Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, men were Men and musicians were Musicians — especially pop stars, who, starting in the mid-’60s, were expected to play torturous scales and master complex time signatures that would humble a virtuoso classical music student. Toward that end, groups like Yes, with their 20-minute songs and zig-zagging instrumental interplay, took rock to its cosmically pretentious extreme. Now, after personnel changes and intergroup lawsuits, the band has reunited for YesShows ‘91, a tour that crams all eight principal members (some playing together for the first time), along with piles of keyboards, drums, and guitars, onto a revolving round stage.
Sounds like a joke, but judging from Yes’ April 14 show at New Jersey’s Brendan Byrne Arena, the result is more like a high school reunion: You recognize some of the faces, vaguely recall others, and leave with the gnawing sensation that perhaps it would have been wiser to stay home. The eight musicians (singer Jon Anderson, guitarists Steve Howe and Trevor Rabin, keyboardists Rick Wakeman and Tony Kaye, drummers Alan White and Bill Bruford, and bassist Chris Squire) took three hours to play only 12 songs, laboriously re-creating intricate album-rock like ”Long Distance Runaround.” Anderson still sang in that wistful-elf-from-the-planet-Zontar voice, and each member took an unaccompanied solo that lasted longer than a dance club hit.
Songs from Yes’ new album, Union, were greeted politely, as was their ‘83 pop hit ”Owner of a Lonely Heart.” With its harder snap and hip-hop-rooted James Brown sample, ”Owner” indicated that, at one point, Yes may have considered adjusting to changing times. No longer. Despite the appeal of some of the group’s music, YesShows is merely a nostalgia tour with trickier tempo changes. Ironically, a band that once epitomized rock at its most absurdly adventurous now represents little more than show business. Indeed, the second and third concerts of the tour took place at the grossly overdecorated Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. And next month, Yes will play Vegas.