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Fragile, At The Spirit of 66, Verviers, November 11th 2000

By Pierre Romainville (literal english translation by Sue Tugwell)

Fragile have long held the ambition to a date in Europe and in November this year they finally achieved it by playing at "The Spirit of 66" in Verviers, Belgium. Obviously it was an incredibly exciting day for the band but what did those who went to see it make of it? Pierre Romainville very kindly sent us a lengthy review in French which Sue Tugwell has very bravely translated into literal English for us (Thanks Sue, Jon does owe you a drink!). We apologise to Pierre if the translation doesn't quite reflect the literary work of genius that his original review undoubtedly was but it definitely gives you a revealing set of glimpses into the night . . .

 
Fragile on stage At The Spirit of 66 - Pictures by Pierre Romainville
 

 
 

You can read Pierre's original review in French and see some more of his great pictures from the night here.

"Isn't it an unattainable challenge?" 

Firstly, is it wise to play as Yes, when Yes are still playing? How can you play as Yes without Jon Anderson whose distinctive tone of voice remains the trademark of Yes music? Isn't it an unattainable challenge for musicians, who are amateurs, however gifted they may be, to dare to throw themselves into scores as complex as those composed by virtuosos, like Yes.

What version of Yes are these gentlemen of Fragile going to present to us, the Yes of the great era or that of post 90125, who I never understood what he was doing there sadly let themselves go metallic? (There, I've given the game away, I must pay attention). One might as well say that these are not existential questions which were missing when arriving this evening in our favourite temple. With all the fear often linked to the fundamental questions, afraid of being disappointed. I had hardly got in and I was reassured by our "High Priest" (Francis). "You'll see these blokes are up to it, the sound check was impressive" he assured me without even asking him. Even so I was still afraid. I had already been so moved by the Re-genesis concert that was also held here in September that……. Well you know the saying "the higher you fall, the more you hurt yourself".

Going back to my temporary post (the balcony from where I often take some photos) I let myself greet the band as they were putting up with Francis' flannel. The first impression was positive, which augured well for good things in the type of music chosen. These people were the most charming, smiling, nice - to the point that I had to introduce myself to the whole group in the most pure British style. Those who come from England are astounded by the fact that I came from Namur. Really well brought up people. I then knew which period of Yes they were going to play for us - the good one.

At 10:30pm no doubt to make it more London-like Francis' smoke machine belched out such a fog that you could no longer see the back of the stage, good job there were no decent smoke alarms about. We tackle the only two pompous minutes of the evening - Stravinsky on a tape while the musicians get into position. Good, let's go. Oh no, how pompous, there's also the "20th Century Fox" theme which Francis plays us every time at the end of concerts. They begin with "Cinema". I'll admit it straight away (the rest will only be more believable) my first impression is mixed. First this is a piece of 90125 (you've understood). Then "Siberian Khatru" from "Close to the Edge". The first guitar riffs, the keyboard which follows, the bass which seems to be playing something else, the drums which glues the whole thing, the little skipping rhythms and, and, grandiose ….. the Vocals!!! This is where I melt. Then to finish me off, the voice of Jon Anderson (sorry, Steve) which takes off from the chorus like unreal. The first shiver, the first damp eye, I now know that I was right to come (and can see myself again in the attic room of my youth in 1974 asking myself which fool with the voice of P…. erm of femininity had been able to compose such a hare brained thing). Today, this music makes me cry with joy which owes nothing to nostalgia, I swear, it is just its total sensitivity which brings the joy. I once said that Genesis were my Beethoven and Yes were my Mozart. One is not better than the other. Today it's Mozart (end of digression).

 

 

 

Steve Weaves His Magic!
 

Jon plays the bass as if it's easy . . .

 

. . . and Robert hits the bullseye!

"The Time Machine Is Launched!" 

The time machine is launched and I get down from my seat to follow the "mass" more closely. "All good People" (1971 - Yes Album) and "Time and a Word" (1970), two songs marked with cheerfulness. The vocals are marvellous and the musical interpretation perfect. They take the trouble to reproduce the original sounds. From the stage there begins to give off a spirit of an uncontrollable impression of "joie de vivre" - this music is anything but gloomy. And its technical difficulty (you have to see them play) doesn't prevent the musicians from making us understand the pleasure they get from being there, to play for us, to make us appreciate it. This sensation will become more pronounced throughout the concert ending with the atmosphere of schoolboys in a playground.

