Yes fans across the globe greeted the band’s recent induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with a collective response: “It’s about time!”
Noting the institution’s lackadaisical, almost begrudging acknowledgement for prog, which began in 2013 with Rush’s induction, guitarist Steve Howe observes, “They have been a bit slow to come around, but we’re quite pleased to finally be inducted. We heard the same thing from Rush, who inducted us. They noticed the change that’s happening. It seems like there’s an acceptance for prog the second time around.”
Onetime Yes members Bill Bruford and Tony Kaye weren’t able to take part in the band’s Rock Hall performances of “Roundabout” and “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” but players past and present were represented with a lineup that consisted of guitarists Howe and Trevor Rabin, keyboardist Rick Wakeman, singer Jon Anderson and drummer Alan White.
Geddy Lee subbed for the late bassist Chris Squire on “Roundabout,” and Howe then strapped on the bass for “Owner of a Lonely Heart.”
“It was a little unusual,” Howe notes, “but it was a lot of fun. We practiced just enough to navigate our way through it all.” Responding to the notion that the Rock Hall performance could lead to an eventual reunion of the Union-era lineup, which featured every major contributor from the band’s legacy, Howe says, “I think what we just did was a one-off. It wasn’t a demonstration of anything we’re going to do again.”
Instead, the current iteration of Yes (Howe, White, keyboardist Geoff Downes, bassist Billy Sherwood and singer Jon Davison) is celebrating the group’s epic history this summer with a full festival show called, appropriately enough, “Yestival” (the dates also include openers Todd Rundgren and Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy). Unlike recent tours in which the band performed entire albums front-to-back, Yes will trace a significant portion of their career by playing one song from each of their first 10 studio albums, starting with 1969’s Yes and ending with 1980’s Drama.
“I won’t take sole credit for the idea, but I did push for it,” Howe says with a laugh. “I think the presentation will be an interesting one because we’re going to play the songs chronologically. It’ll allow our fans to really get a sense of our development and how our music evolved album to album during the course of 12 years. In an hour and a half, you’ll get a nice picture of that period.”
In addition to Yes’ debut album, the set will include a track from its follow-up, Time and a Word, from 1970. Howe didn’t play on either record (he replaced the band’s original guitarist, Peter Banks, shortly after the second album’s completion), but he says that he’s looking forward to digging back to both discs.
“When I joined Yes I learned quite a bit of Time and a Word because it was the bulk of the band’s set list,” he explains. “I’ve grown quite fond of it, and when I hear it, it sounds a little like my own work. It’ll be a joy to touch on something from that record, because, in my view, it’s almost attached to The Yes Album. And it’ll be interesting to touch on something from the first album because that’s something I only did in my early years with the band.”
Given Howe and White’s shared status as the longest-tenured members of Yes, one might think they would have bigger roles in devising a set list. Not so, Howe reports.
“Everybody will float their ideas around, and then we’ll start to build a consensus,” he says. “The prevailing mood is that we want to play things we enjoy, but maybe they should be songs we haven’t done in a while. We’d like to have a few surprises up our sleeves.”
And if Howe has anything to do with it, fans will be kept in the dark about the set list right up until the first gig.
“That’s hard to do these days,” he admits. “Once word gets out online, it goes everywhere. But we’ll try to keep things under wraps as best we can. Maybe we’ll change some songs as we go. Luckily, we can play it all.”
For the Yestival tour dates, visit yesworld.com.