Yes at The Wharf -Tavistock - April 2024


Tavistock Wharf, Tavistock, Devon
Thursday, 25th April 2024

The rather modest but homely venue of The Wharf in Tavistock, a town tucked away on the western edge of Dartmoor in SW England, is fast becoming the unlikely spiritual home of Yes. In June 2022 Yes played their first gig for three years there after the Covid lockdown period as a warm-up for a U.K. tour celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Close to the Edge. They had used The Wharf as their rehearsal space as Tavistock is near Steve Howe’s home in Devon. It was a fabulous gig in a very small venue with the band in close proximity to fans, surprised at being able to see such a class act so close up. Yes have again used The Wharf to prepare for their forthcoming European and U.K. ‘Classic Tales of Yes’ tour and clearly enjoyed that previous intimate ‘warm-up’ gig experience so they put on another ‘warm-up’ gig for their fortunate South West fans.

Yes at The Wharf -Tavistock - April 2024

Yes played a diverse set drawn from right across their career, commencing with a muscular version of Machine Messiah from their Drama album. That release, back in 1980 memorably, rather shockingly included the Video Killed the Radio Star Buggles pair Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes rather than Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman. Yes fans have long since got used to the ever changing nature of the Yes line up since then with multiple different line-ups… but Geoff Downes, also of Asia, is still there behind the keyboards since returning to Yes a few years ago. Elder statesman and clearly the band leader, Steve Howe ripples off steepling guitar runs with Jay Schellen cascading his drums and Downes comfortably rolling out some of the best keyboard parts he has written from over forty years ago in a rather surprising and powerful opening. However, that surprise was nothing compared to the completely unexpected inclusion of the very rarely played It Will be a Good Day (The River), a song from the underestimated 1999 album The Ladder with some particularly sweet vocals from Jon Davison. An electric pedal steel guitar is rolled out for Howe to reel off those distinctive ‘twangy’ opening chords of the energetic Going for the One, and then he shows his masterful versatility by deftly playing a delicate mandolin in the iconic Your Move opening section to I’ve Seen All Good People, which features a great Schellen drum break as that song switches tempo midway. Steve Howe leads the band all night with such verve and elegance in a suitably ornate peacock shirt.

Steve Howe at The Wharf - Tavistock - April 2024

Yes have such a massive repertoire that they are able to play a set of high quality songs which avoids duplicating any of the songs they played at the same venue in 2022, (except the inevitable encores), and it seems they are in a mood to mix things up as Howe leads a rocking instrumental version of Simon and Garfunkel’s America. Howe shares with the audience that Yes have long had a connection with Devon when the band spent 2 months near South Molton writing The Yes Album in 1970, and it is evident that he is enjoying playing to a small crowd in an intimate venue near his home. He and the band draw energy from the warmly enthusiastic crowd. A lovely version of Time and a Word from the 1969 album of the same name features fine harmony vocals and guitar work. Steve Howe remarks afterwards that even he was not in the band when that song was written and recorded, but he felt ‘it’s a lovely song’, perhaps subtly underlining that Yes has always had a rather fluid line up over the years. The TPA review of the Tavistock Yes gig in 2022 considered the tired old debate as to the nature and status of ‘Yes’ as a band, which will not be hashed over yet again here – this is the version of Yes that exists in 2024 and perhaps the focus should just be on the great songs that band has created over the years and that this latest manifestation of Yes still plays so well to this day.

