Symphony Hall, Birmingham

8 February 2000

I was quite worried when I heard that Yes had cancelled their concert in Birmingham on Monday! And I was supposed to see them there the next day!!! And, of course, the phone lines were completely jammed with calls so I couldn't find out if the Tuesday concert was on or off!!! Anyway, I got there on Tuesday and it was on... but it was a traumatic time!

Symphony Hall in Birmingham is quite a nice venue. The layout is quite similar to the Royal Albert Hall horseshoe shape with several tiers of balconies, but on a much smaller scale. But the decoration is hideous: modern, orange, chrome, and plastic. I was seven rows back on the "floor" (the "arena" they called it at the Albert Hall), and in the right-hand block of seats. So I got an excellent view of the stage (helped by the fact that this was one of the rare (for me) concerts where everybody remained seated). The best feature of this particular seat was seeing off into the wings next to Steve Howe, where he had his rack of guitars. There were more than a dozen and I swear he played every one, sometimes three different guitars in one song!

The sound was very good. The keyboards started out very quiet for the first song but they soon seemed to get the balance right. I saw Igor Khoroshev shouting to somebody off stage, so I think he realised something was wrong and they fixed it for him.

They played almost two and a half hours, which is shorter than the set I saw in 1998. Incredibly, the only songs they played that were also in the '98 set were All Good People, Roundabout, and Owner of a Lonely Heart. It's great that they draw on so much of their music and don't stick to the same "greatest hits" every time.

The stage set had a couple of "totem poles" (I don't know how else to describe them) and the Yes logo suspended above it. Really quite minimal by their old standards! The lights were beautiful and they made extensive use of back projection which was at times a bit distracting and at other times a great complement to the lights.

I'll run through the songs quickly. This probably isn't in the right order (I'm very bad about getting set lists right) but I think it includes everything.

Yours Is No Disgrace opened the concert. This is not my favourite Yes song, but I suppose it was good if you like it. For me, this was the low point of the concert (and it's only just started! oh no!) because I just don't like the song very much, but after this it all just got better and better. Perpetual Change came next and was very good, so I was happy again.

Jon sang a small part of the verse of Time And A Word, accompanied by Igor's piano, and I wish they had done the whole song!

They played a lot of the new album: Homeworld, The Messenger, It Will Be A Good Day (my favourite), Lightning Strikes, and Face To Face. They all sounded very good live, the crowd really loved them, and the band really seemed to have fun playing them. Jon told us the story behind writing each song, which I always like to hear. For example, The Messenger is about Bob Marley! I would never have guessed that, but as soon as you know, the lyrics suddenly make sense (unusual for a Jon Anderson lyric!) and it has a kind of reggae beat, of course.

There was one unfortunate moment when Jon said people should stand up and dance during Lightning Strikes (well, it is a rhumba!): several people tried to get to the front of the stage but the security people came out and turned them away. There wasn't actually any trouble, but it was annoying and distracting and I don't see why the officials were bothered by it. I certainly wasn't bothered if people wanted to move forwards — it wasn't blocking my view or anything, but seeing the security reacting to it distracted me from what was happening on the stage.

Jon Anderson has trouble remembering song titles! He couldn't tell us what Lightning Strikes was called (Chris Squire had to tell him) and he couldn't tell us what Face To Face was called but he read us the chorus from his lyric sheet so we would know which one it was. In fact, he used a music stand with (I suppose) the lyrics for several of the songs. When they played And You And I, Jon forgot the lyrics entirely, just going "la la la" for a couple of lines then saying "I've lost where I am can somebody sing it for me?" And of course the whole audience could, and he picked it up again after another couple of lines and continued perfectly. So we all laughed, but then we applauded because it's that sort of silly moment that sticks in your mind and makes a live concert so good.

They played something called Hearts (I think) and I didn't recognise it at all (so I guess it must be from the 80s?) I liked it, it was a good hard rock song, not much like Yes, with some interesting lyrics, two separate vocal parts I think... well, I'm sure you know the song even if I don't. Billy Sherwood sang the second vocal part and also played the lead guitar part. Steve left the stage completely, I think. Billy's solo was good, in an 80s metal kind of style.

There was a harp on the stage throughout the concert, and I kept looking at it and trying to remember what song Jon played harp on... and of course it was my favourite, the greatest Yes song ever, AWAKEN. It was worth the ticket price just to hear this live. They played it perfectly. Igor Khoroshev could be Rick Wakeman if you close your eyes. And after the harp passage, just as the music builds to the next crescendo, confetti rained down from the ceiling, millions of strips of paper catching the lights and coating the (mostly bald) heads of the audience! OK, so it sounds like a silly gimmick, but it worked and it was fun.

The main set finished with All Good People, with instructions for everybody to sing along (if we knew it!!! ha!!!) and everybody stood and sang.

Then Steve came back on, running and skidding across the stage as if somebody had pushed him on, and played a solo acoustic piece... duh, I forget the name... you know which one I mean, right?

They finished with a POWERFUL (that's the only way to describe it) version of Owner Of A Lonely Heart, with Billy Sherwood taking the solo parts, and, finally, Steve's funny round guitar (I think it's called a Portugese guitar?) leading in Roundabout, with everybody on their feet and dancing and singing by now.

Well, I think that covers it. I haven't mentioned the individual performances, because what can I say? They were perfect. For me Steve was the star of the night. He must be the most technically proficient guitar player in the world (Deep Purple members excluded) and he showed off all of his ability tonight.

I'll just say a bit about Billy Sherwood: it must be very difficult to play second guitar in a band like Yes. He must know that everybody is there to see Steve Howe and it's difficult for him to shine. When I saw them in '98, I barely noticed Billy at all. Well this time I made an effort to notice him! He actually does add a lot to the songs. He adds another layer to the harmony vocals and his guitar playing is excellent. You notice especially when Steve is playing acoustic, and Billy fills out the music with electric guitar. He rarely takes a solo, but when he does (as in Hearts) he's obviously very talented. I know that Yes are traditionally a five-piece group but they work well as a six-piece and I would miss Billy if he wasn't there.

Compared to the show I saw in '98... well, I don't know which I preferred. I liked the selection of songs better in '98, but this one had a much warmer atmosphere and, of course, it had Awaken.

So, that's all my thoughts! As usual I've said much too much and it's a bit incoherent, but I have to get it all down in writing before I lose the emotional connection with it. I really hope you get to see them this year — it's worth it!