Authored by: Dale Nickey
What a lovely time to be alive. Chill autumn night by the bay in the year 1977. We’re driving across the Berkeley/Richmond Bridge to see Yes perform at the Oakland Arena. Oh, to be in one’s early 20’s, a musician and with the lady you love. As we enter the arena Donovan is just starting his finale “Atlantis”. Wish we started out sooner. After a reasonable wait time, the familiar Yes concert preamble of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite primes the audience and eventually blends into the opening organ strains of “Parallels”. Yes are on form and look incredibly sexy and well dressed. The stage is Spartan by comparison to other tours; perhaps a passing nod to the minimalism of prevailing punk trends. My date notes how Steve Howe’s exudes pure sex. (Yes THAT Steve Howe). Jon Anderson has clearly found a talented hair colorist and a new exotic 10 string guitar. Mid-set, Steve suddenly repairs to the area behind his amp and apparently has a whiff or toke of something nice, because the crowd behind the stage starts whooping and whistling in a “you naughty boy” manner. Good way to get a San Francisco crowd on your side.
“And You and I” premiers Chris Squire’s harmonica playing during the during the acoustic “colored doors of time” bit. Very ‘outside the box’ but amazingly effective. Squire is wearing a very loud striped zoot- suit and matching earrings. Steve Howe plays a beautiful guitar cadenza at the conclusion of “Turn of the Century” that is one of the emotional high points of the concert. Rick Wakeman’s toy chest has been updated to include the Birotron and an electric pipe organ that features heavily in the transcendent set closer “Awaken”. Jon’s Celtic harp playing is a musical and visceral treat on this new classic. “Awaken” is a leap forward on the established Yes formula. The climaxes are bigger, and the soft sections more delicate. Spirituality pervades where before there was ambiguity.
The crowd seems stunned at sets close but applause is sustained and steady. It’s as if they are moved rather than excited by the music. Yes returns for two encores and it is clear the band has rebounded into the commercially viable (pre-“Tales”) unit they once were. They will live to fight another day in spite of the scorched earth campaign of the punks back across the pond.
We drive home to Marin County fully satisfied with our Yes experience. It was my date’s first Yes concert. She comments she has just fallen in love with five men. She’s not the only one.