April 5, 8 p.m., $20-$45, MGM Grand Theater at Foxwoods, 350 Trolley Line Blvd., Mashantucket, (860) 312-3000, foxwoods.com.
In the spring of 1972, Yes guitarist Steve Howe was recording a guitar solo for "Siberian Khatru" for the upcoming Close to the Edge album. Engineer Eddie Offord mic'ed his amplifier up close, as usual, then asked his assistant to stand in the studio and swing another microphone, plugged into a twenty-foot cord, in circles around his head, creating an improvised Doppler effect as the microphone arced close to Howe's amplifier, then backed away.
For the first time ever, the five current members of Yes — Howe, bassist Chris Squire, keyboardist Geoff Downes, singer Jon Davison and drummer Alan White — are performing the entire Close to the Edge album on tour, without the swinging-mic assistant. (Howe can easily stomp on some kind of pedal gizmo if he wants that effect; no need to endanger lives.) The deep aesthetic divide, separating studio albums and live performances in the 1970s and beyond, will also be absent.
"We were one of the first bands that pioneered [the full-album show] back in the '70s, when we did the full [Tales of Topographic Oceans] album," said drummer Alan White. "That was the actual stage show: all four sides of Tales of Topographic Oceans, and the encore number was 'Close to the Edge,' which is about 20 minutes long. So that's how long the show was."
Actually, on the current tour, Yes perform not one, but three complete albums — The Yes Album (1971), Close to the Edge (1972) and Going For the One (1977). They'll appear at MGM Grand at Foxwoods in Mashantucket on April 5. (Because of time constraints, they'll only do the first two albums at casino shows.)
White replaced drummer Bill Bruford shortly after the completion of Close to the Edge. (Bruford ran, quickly, into the waiting arms of King Crimson.) He was given only a few days to learn the material before the start of the U.S. tour. "It wasn't a difficult period, actually," White said. "I seemed to take it in stride at the time." An experienced session player, White was used to learning parts quickly; John Lennon called him in 1970 to play on the Imagine sessions (that's his slap-backed shuffle on "Instant Karma"). "I was only 20 years old. I thought, 'Well, I guess this is what happens to people in the music business,' realizing only 10 years later, when I looked back, that, 'Wow, did I really do all that stuff?' What a period."
The members of Yes — singer Jon Anderson, especially — were impressed with White's resume, which also listed sessions with George Harrison and Steve Winwood. "I was interested in progressive-type music," White said. "I already had my own band that experimented with time signatures and influences from jazz and other areas of music. So, it was a challenge, but I seemed to rise to the occasion. We were all worried, the band and myself, but I said, 'I'll give it a go.'" White's first gig on the tour came after an intense period of study, one that didn't involve rehearsals with the full band.
"I had to do it all by Braille, as it were, then get on stage and play it," White said. "It was quite an interesting period. We all looked at ourselves afterward and said, 'I can't believe you got it right.' It was a lot of listening to music day and night, practicing with the albums and coming up with the parts... That's called growing up very quickly in the industry."
True, the material on this tour is now 40 years old. But the new show offers fans the chance to hear their idols play whole albums, which is probably how they've been listening to those records all along. White said the response has been overwhelmingly positive. "People just love the fact that we're doing this. Also, we're halfway through a tour right now, but the band is playing exceptionally well right now, so I just look forward to every gig, because you see lots of happy people with smiling faces."
Playing whole Yes albums, White said, doesn't require any special training or mental gymnastics, but doing three albums is the band's way of one-upping others who pull off, say, single albums.
"It's just an interesting marketing tool that's a little bit challenging for the band," White said.
The day after we spoke, White and Yes boarded the MSC Poesia for a week-long cruise from Ft. Lauderdale to Jamaica and Grand Cayman, joining Steve Hackett's Genesis Revisited, the Carl Palmer Band, Tangerine Dream, Saga, Nektar, Zebra, Glass Hammer, IOEarth and Heavy Mellow on the ship. Four stages, acoustic shows, surprise prog-rock jams under the stars, meet and greets with band members: it's the Cruise to the Edge.
"It sounds like putting old horses out to rest," White said. "But actually a lot of enterprising young bands are doing these cruises nowadays. It's a business... The Moody Blues are on the boat we're getting on. It's pretty interesting: them getting off the boat, and us getting on."