By Jenny Peters and Andy J. Gordon
As many of our rock ‘n roll icons grow old, retire and pass away, it has become increasingly difficult to relive the memorable concert experiences from the 20th century. But the good news is that three bands who together spearheaded the progressive rock movement in the 1970s and delivered unforgettable live shows are touring together in 2017, giving fans a chance to recapture some of their precious memories. Legendary British Prog-rockers Yes lead the charge on the “Yestival” tour, with solid supporting sets from Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy and Todd Rundgren. The Yestival tour rolled into the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles on August 29, 2017, and brought back some of the magic that many in the audience remembered.
Through years of lineup changes, band member deaths and infighting, Yes has always delivered dynamic live shows with impeccable musicianship. The current lineup includes incomparable guitarist Steve Howe, standout drummer Alan White, keyboard wizard Geoff Downes, bassist Billy Sherwood and singer Jon Davison. Sherwood has stepped into the big shoes left by the 2015 death of original bassist Chris Squire, while Davison does a fine job of mimicking the distinctive alto-tenor vocal range of original member Jon Anderson. For the 2017 tour, Steve Howe’s son Dylan, an accomplished jazz and rock drummer, pounds away on a second kit.
Yes’s set at the Microsoft Theater was a celebration of the band’s studio albums from 1969 to 1980 – their most prolific and successful period. They primarily stuck to doing one song from each album during that timeframe. Memorable tunes like “Time and a Word,” “Yours is No Disgrace,” “Going For the One” and “Don’t Kill the Whale” highlighted the brilliant instrumental capabilities of the band.
“Southside of the Sky” allowed Downes to demonstrate his classical piano chops while “And You And I” showcased Howe’s magical finger acrobatics along the fret board on his acoustic guitar. The encore started with another acoustic showcase for Howe. Davison joined him with his own acoustic guitar and sang vocals on “Madrigal.” The show closer was the highly anticipated radio classic “Roundabout,” which featured all the dramatic musical elements that have made the band so successful for so long.
Carl Palmer and his ELP Legacy band opened the show. Palmer is the only living member of the seminal Emerson, Lake and Palmer trio, as both Keith Emerson and Greg Lake passed away in 2016. The brief set was a showcase of Palmer’s brilliant drumming on some of the memorable songs from the ELP catalog. Guitarist Paul Bielatowicz and bassist Simon Fitzpatrick joined him and filled in ably for the original band members. Highlights included “Welcome Back My Friends” and “Fanfare for the Common Man.” The great music was enhanced with a trippy, psychedelic video montage on the theater’s big screens. The surprise of the set occurred during the beautiful ballad “Lucky Man,” when Palmer brought out Todd Rundgren to handle lead vocals.
Rundgren followed the ELP Legacy band with a strong show of his own. He was a prolific songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer through the last decades of the twentieth century. His polished show included two dancing female backup vocalists and a complete band of fine musicians. Rundgren sang, danced with the ladies and played lead guitar on several songs from his extensive catalog. He got the audience to sing along near the end of the set during his biggest hit “Hello, It’s Me.”
With such talented musicians still doing what they do best, it’s no surprise that Yestival turned out to be one of the best shows we’ve seen during the summer of ’17; seems the older generation can still rock it like it was 1971!