It’s pointless to write about progressive in 2012, isn’t it?
It has to be accepted that some artistic trends, some music genres failed. They made sense (and even had some mainstream success and gathered large groups of aficionados) for short periods in the history timeline but then, either violently or quietly, they proved wrong and disappeared.
It’s not only within art. It relates to the humankind bond with experiment and research. We are prone to seek new forms of expression, new theories, new philosophy and new politics. It can be done with the best intentions but, unfortunately, that doesn’t mean we are exempt from making mistakes.
I could fly high with examples and take the rise and death of Communism as something that still today works very well on paper, makes perfect sense, is based on open-minded and wise principles but anywhere it was put in practice failed. Violently.
I can come back to earth, to music. Fusion, Remember that?
It was mid 80s. The decade musicians evolution had a big regression.
Those years Jazz musicians tried to find new form of expressions putting together avant-gard, easy listening, world rhythms and sparkling some rock electricity.
For a very short period of time it almost made sense. Travels, a double live album by Pat Metheny won a Grammy and was a bestseller. Those days it sounded OK. Now, when you visit your uncle next time, ask to see his CD collection. Pick Travels, clean the dust out, put it on the stereo and listen.
While listening you will be in front of the evidence that human beings, even talented human beings, make horrible mistakes.
Progressive was a big mistake. It was born the moment rock music looked for new inspiration but looked for it in the wrong place: Classical Music. From the end of the sixties to its peak in mid seventies, prog aimed to achieve credibility among the disbelievers of rock music. It did competing with it. Using the pretentiousness of technical skills (ELP redoing Mussorgsky’s Picture at an Exhibition, Deep Purple playing with a symphonic orchestra and so on).
Rock music turned to progressive tried to conquer a new market not showing its intentions but pretending hiding them behind a surrogate of what that market wanted.
It was like selling a Big Mac to someone who is used to eating juicy Argentinian Fillet Steaks.
There is no chance you become Caravaggio because you can paint. There are no chances to create something good from an inferiority complex hidden behind grand ambitions.
As often happens, at the beginning some fresh ideas almost made sense. This was also the reason why the bubble got bigger and inflated. The moment it succumbed imploding into its own baroque-ness the air inside did show is vacuity.
Unfortunately that moment arrived about ten years and ten millions albums later.
Progressive is probably the biggest example of a music genre that aged very badly. To deteriorate its third age quickly, it wasn’t of help and it wasn’t a coincidence the fact that its teenage son, punk, got rebellious. As teens must be they fought violently against daddy’s manifesto.
I’m not going to write anything else about punk rebelling against prog and the social clashes at the end of the seventies. Not because it isn’t true, but because it is so true that has been written more times than progressive albums have been played.
What doesn’t make sense is the fact that progressive still pretend to exist and some of those bands are unashamedly trying to survive.
It is maybe because those prog-fathers became prog-grandfathers and those punk teens are now wise men. Fathers themselves not bothering about revolution but accepting and respecting the elders.
The elders also have time, money and a luggage full of nostalgia that make them happy to pay for a ticket to see old heroes. It gives the double satisfaction of listening to the music of their youth and discovering that even heroes, as them, get old.
YES epitomize prog music. If Pink Floyd were helped by psychedelic origins, King Crimson by Robert Fripp passion for experimentation, Jethro Tull by folk, Genesis by Peter Gabriel characters, Mike Oldfield by soundtracks, Yes were not. Yes are (with Emerson, Lake and Palmer) the quintessential progressive band.
Yes is the band that recorded lengthy compositions occupying the entire side of their vinyls. Suites filled with multi-storey symphonic organs, guitar solos, huge drum-kit, high pitch voice that sings impenetrable lyrics of mystical content. All packaged in horrible looking cover arts and dressed with even worse costumes.
To their defence, some of this mix of weirdness, 40 years back in time, managed to produce some good music. With such ingredients, it is a huge achievement.
