YES, Syd Arthur live at Radio City Music Hall July 9, 2014 (music review)


photo by Dr. Girlfriend

As one would gather from the title, we saw both YES and Syd Arthur live at Radio City Music Hall this past July 9th. I’m something of a YES Head – I have almost all of their studio albums (I don’t have the most recent two because of a reason I’ll explain shortly) and most of the live albums as well as several of the concert DVDs. This is a band that by and large not only knows what I want, but their music is so interesting, I can listen to it a million times over and still be fascinated. On this tour, they’re describing their set list simply as playing two of their most popular albums in entirety as well as a few greatest hits and some new material. There’s an issue with the current lineup (again, explanation coming shortly) that almost kept me away from the show, but I haven’t seen these guys in person in… maybe 10 years, so it was time to revisit with one of my all time favorite bands.

Syd Arthur-radio-city-music-hall

Syd Arthur, who I had no idea was on the bill, opened the show. It looked like someone just dumped their equipment in front of YES’ and told them to get going.

Syd Arthur: “My Mix is Mud”

I am very sorry to say I couldn’t hardly hear any of Syd Arthur’s offerings, which is too bad as the little I could discern was interesting. I could just barely hear the singer, the bass player’s amp may well not have been turned on, I could only the drummer’s snare and cymbals (if he beat his toms super hard, I could make them out), the singer’s guitar was also very difficult to hear… I could hear the keyboard/lead guitar/violin guy, but… I dunno, there was something messy about his tone. He had some wacky pedal work happening, too, but everything was so muddled together that I was almost hoping for subtitles. I presume they did not do a sound check, but no one bothered to adjust their levels during the set – they just left them. YES’ levels weren’t perfect when they came out, but they adjusted them during the first song and got it about as right as they could. Anyway, I’m listening to some Syd Arthur tunes now and I’m digging them, and I guess that’s the point.

This phone recording of YES sounds better than Syd Arthur did live. What a disservice to a band.

YES: Fan appreciation night at Radio City Music Hall
In the interest of giving us what we wanted, YES played Close to the Edge and Fragile in their entirety. It was pretty much bliss for me as an audience member, but a bit of an odd choice give the band’s current lineup – only the current guitar player (Steve Howe) and bassist (Chris Squire) were members of YES when they recorded these albums. Still, Alan White has been their drummer for so long that I’ve heard him play nearly all (if not all) of these songs live in person at this point, so there was nothing unusual about that – until we got the solo-ish stuff on Fragile. If you know the album, then you’ll remember that each member of the group has a highlighted song, and the current lineup played them anyway. This was perhaps at its most unusual during “Cans and Brahms,” during which Geoff Downes did his best to play Rick Wakeman’s piece, and I thought he did a fine job… but let’s be honest, Downes is no Wakeman. No one is, really… (well, maybe Igor Khoroshev, but I’m not touching that guy) and that’s what this show was truly about for me: evaluating of keyboardist Geoff Downes and singer Jon Davison.

I think I’ve said everything I have to say about Downes, but let me sum up with it feels like Rick Wakeman was his professor and Geoff Downes got an A minus in that class. So Downes is fine, but he’s no Jedi Master.

This brings me to Jon Davison, or rather, the issue of no Jon Anderson.

Look, vocalist Jon Anderson is sorta my singer God – I worship no Gods before or after Jon Anderson. Watching Davison only made me appreciate him all the more, and this is why I don’t have YES’ most recent studio offerings (Fly From Here and Heaven and Earth) as well as the reason I never really intended on going to this show: what’s the point of seeing a band without its seminal front man? I can’t see myself going to see Pearl Jam without Eddie Vedder… that sort of thing.

To be fair, Davison range is more than adequate. Where as Jon Anderson sings at the top of his range with ease, Davison’s range seems to be higher. He seems to hit the notes with greater ease and increased sustain, yet there’s something about Davison’s tone that isn’t for me. It’s the way he attacks the notes – or rather, his lack of attack. Everything is too smooth, to beautiful – it sounds like he should be singing a love song down the street in a musical. This is rock and roll, after all – put some cojones into it!

Anyway, Davison is not going to ruin your night, he’s just not what I want. And I’d rather have Davison than no YES at all, that’s for sure.

I want THIS:

YES Speaks! Or, “You stand over there and be quiet until it’s time to sing!”
Chris Squire and Steve Howe did all the talking now that Jon Anderson is gone. Jon Davison didn’t utter a single prose word. Just thought it was worth mentioning – it was an unusual experience for me.


Close to the Edge (album)

What can I say? They did it justice. Everybody in the house dugg it.

new song: “Believe Again”

“Believe Again” is fine, I guess – I dunno, I’m kinda bored by it. It’s by no means terrible, but there’s just not much going on, and that’s kinda why I listen to YES in the first place. From what I’ve seen on prior show’s set lists, they usually play two new songs, but they only tortured us with one. They probably noticed that everyone gets up and goes to the bathroom when they break this one out and I bet it sucked some of the energy out of their other shows.

Fragile (album)
As I mentioned, it was a bit weird to hear other people do the old school line up’s features, but it worked out fine. There was so much pre recorded/looped stuff in “The Fish” that Steve Howe actually went to sit down for a few minutes, and “We Have Heaven” had a similar thing going on, but then, they’d need at least four more dudes to sing that song live.

“I’ve Seen All Good People”
They cut out the “Your Move” section, which is the heart of the song. I was figuring they were going to cut part of something (the last few times I saw them, they were cutting the “Along the drifting clouds” part of “Roundabout,” but “I’ve Seen All Good People” was the victim this time. I’d rather they just didn’t play it at all.

“Owner of a Lonely Heart”
I don’t think you’ll ever see a more disinterested performance of this song – I thought Steve Howe liked playing that second solo over the vamp at the end, but he didn’t seem into it at all. I guess they feel like they owe it to American fans to play this song, but really, I think we’re good at this point.

“Starship Trooper”
I was really expecting the following live version of this song, and I didn’t get it, but it was still fun. Steve Howe didn’t really go off the way I expected him to at the end, but that’s life.

I know I’ve been negative at times, but I really did have a blast at this show and I don’t regret going for a second. If you’re a fan of this material, I most certainly recommend checking out this tour.

About Jamie Insalaco

Jamie Insalaco is the author of, and editor in chief of

Posted on July 10, 2014, in music review and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. note: I felt “Heart of the Sunrise” was a major high point for the night. that seems to be a really good number for this group

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