Yes guitarist Steve Howe is hoping the group’s current “triple header” tour, during which the prog-rock vets are playing three of their ’70s albums in their entirety, is a harbinger of things to come.
“I’ve been saying for a long time that it’s about time we didn’t just go out and play songs,” Howe tells Billboard. “Songs are nice. I love the songs, but it’s about time we had a bit more concept around it, and doing albums really appealed to me. So they finally listened and got on board, and everybody seems to like it. I mean, after all, we are an album band, for goodness’ sake! I hope this is where we’ve just started, and another time it’ll be ‘Drama,’ ‘Fragile’ and something else. We could mix the bag, change it around, keep one in, throw two out. I hope it’s the way we go forward.”
Yes is currently playing 1971’s “The Yes Album,” 1972’s “Close to the Edge” and 1977’s “Going For the One” front to back during its shows, with the “Fragile” hit “Roundabout” as an encore. Howe says the three albums were chosen somewhat randomly, although they do fit a criteria Yes set when it decided on the concept. “We wanted an easy time and a hard time — in other words, we wanted some challenges to rise to make the three-album concept work,” Howe explains. “So ‘The Yes Album’ is kind of the easy stuff because we’ve played a lot of it pretty regularly. And the challenges were bringing back ‘Close to the Edge, which wasn’t too tricky, and then doing ‘Going For the One’ really did give us some challenges because ‘Turn of the Century,’ ‘Going For the One’ (the song), ‘Parallels,’ those are formidable arrangements and (songs) we haven’t done for a long time. We seem to have radically upped the game.”
The fun of revisiting the past isn’t keeping Yes from thinking about something new, however. Though Howe says “there’s no clear-cut plan yet,” he acknowledges that there’s a desire to follow-up 2011’s “Fly From Here” with what will be Yes’ first album with its latest singer, Jon Davison.
“There’s been talk and it’s going around in circles and we’re not really able to say much about it yet,” the guitarist explains. “I’m happy to say I’ve always got music backed up, and in January (and) February I had time to do more of that with some fresh ideas and getting some demos going. Some of it’s for my solo work, some of it’s for Yes, potentially, so we’ll see what transpires.”
Yes’ tour continues through April 30, finishing with eight nine dates in South America, then resumes July 7 in Saratoga for another nearly six-week North American run. Howe is also preparing for his Cross Styles Summer Camp during August in Big Indian, N.Y., but one thing that’s not on his plate anymore is Asia. He announced his amicable departure from the group (which still includes current Yes keyboardist Geoff Downes) in January, and while Asia is soldiering on with new guitarist Sam Coulson — with plans to make a new album later this year — Howe is looking forward to having a little more time to his other endeavors.
“It wasn’t only to build more space for Yes,” Howe explains. “I loved playing in Asia, but I’d done four and was coming around to five years of being in both bands, and I was having to sacrifice my trio work and my solo guitar work so much that I just couldn’t go through that any longer. It wasn’t an easy decision, but it was what I needed to do.”