10 Minutes With Steve Howe
Bands playing an album in its entirety isn’t exactly a recent development. I recall seeing Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, and Yes perform Dark Side of the Moon, Thick As A Brick, and Tales From Topographic Oceans respectively when those LPs were new. Yes tweaks the concept tonight at ACL Live at the Moody Theater.
The decades-old progressive English juggernaut performs three albums on its current tour, The Yes Album (1971), Close to the Edge (‘72), and Going for the One (‘77), with a lineup that includes guitarist Steve Howe, bassist Chris Squire, drummer Alan White, keyboardist Geoff Downes, and relatively new vocalist Jon Davison.
I spoke to Howe earlier this week.
Geezerville: You’re playing three albums. Will there be a break between each one?
Steve Howe: After two, we take an interval and then we play the third one.
G: How did you decide on which albums to play?
SH: Just a general discussion. We could’ve played any of them. We had to come to a sensible, reasonable choice. We consolidated everyone’s views and just came up with these three – this time.
G: I saw you do Tales in 1974, but this is the first time since then that you’ve attempted something similar.
SH: That’s what I’d been saying. It’s been a long time, almost 40 years, that we’ve waited to do that concept again. It was quite original then.
G: Digging into the albums were there any surprises? Anything that you hadn’t performed before or something that was particularly difficult to reproduce?
SH: Yeah, of course, because when you’re just doing songs from an album it changes your view of how it’s done. Also, I was one of the main abdicators for tightening up the show and the way we play the songs, making them more like the albums. Over the years, a lot of parts and feelings have changed. Some of them were quite radical. So I’ve been trying to get everybody to go back. I’m not completely alone in it. Geoff also wanted to go back and learn the albums.
For instance, when we do “I’ve Seen All Good People” we end it for the first time ever like the album. So when there are endings that we’ve gone away from or never used, it’s nice to go back to them. We’ve never played “A Venture” and we’re playing it really well. That’s another song that’s come back. It’s sort of a daunting song to play. We also don’t often play “Parallels” or “Going for the One.”
G: What makes “A Venture” daunting?
SH: Because it’s very sensitive. It’s not a rock song. You’ve got the idea in your mind that you’re playing a song that’s very important to Yes, and it’s unique. It’s like “Wondrous Stores” in its approach.
G: This is a different combination of players for the band, but Yes has always retained its sound whatever the personnel. What can you tell me about the new singer?
SH: He joined us around this time last year when we toured the Pacific Rim. Jon was a golden find. We’d been with Benoit David for a while. When we went to Europe, he wasn’t so strong and he wasn’t so strong in his commitment for us. Things didn’t go well and after that tour we hoped he was going to recover his health and the enthusiasm we needed, but it didn’t work out. So Yes, striving to keep moving forward, found Jon Davison.
Of course before [2011’s] Fly From Here album, Trevor Horn introduced us to some songs he’d written with Geoff Downes, my cohort in Asia, and the next thing we know he’s playing in Yes and Oliver Wakeman isn’t. It’s the story of bands that have had multiple members. It’s like an orchestra. If somebody wanes or doesn’t maintain their enthusiasm for their position, then he doesn’t stay.
G: As a longtime fan, I think it keeps things interesting.
SH: Whatever turns you on [laughs].
G: I see the band will be involved in something called Cruise to the Edge at the end of the month. Will it be your first experience with something like that?
SH: My only experience with a cruise is one I did as a solo artist 12 or so years ago and I wasn’t so sure I wanted to do one again. This is a bigger affair. We agreed to do it because why not. We need things to do and this is different enough for us. That’s how we’re approaching it really. As far as we knew at first, it was just going to be Yes. We had no idea they were going to add a bill. When we saw what they added, we went, “That’s a lot bands. Where did they all come from?” Everybody wanted to be part of it and that’s quite flattering.
G: Bring sunscreen.
SH: Oh yeah, like I’m going to be sitting on deck sunbathing [laughs].
G: Thanks for your time.
SH: Before you go, my son was just in Austin during South by Southwest playing in a band called Little Barrie. He’s the drummer, Virgil Howe. I think he’s just left. We almost crossed paths and I would have loved to have been there when he was playing.