Winterland, San Francisco, California
March 15, 1974
Photos by David Miller
Text by Michael Collins Morton
Yes began in 1968, when Jon Anderson (from Accrington, Lancashire), a singer and a former member of The Warriors, happened to cross paths with Chris Squire (from Kingsbury, London), a bassist and a former member of The Syn. The two British musicians, who shared a keen interest in the music of Simon & Garfunkel, played together in Mabel Greer's Toyshop, which soon became Yes, with Peter Banks on guitar, Tony Kaye on keyboards, and Bill Bruford on drums. Their first album, Yes, was released on Atlantic Records in 1969, followed by Time and a Word (with most of the tracks featuring a full orchestra) in 1970.
In common with other British bands of the late 1960s (The Moody Blues, Pink Floyd, Hawkwind, King Crimson, Procol Harum, Jethro Tull, Renaissance, Van der Graaf Generator), Yes strove to expand the musical potential of rock'n'roll. Their adventurous approach was founded on an expert combination of vocal harmonies, long compositions with majestic structures, and a high degree of superlative musicianship. By the time of their third album, The Yes Album (1971), they had succeeded in shaping their symphonic sound to near perfection. Fragile (1971) and Close to the Edge (1972) were further examples of their musical growth.
Chris Squire, Rick Wakeman
When Yes appeared at Winterland in March of 1974, Peter Banks, Tony Kaye, and Bill Bruford all had departed. (Peter Banks formed Flash, Tony Kaye formed Badger, and Bill Bruford joined King Crimson.) In addition to Jon Anderson and Chris Squire, the lineup of Yes now included Steve Howe (formerly of The Syndicats, Bodast, and Tomorrow) on guitar, Rick Wakeman (formerly of The Strawbs) on keyboards, and Alan White (formerly with Ginger Baker's Air Force and The Plastic Ono Band) on drums. In many ways, it proved to be the strongest lineup in the history of Yes.
The concert itself was mesmerizing. Their artistry, skill, and musicianship was amazing. It was like they had been sealed up somewhere taking music steroids since I last saw them, and were now unleashed on us with a power unheard of. Just watching Steve Howe play his various guitars with such intensity was awesome. Jon Anderson's elf-like presence was wonderful. He always seemed to be looking out past the audience, focused on something that only he could see. Chris Squire moved and jumped about in his thigh-high boots, pounding out powerful bass notes. Rick Wakeman, though nearly out of my line of vision, could be seen sparkling in his rhinestone cape, producing out-of-this-world sounds.
The stage was a huge design by Roger Dean, their cover artist. It looked like we were in the belly of a whale and could see its rib cage overhead. The monitors were behind some round, mushroom-looking things. Being right up to the stage was not the best way to view the stage design. It is hardly visible in the photos. The whole effect is somewhat lost being that close. Still, I preferred being close enough to see Steve Howe's fingers dancing on the guitar strings. The whole concert was a fantastic and unforgettable show.
Yes also did Close to the Edge. Rick Wakeman's organ part was very well done. The sound was great. Alan White was the drummer. We were used to Bill Bruford, but the band was very tight. I think there was a section where they all played percussion instruments. Jon Anderson played a bit of acoustic guitar in addition to his singing.
I enjoyed the concert, although I think Tales from Topographic Oceans was a further step away from the friendly side of Yes (The Yes Album and Fragile). The music was more complex and less tonal. Even the recorded sound itself seemed more remote and distant.
I loved prog rock (and still do), and I particularly loved Yes. In contrast to the dark music of King Crimson, Jethro Tull, and Van der Graaf Generator (also bands whose music I loved), the music of Yes was more colorful, with a brighter outlook. I was in total awe of their musicianship. Steve Howe, Chris Squire, and Rick Wakeman appeared to be almost superhuman in their abilities, and Jon Anderson's voice was beautifully (and sometimes beatifically) expressive.
As usual for us with a concert at Winterland, we waited in line all day, which allowed us an opportunity to catch a glimpse of the musicians in the afternoon, when they arrived to do a sound check. They appeared to be a bit overwhelmed by the many fans who crowded around them as they stepped out of their limousines. It seemed that the members of Yes were not yet accustomed to the sudden increase in their fame.
The concert itself included music from their latest release, Tales from Topographic Oceans, an album that comprised an extended composition in four parts, spread out over two LPs. Listening to the long pieces of serious music in a hot, sweaty venue was not an easy thing to do. We were standing at the front of the stage, with the rest of the crowd crushing against us from behind, and I remember that I had several moments of feeling faint. The music was worthwhile and engrossing, but I must admit that the physical experience of being there was somewhat uncomfortable.
More about Yes at David's Rock Scrapbook
Photos and memories of a performance by Rick Wakeman in September, 1974, can be seen here
Next: Uriah Heep (more photos from February, 1974)