Styx and Yes
- Article by: Jamie McCormick, Photos by: Jamie McCormick
- Posted: 07/19/2011
Way back in the woods of West Nashville this weekend, the ‘70s made a comeback when two legendary prog-rock bands took the stage at Fontanel. Though the one-time hair bands have (mostly) lost their waving locks, they haven't lost their fans, playing to a capacity crowd that was happy to stand at the railings for four hours.
The show built up slowly, beginning at a crawl with just opener Shane Alexander and his guitar. All alone on a giant stage, Alexander shone with his simple singer-songwriter style and striking falsetto.
Once Yes meandered onto the stage, though, the theatrics began. A jumbotron-sized screen at the back of the stage flashed trippy disco-style images and color swirls while newly instated lead vocalist Benoit David danced gracefully around the stage.
David, who has permanently replaced founder Jon Anderson since Anderson was hospitalized in 2008 for acute respiratory failure, carried on the tradition of Anderson's high-register vocals, wailing up to the stars on Yes' long and winding tunes.
Four decades into their careers, the members of Yes are no longer young men, and their stage show displayed some of the effects of time. What they lacked in animation, however, they made up for in musical proficiency.
Longtime member Chris Squire, occasionally attempting a kick of sorts but usually settling for a punch in the air, switched deftly between bluesy bass grooves and punchy electro lines. On the other side of the stage, guitarist Steve Howe changed instruments every song, often mid-song, and occasionally even played two instruments at once. Every sound he made was delivered like a true work of art.
But perhaps the most impressive multitasking came on keys from Geoff Downes. With nine different keyboards – roughly one for every half-decade the band has been around – Downes stretched to one side, then the other, then both. But he wasn't done yet. For the last tune of the encore, he pulled out a keytar and bounded around the stage with David.
Fresh off their first studio release in a decade, Fly From Here, Yes have a new lineup and, for a song or two (which is about 20 minutes in Yes time), the group regained some of their youthful vigor.
The stage show hit full-force when Styx finally came leaping from the edges, pounding right from the beginning. Not a band to ease into anything, Styx brought their A-game and a hodgepodge of hard rock from over the decades, complete with a spinning keyboard that was as much prop as instrument.
All five members of Styx' current iteration kept up the energy level with antics that could put 20-year-olds to shame with their athleticism and disregard for physics. Larry Gowan (on keys) was even, quite literally, often on his keys, standing on the keyboard or propping his leg on it while he spun around and played behind his back. Other members jumped and kicked and moshed and slid with the beat.
Gowan and founding member Tommy Shaw (on guitar) split vocalist duties, performing with the explosive power and expressiveness that's been many years in elaboration. Leaning out over the photo pits toward the crowd every few minutes to riff chords where the front row could see the strings vibrate, guitarists James Young and Shaw and bassist Ricky Phillips must have gone through dozens of picks, tossing one or five to a fan on each trip to the edge. Even original founding member Chuck Panozzo joined for a few songs and was sucked into the energetic madness.
Mid-set, Shaw launched into a monologue about the virtues of old school, album-oriented rock radio and the difference between that style and the modern one monster-track focus. In the end, he decided to have faith in the fans, and the band played a good mix of the mega-hits and the tracks the audience had forgotten they once loved. As Shaw put it, “You guys know these songs, too.” The band was rewarded with screams and whistles.
Toward the end, Gowan pulled the crowd into the performance, having them parrot a montage of wordless melodies and classic rock hooks. After the first line went off stunningly well, on pitch and on beat in a way that should be impossible for 4,500 people, Gowan chuckled.
“That's right!” he replied. “There's so much talent in Nashville, you'll sing it in tune for once. Let's go then!” And he launched into progressively more intricate melodies and lines before finally settling down to the keyboard to play the iconic “Come Sail Away.” And sail away we did. In the immortal words of one fan in the front row, “That was freakin' awesome!”
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