August 17, 2015 Yes & Toto Make Memories Barclays Center Brooklyn, NY 8-11-15
With extensive histories, iconic songs, legions of fans and both bands suffering the losses of key members this year, Toto and Yes packed up their tour buses and headed out on the road for a twenty-six date co-headlining tour of North America. Beginning in Connecticut in early August and culminating with a closing show in Vancouver in mid-September, this pairing was a slam dunk for some fans with others hesitant about the combination. Yes, Prog Rock pioneers who sport a forty-five year history, was formed by Vocalist Jon Anderson and Bassist Chris Squire in 1968. Prolific on the tour circuit, Yes dazzles with their recognizable brand of complex instrumental and vocal arrangements. With twenty-one studio albums to their credit, the band’s infrastructure sustained a major blow when Squire passed away of leukemia on June 27th.
Toto, more elusive and not having logged in quite the number of decades playing live as their counterparts on this tour, have a formidable history, returning to the Billboard 200 after a twenty-five year hiatus. Toto XIV is the first studio album in nearly ten years and debuted on the 200 chart at a healthy number 98. The last time they charted was in 1990 with their greatest hits album Past to Present. On March 15th, Toto sustained a hit to their band when longtime bassist, Mike Porcaro, died of ALS, also known of Lou Gehrig’s disease.
On the hot Summer night of Tuesday August 11th, the tour rolled into the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, their only New York stop and the fourth date into the circuit. The top seats at the 200 level were closed off and dark, providing a more intimate feel to the cavernous venue, which filled up nicely with a slightly older demographic. Some of the Baby-Boomers were Yes fans. Some were Toto fans. Many were toting their younger teenage offspring. The fan bases of the bands do not necessarily overlap, but the appreciation shown to each put a spotlight on their professionalism and live performance skills. There were lots of fans created that evening.
Toto took the stage first, kicking off a hearty fifteen song set with the affable “Running Out of Time” from their latest release. Toto singer Joseph Williams is back for this tour and happily addressed the crowd, stating, “Hello New York! We don’t get out here often, so it’s nice to be here!” He also addressed the passing of Squire, noting the enormous loss. Original keyboardist, Steve Porcaro, and original bassist, David Hungate, brought fantastic energy to the expansive stage, having reunited with Toto and lending a feeling of familiarity. David Paich is also back on keyboards as well as Steve Lukather on guitars and Shannon Forrest on drums. The lineup featured an eclectic mix of both crowd favorites as well as new material, and both were received by the audience with enthusiasm.
Toto, having released a total of seventeen albums and sold over thirty-five million albums to date, have an impressive collection of hits to mine, and they did just that for this show. “I’ll Supply the Love,” “Hydra,” “Never Enough,” “Pamela” and new songs like “Great Expectations” and “Orphan” were memorable. With a highly choreographed stage light show that included white strobes as well as splashes of greens, yellows, and blues, the rafters right on down were awash with spectacular effects. A cover of the Jimi Hendrix Experience “Little Wing” was a stunning homage with their own spin added. “On the Run/ Goodbye Elenore” and “Without Your Love” were welcome additions to the lineup, but the must hear songs were the radio friendly favorites, easily recognizable from the beginning notes like “Georgy Porgy,” “Hold The Line,” “Rosanna” and of course, “Africa.” The band, which was inducted in to the Musicians Hall of Fame in 2009, left the crowd tired and happy following their performance that clearly could be label a Rock show, not a ballad set, as many ticket holders may have anticipated.
After a half hour intermission, which gave ample time to break down the mountains of drums and equipment that decorated the stage for the first set, a message on the video monitor requested that people “Please return to your seats.” As the idea caught on and people began streaming back from concession stands and the plethora of food court options that dotted the circular hallways of the Barclays Center, the opening notes of “Onward” began playing. The band had yet to hit the stage and the version was recorded, from their ninth studio album Tormato which was released in the Fall of 1978. It is the only song on the album that Anderson did not get a writing credit for, with the credit going to Squire. It was fitting that this song played as the video monitor was alive with images of Squire from recent to very early on. This tribute to one of the founding members was met with audience members singing along and wildly applauding by the end, obviously thankful to be able to pay respects and honor the life, career, and joy that he brought to their lives.
Soon after, “Firebird Suite” opened the live set, a common intro song and one that the fans stayed on their feet. Jon Davidson, the current lead singer who also sings for Tennessee band Glass Hammer, maintained his position at the center of the stage in a flowing green patterned tunic. His ethereal way on stage and flowy garments fit the aesthetic vibe of Yes, though his vocals felt slightly out of place without Squire’s deeper backup vocals to balance out the harmonies. The third in a line of lead singers for Yes, Davidson has been on the scene since 2011. Anderson left due to health reasons with Canadian singer Benoit David, more of a vocal powerhouse than Davidson, taking the helm from 2008-2011, and then disappearing amid talk of health issues.
Davidson addressed the crowd, asking them to help send Squire a message. “Repeat after me,” he said, “We love you, Chris Squire.” The audience did. “You will never be forgotten.” Again, the crowd complied. With glee, Davidson exclaimed, “I think he heard us!” Joined on stage by longtime members of the band; Steve Howe on guitar, Alan White on drums, Geoff Downes on keyboards, and Billy Sherwood on bass, Yes sounded strong on hits like “Tempus Fugit,” “Going For the One, “ Time and a Word” and “Clap.” Throwing in “America” brought cheers from the crowd. Howe, now 68, was energetic on the guitar, displaying his usual prowess, but a certain amount of vim. Normally very solitary and serious on stage, Howe seemed to enjoy himself and the crowd more than in recent tours. “I’ve Seen All the Good People,” “Siberian Khatru,” and the more radio friendly numbers “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” “Roundabout” and “Starship Trooper” rounded out the final hits of the night.
A heartfelt show was enjoyed by many, one with memories of band members past as well as newly discovered favorite performances rolled up into one Summer night in Brooklyn. A noticeably smaller crowd filed out than the one that entered a few hours earlier, the late hour dwindling the numbers to a small remaining bunch.