@ Newcastle City Hall, November 20 2009
Yes? No? Maybe…
There’s still a Wakeman but not a recognised frontman. There’s one original member, two new faces, three old stagers and five fantastic musicians. And surely that’s the point.
Rock is renowned for the transient nature of its band’s line-ups and after four decades pumping out prog standards it’s no surprise the Yes roundabout has spawned around 16 members over the years. But the 2009 version is all that matters right now.
Like Journey’s Arnel Pineda before him, vocalist Benoit David is a genuine YouTube success story. Spotted fronting a decent Yes tribute band, the Montreal native is now the superstar he always pretended to be. The genuine article rather than the cheap imitation, the real deal rather than second best.
Vocally David is equipped to mimic Jon Anderson perfectly with his high pitched delivery and melodic tone. And bar a couple of dud notes he delivered a faultless set in front of an appreciative and generous City Hall crowd.
Clearly comfortable belting out the band’s big commercial hit, Owner Of A Lonely Heart, it’s just a shame the Canadian isn’t the owner of a decent shirt. The mid-set change transformed David from camp minstrel to even camper 80s rock god. But then Yes have always favoured the flouncy and the flamboyant over the hard and fast.
Tempus Fugit is a brief but perfect example and here, as on Onward and Astral Traveller, an initially tense David eased into a groove which would carry him throughout the band’s two-and-a-half hour set. Played back to back, these three tracks showcased the new look band’s full range of talents with the aloof Oliver Wakeman, son of Rick, clearly suited to the role of his father’s heir apparent.
Perhaps of particular value to a North East crowd was the confident and perfectly crafted drum solo delivered by returning hero Alan White. Members of his family massed in the venue, the County Durham-born muso enjoyed a perfect sound on what would prove to be his perfect night – every part of his vast kit resonating throughout a venue close to the veteran’s heart.
Steve Howe’s assured acoustic mini set was typically magical but the highlight of the night was, undoubtedly, Heart Of The Sunrise from the fantastic Fragile album. David did just enough to bring the best out of this monumental tune and even fan favourites Yours Is No Disgrace and Roundabout paled by comparison.
Of course it’s difficult to take Yes seriously when their new singer points an acoustic guitar into the audience as if he’s going to massacre every fan in the place but then overblown theatre has always gone hand in hand with the prog rock masters. Watching David and Squire attempt to strut across the stage in tandem was one of the most toe-curling moments in rock and Wakeman junior needs to lighten up. Fast.
But this is all about the music, not the men behind the music. And in that respect Yes hit the mark on every count. It’s an absolute pleasure to spend a Friday night in the company of five richly talented musicians. But from time to time it’s just better to look away.