Yes: Venerable Prog-Rock Icons Are the Opposite of Fragile

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The 2014 version of Yes: Chris Squire (bass), Alan White (drums), Geoff Downes (keyboards), Steve Howe (guitar), and Jon Davison (vocals).
In his 40-plus years of sitting on the drum stool for classic-rock legends Yes, Alan White has thumped skins in locations all over the world and under all kinds of conditions. But it was a show on the high seas a couple of years back, part of the prog-rock-themed "Cruise to the Edge" that bordered on the absurd.

"The weather was rough, and it was the roughest when we played our set. And the stage was at the front of the boat, which was the roughest place to be!" White laughs today.

"We were playing and hit some bad turbulence, and Chris [Squire, bassist] went to sing in the mike and missed it by a foot. Steve [Howe, guitar] had his steel guitar sliding all over its track, and I was aiming at cymbals just hoping I hit them! And at the end of the show when we went to take a bow together, we hit another wave and all stumbled to the side!"

Thankfully for the band, there will be no such rough seas as they embark on a 35-date U.S. summer tour that coincides with the release of a new record, Heaven and Earth (Frontiers Records). The album is the first that longtime members White, Squire, Howe and Geoff Downes (keyboards) have recorded with new vocalist Jon Davison, who replaced Benoit David, who in turn replaced original/classic singer Jon Anderson amid some controversy a decade ago.

"He's great to work with and plays bass and keyboards in addition to singing," White says of Davison. "And he had a lot to do with the writing. The songs on this one came from different members of the band, and the whole thing is very song-based."

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Indeed, while there is some traditional proggy technical playing on the record, much of the eight tracks are more straight-ahead rock and sonic dreamscapes. And while the tour will feature many of the band's hits in addition to songs from the new record, longtime fans will probably be most excited that they will be playing two seminal records Fragile (1971) and Close to the Edge (1972) in their entirety, a practice which more and more classic rocks bands are taking on the road.

The albums contain familiar radio favorites like "Roundabout" and "Long Distance Runaround," but a number of the tracks -- some no more than brief instrumentals -- have either rarely been performed or will be making their live debut.

"We've been practicing, so it will be interesting!" White laughs. "There are things that really are just snippets, like 'Cans and Brahms,' which is a Rick Wakeman keyboard thing. And 'We Have Heaven' is purely vocal, then 'Five Percent for Nothing,' this five-second weird intro to 'Long Distance Runaround.' And then 'The Fish,' which is Chris' bass solo."


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