This article is the second in a two part series comparing the two versions of the band Yes in current existence. In part one, we started by providing some background about how the two versions of Yes came to be. We then used numerical analysis to see which band has more claim to the iconic Yes moniker. By assigning points to each band member based on Yes studio album appearances and weighting the albums based on sales certifications (i.e. gold, platinum, multi-platinum), we concluded that both bands have approximately equal numerical claim to the name Yes.
In this article, we put numerical (and legal) claim aside and use empirical analysis to compare each band in a live setting. The analysis is based on my personal experience watching both bands live in August and September 2017 on their US tours through Baltimore, MD and Washington, DC. This analysis is based on a single data point from each tour, which any scientist worth their salt will tell you is an excellent basis for sound scientific conclusions and minimal margin of error… well, not really. So, if you caught either Yes live this year and would like to share your impressions, please leave us a comment below!
To distinguish between the two bands, we once again use the nomenclature established in part one. We use the names and abbreviations “Yes featuring Howe and White” (HW) and “Yes featuring Anderson, Rabin, and Wakeman” (ARW). This approach was chosen to be as clear, concise, and impartial as possible.
For this analysis, we compare the live performances of each band based on the following categories:
The HW show sampled was from the Yestival 2017 Tour in Baltimore, MD on Monday August 7, 2017. The ARW show sampled was from the 2017 North American Tour in Vienna, VA (Washington, DC Metro Area) on Wednesday September 14, 2017.
HW: Pier Six Pavilion, Baltimore, MD, USA. 4,400 capacity. Medium Pavilion.
ARW:Wolf Trap Filene Center, Vienna, VA, USA. 7,000 capacity. Large Pavilion.
Comparison: Both venues are major indoor/outdoor pavilions with both covered seating and outdoor lawn seating. However, Wolf Trap is a superior venue both in terms of size and acoustics.
HW: Moderate attendance. The seated area inside the pavilion was well below capacity.
ARW: Good attendance. The Filene Center at Wolf Trap is a very large venue and the covered area inside the pavilion was packed, though seats were still available towards the back. The lawn attendance exceeded the HW show, but Wolf Trap allows outside food and drink on the lawn making this a popular option.
Comparison: Both concerts faced adverse conditions that may have limited attendance. Both were on weeknights. Both were at partially outdoor venues with rainy weather forecasts that subsequently cleared up for the show itself. But the forecast may have caused some concert goers to pass. Ultimately, attendance appeared to be higher at the ARW show.
The table below presents a comparison of the setlists from the two shows:
HW: The setlist featured one track each from the first 10 albums in chronological order spanning from 1969’s Yes to 1980’s Drama. As a fan of classic 70s-era Yes, the concept appealed to me. In practice it was both a pro and a con. On the up-side, they hit a lot of my favorite classic Yes songs. On the down-side, hitting every album from that era meant they had to play some weaker songs like “Don’t Kill the Whale” from 1978’s Tormato. Without the “first 10 albums” theme, they could have focused on some of the more popular albums from the 70s era. Fortunately, the encore allowed them to revisit two of their most popular albums, closing the show with the requisite “Roundabout” and iconic “Starship Trooper.”
ARW: The setlist featured a mix of songs from different eras in Yes’ career, spanning from 1971’s The Yes Album to 1994’s Talk. Critics of the ARW line-up seem to make the argument that they focus primarily on the band’s 80s catalog. The table above shows that this clearly was not the case. Song for song, the setlist was evenly split between the 70s-era (six songs) and the Rabin-era (five 80s songs and one 90s song). However, when you consider that the 70s-era songs are longer on average, this means that more time was spent playing the 70s catalog.
Comparison: Both setlists included 12 songs. While the HW setlist reveled in the 70s catalog, the ARW setlist struck a balance between the 70s-era and the Rabin-era. Which approach is better comes down purely to personal preference. The ARW approach struck me as a more balanced and inclusive approach to the history of Yes, even though nothing past 1994 was included. On the other hand, the ARW setlist was also heavily skewed towards the multi-platinum hit album 90125, drawing one third of the set from this single album. Interestingly, there was significant overlap between the two sets. In fact, 3 out of 12 songs–one fourth of the setlist–were performed by both bands. At the end of the day, there are certain songs like “Roundabout” that neither version can really avoid playing.
