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Nothing fragile about love for prog kings YES; Prog rock fans were out in force at the weekend. DAVID WHETSTONE, who has a copy of The Yes Album somewhere, joined them.


THE prog rockers felt the love from the stage of a packed Sage One on Sunday night - standing ovations and even a few people on their feet at the front.

If you flashed back 40 or 50 years there would have been a lot of long hair in the room. And a lot of bellbottom flares.

As it is, the core audience has aged with the longest-serving members of the band.

But it's a devoted and knowledgeable core and clearly you're never too old to covet a souvenir T-shirt (the merchandise stall on the concourse seemed to be trading steadily).

The band opened their set with Yours Is No Disgrace from the Yessongs album... "silly human, silly human race" is a line that always sounds topical.

Jon Davison, the American lead singer of YES since 2012, is perfectly equipped to deliver the soaring vocal sound patented by Jon Anderson back in 1968 when he founded the band with Chris Squire.

Tribute was paid to the bassist who died in 2015, a year after I last saw YES at Newcastle City Hall.

Davison has the flowing locks reminiscent of the YES heyday. But while the ponytail is a little threadbare these days, it is Steve Howe who ensures these prog rock survivors still have the power to mesmerise.

Seventy years young and waif-like, the Londoner is one of the world's great rock guitarists and he demonstrated his versatility on a succession of different instruments as the night unfolded.

"Great to be back in the wonderful Sage," he said. "And I like the little room too."

Despite the passing of the years, Yes are far too big and popular for the Sage Two polygon although Howe, as he demonstrated repeatedly, could fill it performing solo. He can do rock, he can do flamenco, he can probably do anything with a guitar.

Sweet Dreams, from the album Time and a Word, and South Side of the Sky, from Fragile, were among the old favourites to get an airing.

But the second half was largely dedicated to the 1973 album Tales from Topographic Oceans, with coloured lights flashing and the artwork of Roger Dean projected on three screens behind the stage.

With Geoff Downes in charge of the banks of keyboards and Billy Sherwood a stoical presence on bass, it was left to Davison to deliver the intricate lyrics that are pure prog rock but hardly stand up to close scrutiny when lying cold on the page (eh, what?).

You could argue that YES demonstrate both why prog rock is often derided - overblown, pretentious, hippy-happy - and why it is great.

When County Durham-born Alan White came on in the second part, replacing Jay Schellen (who has been standing in for White while his health hasn't been so good) on drums, it was as if the concert moved up a gear.

Schellen is a good drummer, but White has been 46 years in YES and added oomph with a superb solo which I could hardly watch because a spotlight was flashing in my eyes.

At these moments, with the hall rocking, you can forgive a great deal.

And for all that punk perhaps recalibrated the music industry at the right time, a YES gig makes a good argument for rock music that aspires to be profound.

The band's final bow came when everyone knew there were still 20 minutes to go.

That's what you need for a prog rock encore and it brought us Roundabout (also from Fragile). The audience was already on its feet.

The final final bow brought a tidal wave of appreciation. Even the band seemed overwhelmed, applauding and blowing kisses as they left the stage.

| FOOTNOTE: Just to clear up a possible source of confusion, another manifestation of Yes is coming our way in the summer.

This is YES featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman, the founder member and two former members of the band, who are playing Newcastle City Hall on Tuesday, June 12. Yes fans might want to go and see this one too on the principle that you can't have too much of a good thing.

You could argue that YES demonstrate both why prog rock is often derided - overblown, pretentious, hippy-happy - and why it is great


YES's guitar virtuoso Steve Howe

Jon Davison of YES at Sage Gateshead on Sunday Mick Burgess
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Mar 20, 2018
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