In the winter of 2003 I was living in Summerlin and enduring that initial season of my divorce abyss. I found salvation in colored stone, the primordial canyon, my personal Sinai. Red Rock’s 13-mile drive and the songs of the ’70s were my survival kit, and no band occupied the car deck during those sojourns more often than Britain’s progressive masters, Yes.
One afternoon, the crimson peaks called out to me. This was my Burning Bush moment. I hopped in my old BMW, grabbed the double CD Keys to Ascension 2 and slipped in disc two. As the 18-minute opus “Mind Drive” wrapped around my brain, I told my invisible passengers—vocalist Jon Anderson, bassist Chris Squire, guitarist Steve Howe, keyboardist Rick Wakeman and drummer Alan White—to buckle up.
I took the long way home, through Highway 160 past Blue Diamond, hitting the Strip about 8 p.m. The Mandalay Bay marquee loomed large on the left. Yes In Concert. Are you fucking kidding me? I mused to myself. The bush was getting brighter.
A futile attempt at buying last-minute tickets failed, so I took my leave. Then it happened: a seraph who I did not recognize crossed my path. “Lonn!” shined the stranger. “Lonn Friend! Dude, I’m Todd from Ludwig Drums. I met you at NAMM [the annual National Association of Music Merchants trade show in Anaheim] and REO Speedwagon a couple of months ago.”
First I drew a blank, and then came the recognition.
“Oh, yeah!” I said, my eyesight adjusting from the afterglow of Red Rock. “Todd. How’s it going, man?”
Two minutes later, I’d articulated my plight to the nice guy bearing the all-access laminate—who was here taking care of the percussive needs of skin basher White. My angel escorted me into the arena and dropped me off at the soundboard, where I took my seat for the day’s second visit to the astral plane.
I glanced at the five men I had once known so well. Howe was gray, wise looking, almost professorial. He caressed his sacred six-string in the exact pose he had in the glorious prog ’70s. And he played with the same stellar virtuosity.
The opening strains of “Yours Is No Disgrace” threw me back to my pimpled youth when my brother, Rick, and I would air guitar away the hours to our favorite vinyl.
Caesars Palace, morning glory, silly human, silly human race. Anderson’s lyrics echoed with Sin City synchronicity. I was exactly where I was supposed to be. United with the rock, the old rock, the primordial rock, the eternal rock.
When they played “And You and I” and Wakeman vaulted into the booming Mellotron bridge, a hymn-like vibrational wave blanketed the prog faithful. I was the solo Starship Trooper that night, proud owner of a lonely heart, being comforted by five remarkable English troubadours.
That was 11 years ago.
Yes is still going strong despite band member changes. In 2008 when health issues removed Anderson from the front of the band he co-founded, Yes tribute band singer Benoît David took over. David was replaced in 2011 by Glass Hammer vocalist Jon Davison, who has filled the position nicely. The configuration that Las Vegans will see on August 15 features Davison, Howe, Squire, White and the dexterous Geoff Downs, who has twinkled the keys many times over the group’s 45-year history. During this Evening With Yes, the band will perform 1971’s groundbreaking album Fragile in its entirety for the first time ever. They will also offer a repeat performance from last year’s tour of 1972’s Close to the Edge, followed by an encore of greatest hits and songs off their new album, Heaven & Earth.
Caesars Palace, Red Rock glory, silly human in his late 50s still giddy as a misfit teen to see one of the groups he grew up with perform live. Yes, I will be there. Pray to prog you are, too, ’cause it’s going to be glorious.
An Evening With Yes
The Joint at the Hard Rock, 8 p.m. August 15, $40 and up, 800-473-7625, HardRockHotel.com/thejoint.