Last summer it was Styx and Foreigner. Last night it was Toto and Yes. Gradually I’m finally getting the chance to see in concert all the bands who I first discovered in high school or as a university undergrad, many of whom I still listen to this day or have recently rediscovered.
Styx fell off my radar for a long time until I stumbled upon their 2003 album Cyclorama, which is very good. That was when I learned that they’d brought on Lawrence Gowan as a singer-keyboardist, the guy I knew of as just Gowan, a well-known Canadian performer from the early 80s. I started filling in the gaps and then they came to the local concert pavilion last summer, along with Don Felder from the Eagles and Foreigner, who put on an impressive show, too. I’d seen Tommy Shaw before when he toured with the Damned Yankees back in the early 90s.
Similarly, I’d lost touch with Toto until something put them back on my radar again and I caught up. They have a new album out, Toto XIV, which is very good indeed. I’ve been looking forward to this concert for a few months, and I was surprised that they were the support act. Turns out it was almost a co-billing. Toto played from 7:30 until 9:00 and Yes played from 9:15 until 11:00 or so. Toto had the bigger stage presence, with two keyboard players (Paich and Porcaro), a percussionist in addition to a drummer, two backup singers, in addition to Steve Lukather, vocalist Joseph Williams and more. Lukather is amazing on the guitar, but I see he’s still “old-school”—plugged in. A roadie had to lurk behind him to make sure his guitar chord didn’t get tangled up. Yes was just five guys: drums, bass, keyboards, guitar and vocals.
I was surprised that the pavilion was in its small configuration for the concert: no lawn seats were sold. The Pavilion has 6500 reserved seats and can put another 10,000 people on the hill, and it routinely sells out the full capacity. For this show, it was all reserved seating. A rainstorm passed through in the mid-afternoon, so I was glad we wouldn’t be sitting on the hill, but as it turns out, no one was. They seemed to know in advance that this was a concert with somewhat limited appeal. It was certainly an enthusiastic audience, albeit a relatively small one.
I’m much less familiar with Yes’s music. I knew a few of their songs, but not most of them. I appreciate their musical talents (Steve Howe still has his guitar chops, Geoff Downes can still play his wall of keyboards with the best of them), but their songs don’t grab me the same way many other bands’ songs do. I have a hard time latching onto them. They meander and seem to be without structure in some cases. I guess that just comes from not having listened to them for decades, as I have with the other groups. The lead singer can reproduce Jon Anderson’s sound pretty well (I liked Anderson’s project with Vangelis from the 1980s), though he looked a little like a cross between a religious cult leader and Kid Rock. It was fun watching them (the bass player was impressive, though Chris Squire’s shadow hung over them literally and figuratively), but I just didn’t connect to the music in the same way. I was on my feet for much of Toto, but I sat back for Yes, mostly. I remember feeling much the same when I saw Emerson, Lake and Palmer many years ago: the musicians seemed to be offering a master class in music performance rather than putting on a show. But that’s just me. The English bloke sitting next to us was having the time of his life during Yes.
I think that leaves only Kansas as the one major band from my college years that I haven’t seen in concert.