There was at least one benefit to the departure of Jon Anderson from Yes in 2008: The presence of new lead singer Benoit David immediately opened the door for a rewrite of what had become a very rote setlist.
Anderson had always refused, for instance, to sing tunes from Yes’ guitar-driven 1980 release Drama, recorded during a previous stint away from the legendary progressive rock band. David’s arrival, however, coincided with a return for both Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes, key players in the creation of that earlier project.
Together, they’d help fashion a better-than-expected comeback recording in 2011’s Fly From Here that actually included some polished up outtakes from those 30-year-old sessions and the subsequent tour. But not before hitting the road for a series of concert dates that found Yes dusting off two tracks from Drama, the frantic, keyboard-driven “Tempus Fugit” and “Machine Messiah,” an epic meltdown. Both are included on In the Present: Live From Lyon, recorded in 2009 and set for release on Nov. 29 by Frontiers Records, along with “Onward” from 1978’s Tormato, “Southside of the Sky” from 1972’s Fragile and “Astral Traveller” from 1970’s Time and a Word.
Elsewhere, there are plenty of the usual suspects: What Yes concert, after all, would be complete without “Roundabout,” “And You and I,” “Owner of a Lonely Heart” and “I’ve Seen All Good People,” right? But I found myself more intrigued by the lesser-performed cuts from Drama, if only because it snapped me out the unceasing, note-for-note comparisons between David and Anderson.
[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Alan White talks about starting over with a new vocalist in Yes, his initial dates with the band, and favorite moments from working with David Torn, Tony Levin and John Lennon.]
Like Journey and Judas Priest before them, Yes found this new lead singer through YouTube. A longtime frontman for the Montreal-based Yes tribute band Close to the Edge, David was repairing a raccoon-damaged boat interior when he got the call. At first, the gig with Yes was seen as temporary, just until an ailing Anderson was back on his feet. It’s since become permanent, meaning David will be singing these songs — both the rare and familiar — for the foreseeable future.
That’s left fans with a listening experience, in particular on concert souvenirs like In the Present: Live From Lyon, that has less to do with enjoying the music, at times, than it does comparing and contrasting. David’s voice, of course, is naturally lower than Anderson’s — though when David soars into the upper register, as on “I’ve Seen All Good People” (and, likewise, on Fly From Here’s “We Can Fly”), it’s easy to see why he was perfect for work in a knockoff group before being asked to join the real thing.
So, yeah, David handles things as well as can be expected on the big Anderson-sung hits — and that’s really all Chris Squire and Co. were looking for, I suppose. You get a broader sense of what he brings to Yes as it stands today, however, on a churning, metallic fever dream like “Machine Messiah,” originally sung by Horn. Given a chance finally to step outside of Anderson’s long shadow, David was already beginning to come into his own.
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