What hath Journey wrought? When the veteran pop band found itself without a lead singer this year, it simply hired a vocalist that copied, with unnerving detail, the high scratchy whine of its most noted (but long since departed) frontman, Steve Perry.
This fall, Yes, the prog band celebrating its 40th anniversary, is following suit. With longtime vocalist Jon Anderson still recuperating from a serious respiratory ailment that derailed a summer tour, the remaining veteran members – bassist Chris Squire, guitarist Steve Howe and drummer Alan White – enlisted the singer of a Montreal based Yes tribute band and hit the road. Sounds pretty dreadful, right?
Well, last night at Cincinnati’s Taft Theatre vocalist Benoit David more than vindicated himself in the role of what Squire has termed as “understudy” for Anderson.
During the show opening Siberian Khatru, David easily seized the cosmic falsetto Anderson has provided Yes over the decades. Admittedly, David’s performance was more an act of imitation than interpretation, whether it was through the huskier lightness of Onward (a forgotten delicacy from 1978’s Tormato album resurrected for this tour) or the celestial stair step notes his singing escalated upon during Starship Trooper. But this was no karaoke act. If anything, David revealed a tone more muscular (and certainly more youthful) than the artist he was emulating. But considering Anderson helped compose as well as sing the majority of the concert’s repertoire, it is best to still view David as a serviceable stand-in.
Yes’ other understudy last night was keyboardist Oliver Wakeman, who had the none-too-modest task of replicating the keyboard orchestrations of his father, Rick Wakeman. The younger Wakeman handled his duties effortlessly with zero flash, whether it was with the bass synths that exploded like sirens during Close to the Edge or the church organ colors provided to light up I’ve Seen All Good People.
The mainstay Yes men played with their usual strengths and quirks. Squire is still a good natured ham with a tendency to overplay while White was an exact, propulsive and tireless beatkeeper. Howe, for my money, stole the show, switching from mandola to pedal steel to a multitude of electric guitars. Also, hearing him take a crack at the chiming guitar passages of Astral Traveler – a 1970 tune recorded when founding Yes guitarist Peter Banks was still in the ranks – was great, unexpected fun.
Speaking of program surprises, Howe, Squire and White took advantage of Anderson’s absence to play a pair of extended tunes from 1980’s Drama (Yes’ only Anderson-less album). Of the two, the 12 minute Machine Messiah resonated strongest with David sounding just as ease aping Drama singer Trevor Horn as he was Anderson. Howe, in turn, colored in the contours with some the evening’s crankiest guitar runs.
Of course, if you view Yes today as just a prog rock fossil, then none of this matters. Nothing the band’s realigned lineup did last night was designed to attract new converts. But for the die-hards, Yes presented a portrait of its past framed firmly in the affirmative.
Yes will return to the region on Dec. 9 to play the Louisville Palace.