You almost need a scorecard to attend a Yes concert these days because the band’s lineup is always in flux. There are even two incarnations of the pioneering progressive rock touring right now. The members that appeared on the L.A. version of the tour called Yestival included master guitarist Steve Howe, Alan White on drums, Geoff Downes at the keyboards, Jon Davison (not Jon Anderson) singing and Billy Sherwood playing bass.
The headliner filled its setlist with songs drawn from Yes’s first 10 years. And by the ages of attendees for this not-quite-sold-out mini-festival, many in the audience appeared to be fans of the act since the start. The group saved the big hit, “Roundabout,” till the end, and – while many of the selections were unfamiliar to all but the most diehard fans – the playing was particularly good throughout. Howe, who looks like an aging hippy professor in his glasses and ponytail these days, switched back and forth between vintage electric guitars and steel guitar, and even played a little acoustic guitar. Davison was part vocalist, part cheerleader. Ironically, coming from a style (progressive) that was greatly influenced by classical music, Yes’s music now sounds like truly classical classic rock.
Todd Rundgren preceded Yes with an extremely engaging performance. Beginning the night wearing a suit jacket and smart red tie, before switching to a sleeveless rocker look, Rundgren performed a lot of arty rock, including “This Is Not a Drill” from his new politically-leaning White Knight. He threw in a few Utopia songs, as well as his soulful hit – which turned into a sing-along – “Hello It’s Me.” Rundgren is severely underrated, and highly worth checking out whenever he plays live.
Carl Palmer carried on the legacy of his old band Emerson, Lake & Palmer by book-ending his set with two Aaron Copland pieces (“Hoedown,” first, and ending with “Fanfare for the Common Man”). It was unusual to hear EMP music without vocals. The only singing during this five-song set was for “Lucky Man,” which featured a guest performance by Todd Rundgren.
Even those in the audience that were not prog-heads (like me) found much good to take away from Yestival. No matter who Yes is (or is not) these days, the music its various members created all those years ago, still stands up well.