Though you wouldn’t know it from the obviously confused Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but progressive rock – the ambitious hybrid of rock, classical and jazz – was a key ingredient of 1970’s pop culture. A wondrous time when music spun off into a million different directions at once. Despite the term “progressive rock’ indicating a genre that looked forward, the truth is that prog rock has been pretty stagnate for a few years, if not decades.
I’ve been a massive fan of 60’s and 70’s “Prog Rock” since the age of 10. Starting with the easily digestible AOR bands like Styx and Kansas before deep diving into the world of British bands like Pink Floyd, Genesis, King Crimson, Jethro Tull, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, The Moody Blues, and this evenings headliners, Yes. Though my adoration for the often maligned genre (See: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) still runs very high, it is not above receiving a little bit of fan displeasure from time to time.
Yes are perhaps the genres foremost practitioners. Since their debut in 1969, the band has done its best to keep things interesting as it constantly tours – debuting new albums in full, celebrating their classic works by playing them in sequential order, and even combining various members from different eras of the band into one giant ensemble (See: Union).
The bands most recent outing titled “The Royal Affair” is without a doubt a tour filled with British rock royalty, featuring members of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, The Moody Blues, and Asia paying tribute to their seminal bands. While the billing looked great on paper, the show itself ran the once forward thinking genre into something considerably regressive.
With worldwide sales of nearly 50 million albums, Emerson, Lake & Palmer are THE top-selling prog band in history. Consisting of keyboard wizard Keith Emerson, singer and bassist Greg Lake, and drummer Carl Palmer, all eight of the trio’s 70’s albums were certified gold in the United States. Based on the amount of ELP albums available at your local record store (See: Block Street Records), there weren’t many young people in the ‘70’s whose record collections didn’t include Emerson, Lake & Palmer (1970), Tarkus (1971), Trilogy (1972) or Brain Salad Surgery (1973). Both Emerson and Lake died in 2016, leaving Carl Palmer the sole survivor.
Opening with the always bombastic “Karn Evil 9: 1st Impression, Part 2,” Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy, kicked off the show in dramatic fashion.
“Welcome back, my friends to the show that never ends. We’re so glad you could attend, come inside, come inside” sang guest vocalist Arthur Brown (Crazy World of Arthur Brown).
The band which also included guitarist Paul Bielatowicz and David Pastorius (Nephew of jazz legend Jaco Pastorius) on bass, slayed the classics of “Hoedown,” and “Knife Edge” before launching into a fantastic version of vocalist Arthur Brown’s 1968 hit “Fire.”
Closing with ELP’s “Fanfare for the Common Man,” the crowd joyously clapped along and – after a stellar drum solo by Palmer, gave one of the few standing ovations of the evening. Palmer’s 5 song set was far too short to do ELP’s legacy any sort of justice and as a fan I was really wanting more.
The Moody Blues’ John Lodge, backed by a four-man band, played a seven-song, 35-minute set that started with the somewhat obscure “Steppin’ in the Slide Zone” before touching on the Moodie’s more psychedelic side.
“Timothy Leary’s dead / No, he’s outside looking in” sang Lodge from 1968’s “Legend of a Mind.”
The performance, though excellent in delivery, became a little less familiar as the show went on. Ignoring his bands biggest hits like “Nights In White Satin” and “Tuesday Afternoon” in favor of lesser known tracks like “Gemini Dream” and “Isn’t Life Strange.” Something that was noticed by not only myself and a good portion of section B, rows E, F and G.
The hit filled finale of “Just a Singer (in a Rock and Roll Band)” and “Ride My See-Saw” were just enough to end the set on a high note.
Asia, which arrived in the 1980’s as a prog “Super Group” featuring John Wetton (King Crimson), Steve Howe (Yes), Carl Palmer (ELP) and Geoff Downes (The Buggles, Yes). While the band certainly had its strong points, four decades removed from their chart topping heyday showed every bit of their age.
Opening with their 1985 Top 10 hit “Go,” the band was energetic but quickly fell short musically. The follow-up, 1983’s chart-topper “Don’t Cry,” did little more to boost the crowd’s appreciation.
Surprisingly the biggest ovations of the set were covers of the mebers previous bands. First with “Video Killed the Radio Star” from keyboardist Geoff Downes’ 1980’s band The Buggles, and later a cover of Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s “Lucky Man.”
It was impossible not to notice original singer John Wetton, who died in 2017, was missing. New singer-guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal did a fairly honorable job, but lacked Wetton’s power, charisma and intensity. Asia’s original guitarist Steve Howe wouldn’t join the band until the final three songs “Sole Survivor,” “Only Time Will Tell,” and their biggest hit “Heat of The Moment.”
Yes’s 12-song, hour-and-45-minute set was more of a departure than Yes has shown in recent years. Kicking off with the opening track from 1970’s Time and A Word album, “No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed,” was welcomed with open arms by long time fans of the iconic band. The six-minute “Tempus Fugit” followed and was an absolute treat even though the crowd seemed largely unfamiliar with this particular gem of the Yes catalog.
With the third song of the set the audience was finally rewarded with some songs they knew. The 1977 title track from “Going for the One” showcased guitarist Steve Howe’s pedal steel work to a remarkable degree. Up next was perhaps the bands second-biggest hit, and guaranteed crowd-pleaser “I’ve Seen All Good People.”
Vocalist Jon Davison isn’t exactly a new addition to the band, and though his vocals might be missing the depth of original singer Jon Anderson, the ability to hit Anderson’s impossibly high notes are not.
Howe, now 72, seemed especially invigorated – while playing his 1971 solo piece “Clap”, he lifted a leg, then kicked it, and shook his head and body as the crowd gleefully cheered him on.
An 11-minute “Siberian Khatru” may have received a standing ovation, but the audience was truly rewarded when classic Yes drummer Alan White joined the band for an especially stellar version of Simon & Garfunkel’s “America.”
The encore opened with a surprise cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” (Drummer Alan White played on the original recording) with Howe adding piercing pedal steel (for another standing ovation), then closed with fan favorite “Starship Trooper.”
All in all it was a decent showing from some of progressive rocks most important names.