Moments in time: Yes in ’97

Yes Open Your Eyes coverA LIVE concert deserves to be a magical experience. Particular sounds are suspended for a moment in time… breathing, lingering and mingling with others. They work their way deep into the listener, both instantly and through a longer process of absorption. In this way, musical performance generates a series of unnameable acts of alchemy which, at their best, unify heart, mind and body.

A Yes concert, more specifically, blends power and grace. It unravels itself across a wide sonic and emotional canvass, but it also attracts and engages the ear through finesse and filigree. That, at any rate, is my experience over the past 43 years. In Solid Mental Grace: Listening to the Music of Yes (Cultured Llama, 2018), I devote one of the later chapters (‘Passions that flow’, pp. 175-181) to considering the merits, flaws and fruits of Yes live. It is a relatively brief chapter, all told, and I therefore intend to use this website to expand on it in a variety of ways.

Over the past few days I have found myself listening to a number of compilations of Yes concert recordings arranged and remastered by George Chereji (SouthSideOfTheSky), a musician from Cluj-Napoca in Romania. Some of these are adapted from official recordings, some from unofficial ones. We owe George a debt of gratitude for the work he has done on these.  Most recently, I have been taking in his superbly rendered set from the 1997/98 ‘Open Your Eyes’ tour, which features Jon Anderson (vocals), Steve Howe (guitars), Igor Khoroshev (keyboards), Billy Sherwood (guitars), Chris Squire (bass) and Alan White (drums). It was Khoroshev’s first outing with the band, and Sherwood’s second, after joining Yes as a supplementary musician for the ‘Talk’ tour in North America, South America and Japan (1994).

I was fortunate enough to get to four of the six ‘Open Your Eyes’ concerts in California. As is my habit, I kept brief, personal diary notes for each show. Some time later I reproduced these (in edited form) on the indispensable Forgotten Yesterdays website, curated by Steve Sullivan and established by Pete Whipple. This site does an excellent job of documenting Yes’s tours and travels over what is now 52 years and seven decades. During that time, I have so far attended 94 Yes concerts, across two continents and three countries. In terms of my own diary notes, I still have a little catching up to do (for 2014, 2016 and 2018, specifically). But the 1997 entries are complete, and reproduced below. First, however, a few preliminary comments.

In my view, outside the 1970s and 1991’s ‘Union’ tour, Yes were at the pinnacle of their performing powers between 1994 and 2004, spanning several different line-ups and five albums — if you treat the two sets of ‘Keys to Ascension’ studio material as one album, eventually consolidated in ‘Keystudio’ (2001). The 1997-1999 tours in North America, Europe, Latin America and the Pacific Rim were especially strong performance-wise. The four concerts I saw in 1997 were the concluding US ones for ‘Open Your Eyes’, which was released on 24th November that year — to mixed reviews — and which followed rapidly on from ‘Keys to Ascension 2’ (3rd November). The two albums came from two different labels and caused quite a bit of confusion as a result of their stylistic differences and alternating personnel. Such are the vagaries of Yes’s condition (and catalogue) at that time.

Anyway, what I offer here are those short diary notes, as the first among a number of mini-reviews scattered between scribings on a variety of Yes-related matters. You may be glad to know that there are live recordings available for three of these four concerts (see Remy Menting’s excellent Songs of the Earth site), as well as others from different locations during the same year. I also thoroughly recommend that you listen to George Chereji’s remastered compilation from the tour, which beautifully captures both the core set-list and some of the band’s finest moments. On most nights of this tour, aside from different solo slots, Yes played “Siberian Khatru”, “Rhythm of Love”, “America”, “Open Your Eyes”, “And You and I”, “Heart of the Sunrise”, “From the Balcony”, “Children of Light”, “Long Distance Runaround”, “Owner of a Lonely Heart”, “The Revealing Science of God”, “I’ve Seen All Good People” [encore] “Roundabout” and “Starship Trooper”.

[Sacramento, California – Memorial Auditorium (4,000 capacity), 11 December 1997]

Yes SacramentoThis show marks the beginning of my second trip from Britain to see Yes in the US, catching the tail end of the Fall 1997 North American tour in California. Huge thanks to David Cooper for sorting tickets and for picking me up from San Francisco International Airport. My first task on arrival at the imposing Memorial Auditorium (built in 1926, but only renovated and reopened in 1996, following a thirteen year closure) was to buy a copy of the tour book – making a welcome return after its absence for the ‘Talk’ tour in North America. [You can still source the Japanese ‘Talk’ programme if you are interested. Ed.]

Tonight I was back in row U on the floor, on Steve Howe’s side (left). The sound was a little patchy at first, but soon picked up. Or my ears adjusted; one or the other. The first four numbers spanned the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s Yes well. By the time “And You and I” began I was fighting off the jet lag. However, this proved a gig to remember. I knew that “The Revealing Science of God” was coming up, but nothing could prepare me for my first experience of it live (I didn’t see the band in concert until 1977). This, for me, is what Yes music is all about: expansive, varied, taking you on a journey across many moods and highlights.

It was a strong performance throughout from all concerned, with Igor Khoroshev handling the keyboard parts very well indeed, exhibiting both freshness and vigour. By the time the final chord of “Starship Trooper” was dying away and the group taking its final bows, I was exhausted and exhilarated in equal measure.