HW: Howe has made it very clear that his band attempts to perform the songs as close to the original recordings as possible. They stayed true to this creed, with a couple exceptions. First and foremost, the three part vocal harmonies between Davison, Howe, and Sherwood were a times out of tune and poorly blended. This problem came to a peak on “South Side of the Sky,” although they seemed to recover somewhat later in the set. Second, some of Wakeman’s keyboard parts were simplified from the originals.
ARW: The music was spot-on and the performance was very tight, including the vocal harmonies. Anderson has that iconic voice closely associated with Yes that just isn’t quite possible to duplicate. Rabin’s guitar was a bit more edgy than the original recordings. And Wakeman pulls off some amazing licks with his arsenal of 10 keyboards (plus a keytar). The rhythm section brought a little extra heaviness on classic songs like “And You and I” and “South Side of the Sky.” Small tweaks were made to arrangements in places that any Yes fan would notice. For example, on “And You and I” Molino made some small changes to the drum solo and Rabin added some almost bluesy bends to the guitar licks.
Comparison: Musicality was a major differentiator. While both bands gave world-class performances, their musical approaches are clearly quite different. While HW try to faithfully reproduce the original recordings, ARW take small liberties with the music to bring a bit of modern edge and vitality to their live performances. Which approach is better? It completely comes down to personal preference. Purists may prefer the HW approach. Open minded fans may enjoy the modern, yet tasteful, interpretation of ARW.
HW: My biggest criticism of the HW show is that there was very little chemistry between the musicians on stage. The band were so focused on the music that they didn’t interact much and the energy suffered. The one exception was Jon Davison, who looked like he was having the time of his life. Unfortunately, his energy alone just wasn’t enough to carry the entire show.
ARW: There was a lot of chemistry with this line-up, which made for an energetic performance. The band interacted and played off each other throughout the show, culminating in an exciting mash-up of “Owner of a Lonely Heart” with “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” and additional soloing. The unexpected hero was Pomeroy, who brought a ton of energy to the show, at times shouting across the stage when the others nailed a solo. The one key exception was of course Wakeman, who maintained a stoic and at times even sullen facade throughout. But at least there was no curry on stage.
Comparison: Energy was another major differentiator. Although it is unscientific, I have to inject my personal opinion here and say ARW won this category hands down. HW essentially stood still and played their instruments, with the exception of charismatic Davison. In contrast, ARW were able to harness the chemistry in the band to give an energetic performance that was really engaging for the audience.
This empirical analysis compared both versions of Yes in their natural habitat (i.e. on stage). Major differentiating factors were identified in 3 out of 5 categories: setlist, musicality, and energy.
- While HW focus on the 70s-era catalog, ARW struck a balance between 70s-era and Rabin-era. We found the common view that ARW focus on 80s-era Yes to be inaccurate, as half their setlist was 70s material. Furthermore, 25% of the setlist overlapped between the two bands.
- Both bands demonstrated world class musicality, but they approached the music very differently. HW stayed true to the original recordings, while ARW took small liberties with the arrangements for a bit more modern interpretation.
- ARW brought much more energy to the stage, while the HW show lacked energy and included very little interaction between band members.
Ultimately, both shows were a great experience and completely worth the time and money. With the band’s 50th Anniversary coming up next year, we can expect more from HW and ARW. There has even been talk of new studio recordings from both camps. This is good news for Yes fans because it means more material from the Yes family to enjoy. Based on interviews with members of both bands, another Union-style tour sounds highly unlikely. So it seems we will continue to live in a world of two Yes’s.
So, who wins Yes vs. Yes? In the end, it all comes down to personal taste, but we recommend supporting both! We hope our analysis of Yes vs. Yes has provided some perspective on what each band has to offer. And as always, leave us a message and let us know what you think!