Progressive rock band Yes has come up with a practical way to capture its album-oriented concepts in concert: Play entire albums live.
The veteran British band, for its performance 8 p.m. Friday, April 4, at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City, will replicate the setlist from its recent run of Canadian shows –– “The Yes Album” from 1971; “Close to the Edge” from 1972; and “Going for the One” from 1977, as well as a smattering of its other hits.
“Doing an album has a lot of continuity,” says Yes guitarist Steve Howe. “It’s pleasurable to work through an album and bounce the hits off the end of it.”
Continuity has proven to be a complicated issue for Yes, which currently features three members from its original ’70s hey-day as a leader of the prog-rock movement: Howe; drummer Alan White; and bassist and co-founder Chris Squire; plus Geoff Downes on keyboards and the band’s newest member, lead vocalist Jon Davison, who joined in 2012.
Over the years, Yes has featured multiple personnel changes, with Howe sitting out the band’s pop-driven “Owner of the Lonely Heart” period in the ’80s to focus on his “supergroup” Asia, and original lead singer Jon Anderson coming and going several times before calling it quits for good a decade ago.
Yes, after a decade-long recording hiatus, released “Fly from Here” (Frontiers Records) in 2011 and is now prepping “Heaven and Earth” for early July.
Ahead of the band’s latest A.C. appearance, Howe talks about why the band has yet to land in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the status of the two Jons.
Q: Can you give a preview of your latest album “Heaven and Earth?”
A: “Heaven and Earth” has a freshness and different stance from many records we’ve done before. Hopefully, that freshness will be enjoyed. There’s a fairly good selection of music from the band, including our latest addition, Jon Davison. He’s come through with some great material. There’s a certain pressure with whatever record you make, but we had a pretty good time.
Q: What did Jon Davison bring to the recording process?
A: His writing has been building up for a few years, and he’s been looking for an outlet. The singer is expected to do that. (Previous singer) Benoit (David) wasn’t a writer, really. That’s why Trevor Horn was involved in writing “Fly From Here.”
Now we’re much more independent. We don’t have a producer to write songs, so therefore we have to come up with them ourselves, and Jon is really excellent.
Q: A group of fans sparked a campaign to try to get Yes into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year, but it didn’t work. Do you feel like you should be inducted?
A: It’s something that’s big with some people, mainly for people who think we should be in there. We just go with the flow. I’m not going to lose sleep over it. I’m not knocking it, but saying, “Wake me when it’s over.”
There are a lot of people who deserve to be in those things who aren’t. You can’t be disappointed. We’re not the only group that’s not in it. Certain kinds of acts appeal (to the hall). We’re not one of them, necessarily. We don’t knock the appreciation for our music. It says a lot about Yes’ career to have that kind of accolade laid upon it.
Q: Somewhat surprisingly, you recently cited country great Chet Atkins as your top guitar inspiration. Why do you rank him so high?
A: He’s one of those all-around guitarists that not everybody knows about. He has a certain country-picking style –– Scotty Moore, Elvis Presley’s guitarist did the same kind of thing to an extent.
But Chet symbolizes everything I wanted to be. I never wanted to play one style of music, even though rock is the reason I’m successful, it is by no means the be-all and end-all of my musical taste.
I saw Wes Montgomery when I was 16. I saw Frank Zappa in my 30s. I don’t think I ever saw anybody better than Chet.
Q: Before we go, I have to ask the Jon Anderson question. Is there any chance of a reunion with him?
A: How would you like it if I asked you to get back together with your ex-girlfriend ...
Q: People do get back together with their exes ...
A: We have a new album coming out. The way we see the band –– I don’t want to appear to be disinterested in things that other people might be interested in –– but you need clear goals when you’re working.
At the moment, we’ve got these (other) plans.
Why Yes guitarist ‘retired’ from Asia
Guitarist Steve Howe last year “retired” from his other major musical project –– Asia –– a supergroup he co-founded in 1981 during his first hiatus from Yes, and then revived under its original line up in 2006.
The decision to walk way from Asia, whose hits include “Heat of the Moment” and “Don’t Cry,” was motivated by Howe wanting to focus on Yes, his solo guitar work and his jazz trio, featuring his son Dylan Howe on drums and Ross Stanley on organ.
“Playing solo guitar is really important to my well-being musically,” Howe says. “To get space to do that was really important.
“Also, that trio is pretty important to me, too. It’s another kind of thing I’ve been developing. We’ve recorded a new album that’s all originals –– we’re not relying on the jazz repertoire at all. Basically, I gave it a good run and then it was on the way. It was musically restricting for solo and trio work.”