[San Francisco, California – Warfield Theatre (2,300 capacity), 12 December 1997]

The second of my four concerts on this second leg of the 1997 North American tour, and the first of two nights at the Warfield. This is another iconic 2,300-seater venue. It was originally a vaudeville theatre, built in 1922. That spirit certainly imbued Chris Squire tonight, as the bass man strutted his stuff, not least in his (perhaps rather overdone) solo spot.

Since we arrived in good time, I managed to have a decent peak at the stage set up while the ‘Open Your Eyes’ ambient track – which gets you in the mood for the concert well – was playing, Then loud cheers greeted the quiet opening bars of Stravinsky’s “Firebird” finale, as a prelude to show opener “Siberian Khatru”.

This time I was nearer the front, central and slightly on Howe’s side. There were no set changes from Sacramento. The sound was much better, at least where I was sitting. Squire’s bass pedals shuddered through my frame. Marvellous. Once again, Igor Khoroshev was highly impressive. Technically he is top notch, shows a real understanding of the material, and produces some decent and appropriate sound patches. “This is the keyboard player Yes should have,” was my overall thought.

Billy Sherwood’s contributions to the rich sound mix are more textural, both vocally and instrumentally. Jon Anderson’s voice is as soaring as ever, Alan White nailed it once more percussively, and Steve Howe’s guitar was fiery. A fine incarnation of the band, in good form.

[San Francisco, California – Warfield Theatre (2,300 capacity), 13 December 1997]

Yes WarfieldStill buzzing from the last two shows, I took in Roger Dean’s art exhibition in the afternoon before grabbing some food and moving on to the evening concert. Unlike many Yes aficionados, I’m not always overwhelmed by his work. It has its moments (especially in the history of Yes, obviously), but then again, time and art needs to progress, too. Nevertheless, seeing a high quality print of the ‘Topographic Oceans’ cover in a specially lit side room of the gallery was special. It was a good job I didn’t have any money spare in my account after this transatlantic musical trip.

The concert itself seemed even more energetic than yesterday evening. Igor Khoroshev is still too low in the mix. Vocally, the group is perhaps at its strongest to date. It seems that Billy Sherwood doesn’t gain much approval for his contribution or credit for his work (which includes soloing on the ’80s material), but in my view he rounds out the sound and adds helpful detail. Once again, “The Revealing Science of God” was the highlight of the night for me. It was also good to hear two new solo acoustic guitar pieces from Steve Howe, which I didn’t immediately identify (“Bareback” and “Second Initial”).

Amusingly, Jon Anderson lost track of the lyrics near the beginning of “And You and I”, but other than that, this was another accomplished and powerful performance from all concerned. Yes comes across very well in smaller, theatre-style venues, and it is remarkable to think of the particular history of the Warfield: Chaplin, Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead, among others. Shoulder to shoulder with giants for the Yes men. I wish I had known author Bill Martin was here tonight. It would have been good to have talked with him about his book, Music of Yes: Vision and Structure in Progressive Rock. Overall, an ideal Saturday night.

[The complete concert can now be listened to hear.]

[San Jose, California – San Jose Center for the Performing Arts (2,655 capacity), 14 December 1997]

It was a beautiful, balmy evening on which to head off to see Yes at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts. Another fine venue. Striking architecture on a lovely plaza, replete with fountain and a little greenery. The theatre is the home of the ballet, and as such it has been designed with good sightlines. This time my seat was in the orchestra, affording a different perspective on the Yes proceedings, both aurally and visually.

The only set change tonight was once more in Steve Howe’s acoustic guitar interlude, where “Ram” made a reappearance, accompanied by “Masquerade” (from ‘Union’), as a prelude to the near obligatory “Clap”. I was a little sorry to miss “Mood for a Day” altogether, as it had been dropped before this part of the ‘Open Your Eyes’ tour. Talking of which, the two new albums (the other one being ‘Keys to Ascension 2’) featured only lightly in these shows, with the major emphasis being fresh arrangements of major classics. That suits me fine right now. The band still sounds as if it is musically alive, while acknowledging the strength of its roots in the early ’70s material. Meanwhile, “Rhythm of Love” and “Owner” have been supplemented with instrumental elaborations towards the end of each. This makes them slightly more interesting for me. Khoroshev,  Howe and Sherwood offer suitable flourishes to add color and texture.

There was a hint of sadness for me tonight, as this was the last of my four concerts before returning to Britain. Unfortunately I just could not stretch my schedule to stay on tow extra days for the end-of-tour concert in Santa Barbara. Good job, as it turned out. That show, which had been added to the schedule at the last minute, was cancelled due to poor sales, apparently; as was one in Portland, Oregon.  Thankfully the San Jose gig proved a fitting end to the Fall 1997 itinerary, and I focused with delight on every minute until the final curtain call. As others have mentioned, the audience was more respectful of the quiet passages tonight. I could not have been happier. Christmas came early for me with these concerts.

(Image credits: Yes ‘Open Your Eyes’ album cover; posters via Forgotten Yesterdays). If you enjoyed this article, please see my book Solid Mental Grace: Listening to the Music of Yes (Cultured Llama Publishing, 2018).  

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