YES, Manchester 02 Apollo

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The determination and drive to keep performing their dynamic and captivating music is something Yes excel at.

There’s something amazing to be said for a a band who’s career spans nearly five decades and can still perform such complicated arrangements.

With members that have come and gone, it seems to have only aided in creating an incomparable metamorphosis of their musical sound. It has earned them a lot of hype over the generations and caused controversy with some fans in equal measure.

© Charlotte Wellings | For Flick Of The Finger
© Charlotte Wellings | For Flick Of The Finger

The show at the Manchester Apollo starts with a dimming of the lights and the audience eagerly rush to their seats ready to await the anticipated double-album playlist. Yes are about to perform two albums in their entirety 1980′ Drama and the 1971’s much lauded Fragile. With some of these songs not having been performed live in decades, the applause fills the auditorium with great anticipation. Before the band take to the stage there’s a projected tribute to Chris Squire, accompanied by a recording from their album Tormato.

Without saying a word, long standing member Steve Howe waves as he walks out on stage and takes position with his guitar. He is joined by singer Jon Davison, drummer Alan White, keyboardist Geoff Downes and bassist Billy Sherwood.

A spot light drops on Howe and the crowd intently await the opening riff of Machine Messiah from Drama. We are transported back in time, the band is at ease as they play and the audience seem so quiet as they lose themselves in the music.

Steve Howe and Billy Sherwood command each side of the stage, filling the auditorium with their recognisable sound. Time has not slowed Howe down, he is still a versatile prog-rock guitarist, displaying his musical range proudly and playing the compositions effortlessly, bringing out all the textures and range that are habitual to him and a wonder to hear. As for Billy Sherwood, he is still an exceptional bass player, noted tonight mostly by a magnificent solo in the middle of the show. It’s wonderful to watch him perform and Chris Squire would see him a fitting permanent replacement.

It’s hard to imagine Yes without Jon Anderson behind the mic, but Jon Davison hits all the notes and performs with dedication and passion which makes it easier to get over Anderson’s departure from the band. Davison has a sweetness about him on stage that is wonderful to watch. Every detail of his performance is masterful, including playing a sample pad as he sings and adds backing to the bands’ sound with a tambourine, wind chimes, even joining in playing keyboard with Downes. When you close your eyes there are moments when it seems Anderson is in the room, their vocals are remarkably similar. Davison however doesn’t feel like a replacement for Anderson, he feels like the ‘real’ lead singer of Yes. Davison is a very welcome addition to the band and a remarkable performer in his own right.

Downes commands the keyboards with such fervour and eagerness it’s fascinating to follow him from one key to another, from one keyboard to another, following him on this musical adventure. His performance is spectacularly throughout, not only does he play brilliantly but he dresses the part. With an elaborate jacket with an intricate design on the back he knows how to please the audience. He’s become accustomed over the years to knowing he has his back to them for so much of the show. For some fans it might seem a shame not to see his face as much as the other members, but it would be even more of a loss if they couldn’t see the intricacies of his performance and the way he plays the keys. He does turn to face the audience at points, stretches out his arms and plays the keyboards either side of him with ease. It is clear to see what an exceptional keyboard player he is.

Howe speaks in to the mic to announce that Time and A Word is dedicated to Peter Banks and the audience clap. They play the piece beautifully and it’s clear to see the pleased faces in the crowd. Towards the end of the evening drummer Alan White dedicates Don’t Kill The Whale to a long time Yes fan who recently passed, Malcolm Birkett.

For the most part, the album Drama felt a little quiet and delicate. Unfortunately there seemed something sombre about the performance. Maybe it was the tone set by the tributes, a sad reminder of how fragile life can be.

After a twenty minute intermission the band return to play Fragile and instantly there’s a lot more energy and animation in the room. Howe welcomes everybody and thanks them for attending. There’s an immediate sense that something special is about to happen as the band kick in to Roundabout. It’s up-beat sound resonates through the auditorium and you can feel the love surrounding the band and the overall mood is elevated.

© Charlotte Wellings | For Flick Of The Finger
© Charlotte Wellings | For Flick Of The Finger

There is a change of pace for a bit in the second half as Steve Howes moves to front of stage and sits and plays a pleasing acoustic piece. The gig wouldn’t be complete without an acoustic solo from Howe. The mood is calm and quiet as people listen intently. A perfect performance before the band bring the show to a close.

With a few exceptions the majority of the Fragile album is performed flawlessly, everything comes together to make it a fulfilling, pleasurable evening. There is an emotional climax with Owner of a Lonely Heart followed by the encore track Starship Trooper which sees a lot of the audience stand for the first time of the evening. Both powerful and different, these tracks speak to the fans and make for a wonderful close to the show.

There’s a wonderful sense of tradition with these long standing progressive rock bands. Without fail they all line up and take a bow at the end of the show and and thank the fans. As there should be, there is a great admiration for Yes which is well deserved, this can be seen throughout the auditorium tonight and beyond.

Professional Music Photographer for The Charlatans and Tim Peaks… Excels at falling over. Avid crisp eater & tea aficionado. Catch Charlotte on twitter…

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