Yes, YES are back. They never really went away, they have always been around with different line-up and slightly different names. Kept apart by myriad of tedious legal battles around copyright, among band endless list of members, to then come back in peace again.
Yes are back with their first album in 10 years, Fly From Here, produced by Trevor Horn which is the same producer of Owner of a Lonely Heart. It says it all. Undoubtedly, one of the worst songs of all times.
A tour follows the album and the attempt of convincing new audiences that they still have something to say is bound to fail. I mean, I am don’t question they have something to say, it’s just so boringly dated no one cares to hear.
They haven’t said anything interesting for 30+ years. They don’t seem to embrace this world but a wolrd of fantasy that most people started to doubt in 1974.
It would be much better (but much less convenient) to accept this than to insist on a lost cause.
Nevertheless Yes are around, I pulled my masochist sideand sorted a photopass to see them live for once and for all.
The hardcore fans coming to the show don’t seem to care. Beer in hand, they just want to listen those tunes again, wear those T-shirts one last time and wish the past will materialize while they keep singing Close to the Edge. Dicto.
You know what you’re getting, they know what they’re offering.
You also know what you are not getting.
Jon Anderson. The original singer (Yes had umpteenth line-up changes) isn’t in the band. In an interview to Rolling Stone he told he was fired by the band not even letting him know. Crisis, credit crunch, tough time for employees, you know. Part of an already-seen boring soap opera. The singer appearing at these shows, listen here, is Benoit David and he was the singer (it’s serious) of the Yes tribute band: Close to the Edge. If Jon Anderson resemble the modern flexible worker, David had a career growth to his dream position.
Now, I am reading today that David Benoit is out of Yes replaced by Jon… Anderson? No, Davison. Whatever he is, I’m not bothered to google his name.
Rick Wakeman. He is not in the band this time. On and off between the stage and the court to prosecute Yes in the last 30 years, the Yes original Keyboardist has been replaced by Geoff Dawnes.
Dawnes is infamous to be playing in Asia albums and famous to be listed in The Guinnes Book of Records to have played with most keyboards in the same concert: 28 (yes, twenty eight)! He brought a third of them with him this tour.
What you get is what allow this band playing Yes music without being a tribute band despite sounding pretty much a tribute band.
Steve Howe on guitar, mad shirts and backcombed hair.
Alan White on drums, personalized cables and endless drum kit.
Chris Squire, on bass. He is the only Yes member to have played in all albums. Guilty then. No excuses. He smiles all time. He looks as he’s having fun.
What you get is a show that tries to sell the new album mixing it up with old compositions. You hope it could make some sense, it doesn’t.
There is not much to say about this show that cannot be said better putting on a turntable an old vinyl and pretending to be in 1972.
“Too old for Rock’n’Roll too young to die”, some of their prog pals would sing.
They should follow the suggestion and retire somewhere in Cornwall harvesting strawberries.
There is one nice thing of progressive concerts: Progressive concerts photographs.
In a parallel way to how technique and show off replace the emptiness of music ideas, these bands tend to fill up the music box, (the stage), with huge colourful show off of instruments, lights, videos. Photographers’ paradise.
Where indie goes for intimacy, punk for rebellion, songwriters for theatre and mainstream rock for stadium; progressive goes for circus.
And circus, it goes without saying, is one of the most picturesque subjects.
I am sure If budget would allow, you would see lions roaring on the stage while Alan White roars his twohundredtwentyfive toms.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see an octopus jealous of Geoff Dawnes playing 10 keyboards despite he was born with only a pair of arms.
A fashion journalist, if he can manage depression and panic attacks, would love to document the match between Steve Howe shirts and the Persian carpet he walks.
I believe if Yes were as big as 1973 they would get elephants, lion tamer and fire eaters. On tour.
As for today you get some videos, light and surely the clowns and the fancy dress party.
What you can’t get out of their instruments, you can get out of your cameras.