Despite claims they stumbled on-stage a couple weeks back, progressive rock pioneers Yes roared with confidence and inspiration Saturday, July 23, at the Zoo Amphitheatre in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Even with the piercing sun still hovering in the sky – and the fact that Yes played as openers, not headliners, before Styx that night, Yes killed any naysayers’ skeptism by assertively playing their instruments. The tempos of each song seemed to pick back up where they belong, with drummer Alan White pounding out the time-shifting beats underneath bassist Chris Squire’s roaming, clear-but-fat-sounding Rickenbacker bass guitar.
Guitarist Steve Howe, who seemed much more reserved at Yes’ concert in Muskogee two years ago, seemed to tap almost-unbridled energy throughout the Oklahoma City gig. The bespectacled musician even hopped up and down during one segment, and when Yes dove into “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” the group’s smash hit from the early days of MTV, Howe unleashed a sparring solo that rivaled former Yes guitarist Trevor Rabin’s original lead break.
Whatever illness Yes singer Benoit David may have suffered a few days back must have evaporated in the evening’s heat. David, who replaced original singer Jon Anderson in late 2008 after Anderson fell ill with respiratory problems, nailed almost every vocal note. It was only on “Heart of the Sunrise” that David’s voice started to slip for a couple seconds before the grinning performer rebounded to the near-capacity crowd’s cheers and whistles.
Yes keyboardist Geoff Downes, now back in Yes after 30 years of being a creative force behind Asia, played light piano chords midway through the set, introducing “We Can Fly From Here,” the title track from Yes’ first new album in a decade. The new song was stunning Saturday, with Squire’s harmony vocal blending without seams to David’s voice before a standing ovation greeted the band.
Following a brief intermission, Oklahoma fans also embraced Styx, who were equally impressive with muscular renditions of “Blue Collar Man,” “Foolin’ Yourself (Angry Young Man),” “Crystal Ball,” “Miss America,” “Suite Madame Blue” and a rare reading of the jam-friendly “Man in the Wilderness.”
Led by original guitarist-singer James “JY” Young and long-time guitarist-singer Tommy Shaw, Styx made their set a bit more prog-rock to continue the epic theme established by Yes. Styx’s sound was a bit heavier than Yes, although Styx were equally playful on-stage — Shaw, Young and bassist Ricky Phillips continually threw guitar picks into the adorning audience and often would hip-bump each other for laughs.
When keyboardist-singer Lawrence Gowan began “Come Sail Away,” his delicate piano playing ran the risk of being drowned out by the rapturous applause. Gowan, giving an obvious tip of the hat to original Styx singer-keyboardist Dennis De Young, poured his soul and then some into “Come Sail Away,” helping Styx deliver possibly the best post-DDY live version of the song yet.