Yes brings classic progressive sound to Pala

Published on March 25th, 2021

By Jim Dail

Contributing Writer

The 1970s progressive rock era was about lyrics with deep thoughts, lengthy musical showcases that were not about trying to be popular and an instrumental showcase at live shows.

One band of that era, Yes, performs Saturday at Pala Casino with Toto. For keyboardist Geoff Downes, he knows the range of musical styles a keyboard player can bring to the band.

“Songs have different applications, and different bands use different kind of sounds,” said Downes in a recent telephone interview. “Yes music is very much focused on a lot of core instruments like piano and organ. Yes is very much about masters on their instruments so you stick to the musical roots.”

The band’s current line-up consists of singer Jon Davison, guitarist Steve Howe, drummer Alan White, keyboardist Downes and bassist Billy Sherwood.
As for Downes, he is not only a member of Yes, but his keyboard sounds also were heard with Asia (“Heat of the Moment” and “Only Time Will Tell”) and The Buggles (“Video Killed the Radio Star”).

“With Asia, it was more about soundscapes, and you tend to concentrate more on the song with lyrics more,” he said. “It was about writing a pop song in a way. The Buggles, of course, was much more pop oriented.”

Of course, there are plenty of classic Yes songs, such as “I’ve Seen All Good People: Your Move,” “Roundabout,” “It Can Happen” and the Billboard Number One hit “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” It’s the catalog that Downes believes keeps people coming to the shows.

“It’s the depth of the music because you are talking 40-45 years of music that has all these different elements and style,” he said. “Coming throughout that period was almost a broad style of music, and I think that’s a reason it has stood the test of time. It has transformed over the years, but it always sounds like the same band.”

He also believes it’s about the real band experience.

“A lot of musicians have put their stamp on Yes music, but it’s always about people wanted to still see strong musicians and want to see people play their instruments, and sing the songs and sing the background vocals,” he said.

And there is so much to choose from as well.

“Putting a set together is a lot of fun, but it is tough when you have 21 studio albums to choose from and that’s an enormous volume of music,” he said.  “Each tour we look at what we expect the kind of audience to be and who we are co-headlining with. It’s important to keep some of the principal songs that Yes are known for.”

Of course, that also means they sneak in songs that fans may not be familiar with if they only know the singles.

“Occasionally, we sneak in some of the more obscure ones,” he said. “We’ve done complete album tours with some songs that have never been performed live. It’s really a balance between the signature material and more obscure songs.”

That helps the band stay fresh and challenged.

“It’s interesting because some of these songs have never been done live and it kind of keeps the band interesting and shows we aren’t just going through the most recognizable songs but blending with the obscure ones,” he said. “It is important for our own staging as well. We have different challenges. For me, of course, is that I’ve been there for three albums so there was a great learning curve to get the rest of the catalog, which was for me quite fascinating.”

And he has a long history with original guitarist Steve Howe.

“I was with Steve in Asia as well, and we always have had a good keyboard-guitar collaboration,” he said. “We are supportive of each other, and we have a good understanding of how the instrument work together. I feel very comfortable performing next to him. What a great guitar player.”

And that development is ongoing as well.

“Yes has managed to keep developing and not stand still,” he said. “Some fans have their favorite albums, and we have ours but we keep looking at the music across a spectrum.”

It is also true that they continue to expand their listening audience.

“People bring their kids and it’s a whole new generation that comes to the show and not just the old guys from the 70s,” he said. “Families are there and they try to pass on the message of the music.


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