By Andy J. Gordon
Progressive rock pioneers and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees Yes are headlining a best-of-British-rock tour, with Asia, John Lodge (of The Moody Blues) and Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy all traveling together for the first time. The Southern California stop of the tour hit the Five Point Amphitheater in Irvine on July 27, 2019. And boy, did they all deliver. With virtuoso performances by each of the four bands, the show spanned well over three hours and thrilled the mostly baby-boomer audience.
Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy band opened the show. The tribute to late ELP members Greg Lake and Keith Emerson featured the still-impeccable drum technique of Palmer. Shock-rock pioneer Arthur Brown belted out vocals for a portion of the set; his own 1968 chart-topping smash, “Fire,” by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, was a crowd favorite. Palmer was the drummer for that pre-ELP band, so the two go back a very long way.
The classic ELP songs like “Karn Evil 9” and “Hoedown” drew big applause as guitarist Paul Bielatowicz (who has been with Palmer since 2003) wailed away. Palmer, still looking fit at 69, stripped off his t-shirt, a staple of his performances from the 70s through the 90s, while playing a lengthy, thundering drum solo during the set-closing “Fanfare for the Common Man.”
John Lodge’s set featured classic hits by Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees The Moody Blues. Lodge played his bass and sang hits like “Timothy Leary,” “Make It Work Out” and “I’m Just a Singer (in a Rock and Roll Band).” Jon Davison, the vocalist for Yes, joined Lodge for a duet on the set-closing “Ride My Seesaw.”
Asia blasted onto the stage as John Lodge rolled off. Back in 1981, Asia was a successful super-group spin-off project made up of Steve Howe and Geoff Downes from Yes, Carl Palmer from ELP and John Wetton from King Crimson. Wetton passed away in 2017 and guitarist and vocalist Ron Thal has joined the group for this 2019 tour. Bassist Billy Sherwood, keyboardist Geoff Downes and guitarist Steve Howe all do double duty, playing with both Asia and Yes. Howe remained off-stage, however, for the early part of the Five Point set, with Thal handling vocals and blistering solos on a double-necked guitar.
The band opened with “Go” and “Don’t Cry” before launching into The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star.” Downes explained that he was also a founding member of The Buggles and the song had the distinction of being the first video ever played by MTV on August 1, 1981. At the end of the song, Steve Howe came out of the wings to thunderous applause and the band played the distinctive opening chords for “Wildest Dreams.” The still-super group followed with “Sole Survivor,” “Only Time Will Tell” and closed out their set with “Heat of the Moment,” which included an audience sing-along.
That revved-up crowd went wild when the members of Yes came out to close the night of historic prog-rock music. Original drummer Alan White was not on stage for the start of the set as Jay Schellen handled the drum kit, joined by Howe, Downes, Sherwood and Davison. The band played several of their classics including “Going for the One,” “I’ve Seen All Good People” and “Siberian Khatru.”
Davison does an incredible job of duplicating the alto tenor range of original band vocalist Jon Anderson. The other musicians played with such precision that it was almost like hearing the studio albums again. Howe was particularly impressive playing various electric guitars, a pedal-steel guitar and a lute. His solo acoustic guitar performance of “Clap” from The Yes Album nearly stole the show.
Alan White finally came out to take over on drums for Paul Simon’s “America,” a song that Yes rearranged and recorded in 1970. The band then launched into “The Gates of Delirium,” a heavy, long track from 1974s Relayer album that is based on Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Downes and Howe played impressive solos during the instrumental portion of the song before finally ending the set.
The band came back out for an encore with John Lodge joining them. To highlight the evening’s British theme, the band performed a version of John Lennon’s “Imagine” with Davison and Lodge on vocals. Drummer Alan White played on that song ‘s original recording and other Lennon solo material. Lodge exited the stage as Yes launched into scorching versions of “Roundabout” and “Starship Trooper” to end the night of amazing performances.