July 26, 2002
BY JIM DeROGATIS POP MUSIC CRITIC
To hear the ultra-faithful tell it, the enduring charm of
progressive-rock pioneers Yes is that they envision a world better than the
one we inhabit.
"Thirty-five years into the journey, [Yes] still takes its fundamental
impulse from utopia," DePaul University philosophy professor and Yesographer
Bill Martin writes in an essay included with the new box set, "In A Word:
For the Yes fan, the five-disc set will indeed be paradise--though more
skeptical listeners may be tempted to discard the last disc of more recent
recordings. The band never fails to deliver onstage, however, and this
summer, it's touring with one of its most celebrated lineups: vocalist Jon
Anderson, bassist Chris Squire, guitarist Steve Howe, drummer Alan White and
keyboardist Rick Wakeman. (The band plays a sold-out show at the Chicago
I spoke with Squire by phone from Seattle the day the five reunited Yes
men gathered there for their first rehearsal.
Q. As evidenced by this new box set, Yes has an incredible
catalog of material to choose from. When you get together to rehearse, where
do you even start?
A. Well, we've already had preliminary phone calls about a
possible set list, which will probably change. But we're quite fortunate
that there's a fair amount of agreement about which songs we should try.
There's some disagreement, but that's what we'll work out, I guess.
Q. The fan sites on the Web are constantly discussing what you
should play. Does any of that register?
A. To take the temperature of the fanatics is not always the best
thing to do, because these are people who want to hear some track that most
people have never heard in their lives.
Q. Like, "How come you don't play all of 'Tales from
A. I don't know, you might want to bring a pillow! [Laughs] Last
time, we were out with an orchestra, and that was kind of different in its
own right. We felt that we had more liberty to do some of the longer, more
musically complex pieces because of the fact that we were working in that
orchestral environment. This year, I would prefer the set to be a little bit
lighter and bouncier.
Q. Rick Wakeman is back in the fold on keyboards. What is it
like when someone returns to the group after a long absence?
A. Well, we'll find out. Let's face it, Rick has been--he sort of
split in '79, and he wasn't around for the '80s, but then we did do that
Union tour in '91 that had all eight people onstage. Then we did do the two
shows in 1996 and recorded "The Keys to Ascension" live album. But it's six
years later, so today should be interesting. [Laughs]
Q. It seems to me that many rock critics missed the point of
progressive rock by focusing on the technical prowess while overlooking the
fact that the music was attempting to create these elaborate movies of the
A. Yes, that's it really--cinematic rock is a good title for it in
a way. It wasn't just the ability to play a lot of notes in a given time
period. There was a lot of that, and even for my tastes, not to put him
down, but John McLaughlin and some of those things--I think some of the
spirit got lost and it just became a technicians' world for a while. Some of
the music became a little bit uninteresting because of the search for
technical excellence. But you know, everyone was going through a lot of
changes then, which I suspect we probably still are, and it was definitely
the birth of that movement.
Q. At its best, Yes rocked, where some of the other prog
bands did not.
A. Yeah! A lot of people became very infected by the punk-rock
movement and believed that that was their generation speaking for them, even
though I don't think it really spoke for as many people as you think.
Obviously, our true fans know that. I think generally the peripheral press
and the peripheral audience have tagged us a long time ago for being a
little too altruistic for their taste. Yes never went too far that we aren't
still able to rock convincingly. I do feel a little sorry for the Billy
Idols of this world who are standing there with the raised fist. How can you
do that when you're approaching 50?
Q. Yes was never about celebrating youth and rebellion. You
were never onstage saying, "We're 22, we're young and we're sexy!"
A. [Laughs] We created a sort of fantasy image concept of our
shows, which we were part of in dressing in fairly flamboyant fashions and
that, but we weren't selling sex. And hopefully men age better, so ...
Q. Do you think it's embarrassing for the Rolling Stones to be
onstage singing "Honky Tonk Woman" and pretending that they're 22?
A. Their music has a certain voice. Personally, I saw them in
Madison Square Garden I guess three or four years ago, and I thoroughly
enjoyed it. I thought it was a great show. I didn't get that feeling, even
though Mick lies about his age. They're much older than they always say in
their press announcements; he's well into his 60s by now. He's been 59 for
god knows how long! But you know, on the other hand, I give him credit for
being out there in those years and still being able to run around like that.
Q. But when the Stones write new material, they lack ambition.
Yes doesn't; you're still trying things. Sometimes they work, and sometimes
they fall flat. But at least you're taking chances.
A. [Laughs] The Stones never had any pretense to do anything
really complicated, but I mean, a lot of their music has stood the test of
time, and I guess really when they go out on the road it's pretty much just
to peddle what people know and go out and have a rockin' Saturday night.
Let's face it, it's difficult for Yes to be noticed that much outside of our
fan base because of the current status of radio. Thankfully, we've just been
kind of relieved with the birth of XM [satellite radio], which is a good
thing to promote our music, but it was getting a little thin in the airplay
area. Our classic stuff is still played a lot, because people like that, but
you try coming out with a new Yes product and try and find a way of getting
it played, apart from XM, and there isn't really anything. It's tricky to
even get an outlet for any new music, whether it be good, average or
The competition is obviously greater and the current condition of the
major labels, apart from the fact that they're totally worried about the
whole Internet thing affecting their businesses, is that they're grasping at
straws and promoting the hell out of five good-looking guys for two years
and then finding five more. It's a sad reflection, really, and not enough
people are coming out of the grass roots kind of thing, but it still exists.
I hear bands that have built themselves up playing on the rock 'n' roll
circuit and have big followings. Phish is a good example.
Q. Do you hear any other groups that share the spirit of early
A. There's a band on DreamWorks called the K.G.B. that I really
like. I think there's a lot of the Yes spirit in what they do. It's not
lyrically really that close to Yes, but I hear a lot of the attention taken
in the care of the recording of the music that I like a lot. So, it isn't
dead. We all know that trends do go in cycles, and there may be a return to
a bit more of a grass-roots movement soon. How many 'N Syncs can you listen
to after a while? You hit the saturation point, even though they make
great-sounding records and the voices sound beautiful and every note's
corrected, every syllable.
Q. But it's distressing to see them or Britney Spears allegedly
"singing" when they're not even moving their lips!
A. I don't think the point is to listen to Britney! [Laughs] These
are multipurpose acts where the dancing's as much a part of it as whatever
is coming out of their mouths. Now maybe if we can get Rick to dance a bit
on this tour ...