One of the giants of progressive rock returned to Manchester with a swagger as a new-look Yes line-up lifted the roof at the Apollo.
Featuring the return of Stockport-born keyboardist Geoff Downes for the first time since 1980, alongside recently acquired vocalist Benoit David and the age-old nucleus of Steve Howe, Chris Squire and Alan White, more than 40 years of music was condensed into a little over two hours of high-quality musicianship.
The big talking point in the setlist was not which of the many classic Yes songs – such as ‘Going for the One’, ‘Long Distance Runaround’ and ‘South Side of the Sky’ – were omitted, but the brave decision to base the show around ‘Fly From Here’, the seven-part, 26-minute title track from the new album.
Such a decision paid off with a standing ovation, and with Howe and Squire particularly on sparkling form, the veteran proggers were at times absolutely sensational.
Opening on one of their signature songs’ 1971’s magnificent ‘Yours is No Disgrace’, could also be seen as a bit of a risk, but the superb rendition – especially the extended guitar solo from Howe – laid down a momentous marker.
Benoit David, who replaced long-time lead vocalist Jon Anderson in 2008, will always have a struggle to match up to his iconic predecessor, but his technique cannot be faulted, and he performed manfully during old classics such as ‘I’ve Seen All Good People’ and ‘Heart of the Sunrise’.
Downes – whose previous appearance on a Yes album, 1980’s Drama, was noted with a performance of ‘Tempus Fugit’ – also dealt well with the considerable legacy of those who went before him, and both came more into their own during new numbers like ‘Life on A Film Set’ and ‘Into the Storm’.
On fire throughout, though, was Howe: be it bluesy solos, intricate riffing or the classical perfection– sometimes all in one song as he seamlessly swaps between acoustic, electric and pedal steel guitars – he has the mesmeric presence of a true guitar wizard, and deserves to be up there with Page, Iommi and Schenker in the pantheon of all-time greats. The acoustic double of ‘To Be Over’ and ‘Solitaire’ in particular was moving and delightful.
The beauty of prog rock is that any individual – including the big beast on bass, the irrepressible Chris Squire, or the solid Alan White on drums – could be singled out for their skill, and when they all come together, such as on the soaring ‘And You and I’ and a stomping version of ‘Starship Trooper’, there is an awe-inspiring quality in the interweaving interplay and virtuoso instrumentation few bands can match.
Ending on the timeless ‘Roundabout’, Yes gave an exhibition of prog in all its finery, from its 70s pomp to its modern reimaging and continuing reinvention. In comparison, many will feel like pygmies compared to these giants of rock.