Line” was Toto’s first hit and it still resonates with its chorus of “Love isn’t always on time.” Love may be late, but these guys weren’t. New songs included “Orphan” and “Great Expectations” for album #14, but we were really there for the oldies, and those came right at the end: “Rosanna” got the house rocking, and “Africa” brought them to their feet. No question, we were stoked. Now, for a quick beer break….
While Yes has been releasing occasional albums, they haven’t charted since 1991. And along with Squire passing, I was going to this show more for nostalgia than any great expectation. But I was really off track; Yes put up one of the best shows of the year. There were electronic projections of animated art work harking back to the classic covers by Roger Dean and zoom cameras on each artist mixed with fanciful electronic doodles. I really liked the recently added lead singer Jon Davidson, he floated all over the stage in a white jumpsuit, constantly moving and giving us something watch. Keyboardist Geoff Downes, however, kept his back to us for most of the show and even avoided looking directly at his own special camera.
Set wise, Yes was heavy on their old hits (“Roundabout,” “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” “All Good People”). Their cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “America” made me think of Spinal Tap’s slightly different version, and they tossed in some concert standards that have never really found a home off the stage: “Siberian Khatru” and “Tempus Fugit.” But the payoff was their encore of “Starship Trooper,” this powerful version of soaring guitars and thundering bass brought down the house. True, some light weight 20-something audience members started sneaking out to beat traffic but too sad for them. This was a not only the high point of the show, it shows that even a intellectual band like Yes can still make you roar. All in all, a most excellent show. ◼