The mess that is Yes proves a sad shadow of its former self in Vancouver

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      At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Tuesday (September 5)

      Still trying to digest what I witnessed last night. Went to the double bill at the Queen E. with Todd Rundgren and Yes (official), and I’m still feeling unsettled. Rundgren once again put on a masterful, high-energy show, and he pulled some deep cuts as well as some newer material that was very strong. He performs with the energy of a man half his age, and I’m in awe of all the cool harmonic twists and turns in his songwriting. His opening act performance was worth the price of admission, which was not insubstantial.

      And then there was Yes. They used to be one of my favourite bands, but since the death of founding bassist Chris Squire, things appear to have taken a darker turn for these lads. Yes has always had a revolving door of members. Several drummers and keyboardists have come and gone, and different incarnations have toured for years. Since Squire’s passing, there are now two versions of Yes touring at the same time! As any high school chemistry student knows, when you dilute a solution, it just ain’t as strong. An Americano is not an espresso.

      My friends, we have now arrived at the era of the rock band franchise. When you think about it, franchising a band is the logical extension of an increasingly corporate music business. These are dark days. This thing that I witnessed last night (lets call it “McYes”), was a complex emotional puzzle that I had a hard time decoding at the time.

      All I knew was that while I was having an unexplained, yet very visceral negative reaction that almost prompted me to leave several times, everyone around me seemed completely oblivious and actually were increasingly ecstatic as the set went on, like a weird hybrid of a middle-age nerd sausage party and high-school sock hop.

      To say that McYes phoned it in would be a disservice to the telephone system. Guitarist Steve Howe, a long-serving member, gamely did his best to keep the flame alight. Looking for all the world like a recently embalmed version of the guy on the Lucky Charms cereal box, this cadaverous septuagenarian led the ensemble through some historical backwaters of the band’s catalogue that may have been best left unexplored.He was clearly tired at the end of the set, and played in an increasingly meandering fashion that seemed a shadow of the virtuosity I remembered from years past.

      Another long-time member, drummer Alan White, left the stage numerous times, leaving Howe’s son to man a second kit in his absence. Perhaps he went for a nap? Slowly making his way to the front of the stage for a final bow, he looked for all the world like a slow-moving retiree on a cruise, shuffling along the deck while waiting for the buffet to open.

      New singer Jon Davison hits all the notes, and his pitch is actually quite good. This castrati elf moved about the stage quite nimbly and gamely and did his best to engage the audience of balding seniors as much as he could. Have you ever been in a Chinese bakery and seen those elaborate cakes in the beautifully lit display cases? They are impeccably decorated down to the last detail, and look like they promise to be amazing. Then you take a bite. There is absolutely no flavour to speak of.

      Jon Davison is that cake.

      Geoff Downes on keyboards was always in a tie with Tony Kaye as the least-talented member to hold down that chair, and to my eyes, he certainly lived up to that promise. Flabby and lethargic, he failed to instil any energy into the proceedings at all. In fact, his parts seemed like simplified reductions of the originals. At the end of the night, he looked like he was more excited about the Toblerone in the hotel mini-bar than he was about playing music.

      Poor Billy Sherwood. Trying to replace Chris Squire is an impossible task. He did give it the college try, but..

      All in all, what I heard was sloppy and uninspired ensemble playing, rough and ragged vocal harmonies (especially from Billy). I was saddened. It was like watching a relative with Alzheimer’s kind of fade away in front of you. They still look like themselves, they still answer to their name, but the inner wiring that gave them their unique personality has frayed and decayed to the point where they are unrecognizable. 

      On the one hand, I understand the need for musicians to play, and I applaud these guys for continuing to go out and do it. I know how important it is. I wonder if the other Yes is any better? Perhaps. I don’t intend to find out. Would you like some fries with that order of Yes?

      As an aside, for my money, my friends in Earthbound Progrock can play circles around the sorry crew I witnessed last night. Go see them instead.

      Oh, did I mention that Todd Rundgren was great?