Performing a signature album in its entirety: It is a gimmick that everyone from Motley Crue to the Pixies has gone to for recent tours. But leave it to Yes – the kings of indulgent 1970s prog-rock – to take a more grandiose approach.
The chart-topping British super-group built its following not by keeping it simple, but with complex, sitcom-length rock symphonies and over-the-top theatricality that set the bar for concert excess. “There are people who think the film 'This Is Spinal Tap' is simply a very funny 'mockumentary,'” keyboard player Rick Wakeman wrote in the Daily Mail. “Well, with Yes we lived it.”
"There's so many different things happening at different times from different instruments that it's kind of hard to get it all in. But it all seems to end up in one big sound that people like." - Yes drummer Alan White
So, it should come as no surprise that the band will deliver not one, not two, but three of its classic albums on March 3, at Seattle’s Moore Theatre. Those would be “The Yes Album,” “Close to the Edge” and “Going for the One.” Tack on “Roundabout” for the encore, fans should block out (let's see, carry the one) three hours for this one.
Last week, we phoned drummer Alan White, who has lived near Seattle for 30 years. He took time out from rehearsals in Los Angeles to revisit the era during which some of his band’s most iconic cuts were recorded.
“The Yes Album” (1971)
Trivia: This was the first album to feature guitarist Steve Howe and the last with keyboardist Tony Kaye until the band's “Owner of the Lonely Heart” phase.
White says: There’s a lot of very anthem-type songs that Yes were known for in the early days. I mean, it’s very good to relive it.
“Starship Trooper” is, obviously, a really great song to play. Another one that’s quite demanding onstage is “Perpetual Change.” That’s very intricate (with) a lot of really fast playing. Basically, it’s very technical music around that time. There’s so many different things happening at different times from different instruments that it’s kind of hard to get it all in. But it all seems to end up in one big sound that people like.”
“Close to the Edge” (1972)
Trivia: White joined Yes for the tour for this album, which features drummer Bill Bruford.
White says: I was playing with Joe Cocker in Europe, with the European version of Mad Dogs and the Englishmen. I was just about on the last gig of the tour and, basically, I got a call from my business manager in England. He was also the business manager for Yes’s producer, Eddie Offord.
I’d already played with the band in rehearsal (and) Bill actually left to play in King Crimson. They asked me, so I flew back to England from Italy and, the next day, met with (former lead singer) Jon (Anderson) and (bassist) Chris (Squire.) Basically, I said we’ll give each other three months to see if you like me and I like playing with you guys. And we’re still here 40 years later.
I only had three days to learn all the material, so it was kind of nerve wracking. They said, “OK, let’s try this out. Oh, by the way, we’ve got a gig on Monday.” I was, basically, non-stop listening to the music. I don’t believe I had one rehearsal with the band before I went to the stage. I just did it all by memory. Anyhow, it seemed to kind to come together, steadily, over the first three or four gigs.
“Going for the One” (1977)
Trivia: Wakeman had left Yes, unhappy with the direction of 1974’s “Tales from Topographic Oceans,” but returned for these recording sessions. In his absence, Patrick Moraz played keys.
White says: Around ‘76 we all kind of just did our own solo projects. But really, we were all still in Yes at that time. We were in Switzerland and decided to make an album.
Rick had gone off to do his solo thing. Then something happened where Rick really liked the music on “Going for the One” and had to come back in the band. Patrick wasn’t happy; it just wasn’t gelling like we thought it would. So that’s when Rick took over again.
Everybody was really enjoying living in Switzerland. We’d all meet every day at one o’ clock at the studio, record all day and go and have dinner. It was kind of like that. It was a family affair, basically.
The next classic (2011)
Trivia: The band’s last studio album “Fly From Here” reached No. 36 on the Billboard 200 in 2011.
White says: Everybody’s got it in the back of their minds, recording another album down the line somewhere – possibly the end of this year, possibly early next year. Who knows?