The eternal cycle of classic rock bands touring the world will eventually run out of steam. Aging rockers can’t keep it up forever. That’s a literal and rhetorical reference to why rock stars go on tour in the first place. They live to play music and love to get laid.
But when you’re seventy-plus years old and still love to play music… but feel the voice range start to shrink and the nimbleness of the fingers start to stiffen, it takes a ton of fortitude to endure life on the road.
Because life on the road gets old as well. Age-old partnerships aren’t always easy to sustain. The qualities you’ll endure in a person as a 20-something making stupid money and reaping the rewards of fame grow tiresome as the years wear on.
And that’s true of the audience as well. Now the crowd at YES concerts is mostly happy to get out of its lawn chairs without hurting something.
But the appetite for classic rock endures. That means there is still stupid money to be made by big-name rock bands, even those long past their prime. Which is how a pastiche of big-name rockers came to our local outdoor venue, the RiverEdge concert stage in Aurora, Illinois.
There was John Lodge of the Moody Blues. Carl Palmer of Emerson, Lake and Palmer (ELP) and even some keyboard guy from the Boggles, the group whose song “Video Killed the Radio Star” launched the MTV era in the early 1980s.
The headline act was one of my favorite bands from the 70s, the Progressive Rock group YES. It’s always interesting to see what elements of a band are left when a big name rock group comes to town. I’m not some YES groupie who knows all the history and variations of the lineup, but I do know that Steve Howe is the brilliant guitarist whose work drove much of the lyricism. He was there along with a singer that has been playing the Jon Anderson role for eight years. Missing were Chris Squire (deceased) and Rick Wakeman (someone alluded to his drinking…) but the music was so familiar it seemed like everyone was there.
We now pause to give credit to the obvious creative brilliance of these classic rockers. There is no doubt YES was one of the best groups of their era. I’m not saying that no good music has emerged since then. In fact, I love a whole host of today’s Indie and alternative artists. But the core content of YES was indeed inspired, original and musically sophisticated.
That is why I was pleasantly surprised when the band launched into the eclectically challenging piece titled Siberian Kahtru from the Close to the Edge album. My wife turned to me and said, “This is really hard to play.” I agreed. The song had its loose moments but it still drove the bus in the right direction.
I was a junior in high school when I purchased the Fragile album by YES. Then I came into possession of Close to the Edge as well. Later I bought the LP Tormato which originally disappointed, but later in life I realized how great that music truly was.
All those tunes are woven into the fabric of my being because I’d listen to them before going out for long runs. We all seemed to believe that music drove us to better performances. It seemed that way in many respects. We sang those songs in the showers after workouts and blasted them on car radios, sometimes even in stereo when they played on FM.
I recall the August 1974 season when my friend came to stay at our house for a week to begin cross country practice when his family went north to Wisconsin for vacation. I’d wake him up with pretty loud round of YES Roundabout and we’re gather up our stuff and go run in the heat for an hour and come back home. Then we’d head back to practice eight hours later for another hour run and stop at 7-11 to buy Cokes and pack our veins with whatever fuel we could afford.
And the music played on. And on.
But YES reached into my soul in another way as well. As a high school artist I admired the album artwork of Roger Dean, famous for his fantastical landscapes that seemed to go so well with the lyrical style of YES, whose verses often floated into ethereal netherlands. Dean’s perpetually clean yet imaginative style set the standard for great album art the way that the work of Ralph Steadman perfectly fit the Gonzo journalism of Hunter S. Thompson.
These days Dean actually tours with the band and sells prints of his work. Adoring fans line up for his autograph. I took a photo because I’m an admirer of his work and perhaps should have purchased a print or something. Yet I’ve grown averse to raw acquisitiveness and don’t need one more poster to put in the basement.
See, that’s the problem with holding on too strongly to the past. It doesn’t migrate cleanly into the present. Our lives are always changing, if we let them. Forcing them to stop or regress into earlier decades is not a healthy trend. As Steve Howe announced from the stage when he witnessed all the cellphone lights pointing in his direction, “Try to be in the moment for once.”
There was an approving murmur from the audience at the concert. It was still truly amazing to hear music played like that. Were there a few flaws, and did Howe look a little ghostly on stage in his dotage? For sure? But when he lit up the acoustic guitar in a solo piece the audience sat in wonder. This was life in notes. This was time erased by wonder.
After an evening of wading through a bunch of bungled bodies sporting YES tee shirts I was ready to be done with memory lane. But I invite you to click through and watch this video of YES performing the song Wondrous Stories live. It is truly timeless in all the right ways. I predict that you’ll carry the music with you wherever you go. This is a good one to sing in your head while out running or riding.
“It is not lie…I see deeply into the future…”