Jon Davison at The Wharf - Tavistock - April 2024

The distinctive opening chords of the eco-protest song Don’t Kill the Whale ring out across the venue – another surprise from a set filled with some ‘deeper cuts’ not played for years, and the band play it with a real edge. The next two songs are the peak of the show for this writer as Yes play an absolutely gorgeous version of Turn of the Century with Howe and Davison in fine form on guitar and such pure vocals in a challenging song to sing. Jon Davison may not be Jon Anderson (whoever could be?) but he has grown into singing those beautiful songs so well. South Side of the Sky is another unexpected gem with some great drums from Schellen underpinning Howe’s bubbling guitar. Rick Wakeman created the memorable piano section in the middle of this classic and it has to be said that Downes pulled off his own interpretation of those parts with great skill and brio. In 2022 it has to be said that Downes was rather rusty and a rather weaker link in the Yes chain back then, but it is pleasing to report that he was faultless and on top form this time in 2024. Indeed, it has to be remembered that in June 2022 we witnessed a few errors in that warmup gig (not that it bothered the crowd much such was their delight in seeing their heroes so close to home) but it was the band’s first gig in about three years due to Covid lockdown, so it was understandable. In 2024 the quality of the performances across the whole band was impeccable all night. This is a very well drilled outfit who clearly still enjoy playing these songs.

Geoff Downes at The Wharf - Tavistock - April 2024

Cut from the Stars is the only song played from Yes’s most recent studio album Mirror to the Sky and it stands comparison pretty well with the much more celebrated songs on the set list. However, let’s be honest most people are here to hear the old songs and the newer material pales in comparison to such classics. Yes long ago stopped being ‘progressive’ and have fallen back on their impressive back catalogue for their tours as an iconic ‘Prog’ band… but what a back catalogue to rely upon! Davison explains that this new song was inspired by the dark skies one can see in areas, like nearby Dartmoor, where there is little or no light pollution, in a country which this American singer is pleased to say he now calls home. The main set finishes rather unusually with an extended medley of parts from Tales from Topographic Oceans, featuring a wonderful acoustic interlude Leaves of Grass. Despite this being an iconic album, this was one section of the gig that may need polishing up before the main tour which commences in Europe soon as the links did not always seem to quite work… and there was also the feeling that you were just getting into a fave part of the album, and then they moved on – such is the nature of medleys. In general, the crowd loved hearing parts of this classic (but also a little divisive) album even in truncated form, and the response was ecstatic at the end.

Billy Sherwood & Jay Schellen at The Wharf - Tavistock - April 2024

Yes returned and played two stone cold classics in the inevitable and joyous Roundabout and the truly epic Starship Trooper, written all those years ago in the Devon countryside, showcasing Sherwood’s exemplary bass playing. Two years ago, our TPA review speculated that ‘The Night Yes played The Wharf in Tavistock’ would go down in the history of that fine venue as one of its most notable and most memorable nights – what was most unexpected is that Yes would repeat their surprise ‘warm-up’ gig less than two years later! This gig will similarly live long in the memory of those witnessed an iconic and talented band on top form in such an intimate venue. What the show lacked in larger arena visuals, not possible in the small space, was more than made up by the proximity to the band and the special connection between band and audience.

Next time Yes arrange a major tour I suspect many West Country Yes fans will keep their powder dry in the hope Yes pull off a hat-trick of intimate warm up gigs in their new spiritual home. If you can go to see them on their European and UK tour it is worth getting going – do not expect anything new or edgy – this is just a fine live band playing some of the best progressive rock ever written in that ‘Golden era’.

Yes at The Wharf -Tavistock - April 2024

Photos: Matthew North Music (used with permission) || CLICK HERE to view Photo Gallery on TPA

Machine Messiah
It Will be a Good Day (The River)
Going for the One
I’ve Seen All Good People
America (Instrumental Version)
Time and a Word
Don’t Kill the Whale
Turn of the Century
South Side of the Sky
Cut from the Stars
Tales from Topographic Oceans Medley including excerpts from:
– The Revealing Science of God
– The Remembering
– The Ancient (including ‘Leaves of Grass’)
– Ritual
~ Encore:
Starship Trooper

Steve Howe – Electric & Acoustic Guitars, Mandolin, Backing Vocals
Jon Davison – Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Electronic Drum Pad, Additional Percussion & Tambourine
Geoff Downes – Keyboards
Billy Sherwood – Bass Guitar, Backing Vocals
Jay Schellen – Drums & Percussion

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