"Heart of the Sunrise" (Fragile 1971); a piece credited to Chris Squire and Bill Bruford for the impressive rhythmic introduction and then to Jon Anderson for his part, sung with a melodic beauty which could move you to tears. It's there that the vocal majesty of Anderson is fundamental and Steve now, this is truly Anderson? Carney. What purity, I didn't ask them if they played in the same key as the original, but it seemed like it to me (yes we do - Jon B). they were tremendous. Jon Bastable plays the bass as if it's easy (with rather a less heavy sound than Chris Squire, which I didn't dislike). So I tell you Jon plays with a more clean sound, refined and this is normal since this evening's Yes has two guitarists (Robert Illes and Tom Dawe) which pads out the overall sound and makes certain more difficult Steve Howe parts possible. At this Robert Illes hits the bull's-eye at every stroke and in all the styles. Like "the Master" Howe, his sharp guitar is put down on a stand which allows him to play without having to rely on his Stratofender.

Yes, the music of Yes is made this way….. it would be easier to play it with18 musicians!!! Mitch Harwood on the drums plays more in the register of Bruford than White. More feel, flow and more sensitive, never a massacre (but not Bruford with his stupid electronic toms, the real one when he was playing on real skins).

They announce "Owner of a Lonely Heart" from 90125 (1983). A bad moment to get through, I tell myself? Well, no!! Although since the start they scrupulously followed the original score, here, oh what a wonderful surprise they play for us their "Owner". On a much less heavy tempo, less aggressive, more balance. In the middle there was a seductive guitar solo which Mr Slowhand himself would not have disowned. When I told them afterwards that they were playing like Clapton, they didn't deny it. Well it's the best version of "Owner" that I've heard.

Guitar solo with Robert who gave us an imitation "Mood for a Day" (Fragile - 1971) entertaining and showing his technique. And then arrived, without doubt, the greatest moment of the evening "Awaken" (going for the One - 1977). A piece cited by many as the most representative of Yes. A justified title. This is of an inexpressible beauty. Gonzalo Carreras on the keyboards, up until now rather unobtrusive, truly comes onto the stage. I must say that this is utterly complete great Wakeman. As great as he had ever been until Anderson kicked him out. Sacred Gonzalo, never short of a wink of his eye or a smile. The audience is over the moon, really the intensity is enormous. One regret, they short-circuit the finale to melt into "and You and I" (Close to the Edge - 1972). A piece of bravery by the singer who impresses me more and more.

End of part 1.

Mitch, more Bruford than White?
 

"They Are Giants!" 

Francis, you were right, they are giants. Next part, which consists of a long medley, intercut with solos like their glorious elders did it (I think he means Yes). Long Distance Runnaround, the Fish, Gates of Delerium, Soon, Hearts, Revealing Science of God, Ritual, Yours is no Disgrace. All the pieces are not played whole, but all with equal quality.

Take what I've told you about the first part, add to it a surplus of good mood, a sense of humour, a bit of madness (not too much) and you will immediately understand the state of grace into which the audience is plunged. Have I told you there were a good 100 people there - good - that is not many, too few. But let's not be controversial, it doesn't do any good to always repeat the same thing. Paradise for 450 francs, that obviously doesn't interest many people !!?!! It becomes commonplace to say that the sound of the spirit is good. Even so let's repeat that once again, the sound of the spirit is very good and not too loud, just loud enough. It's a pleasure to leave the concert without your ears ringing. It's a treat to distinguish each instrument and for them not to be in a foul, aggressive jumble. It's a joy that this music doesn't need a screaming profusion of megawatts to impose its power on the audience. As still said, "well done Francisse Geronne". What else can I tell you, that the more the show went on, the more our friend Gonzalo stood out on the keyboards. A great keyboard player, that one, inversely proportionate to his height. I must tell you that he played with Galadreil and then with Oak. Yet what simplicity, what kindness, that is what characterises the group in its entirety - ruins nothing.

To cap it all, during the musicians introductions, each one had a little joke in their own way. Jethro Tull for Robert, Genesis (Cinema Show) for Gonzalo, Eric Burdon for Mitch (after all, he did play with him for four years), Led Zep for Tom, Squire for Jon (parallels) and Genesis (Dancing with …..) for Steve. These are men of culture.

Encore, we didn't have to force them too much. Starship Trooper and Roundabout, magnificent, before ending with a majestic and engrossing keyboard piece "The Meeting" taken from the album ABWH - 1989.

If you go back to my questions at the beginning, Yes, you must play this Yes, like one still plays Mozart! Yes, it can be played without Jon Anderson, because Steve is there. Yes, it is possible to play these impressive scores, they've proved it. Yes, they have played the playlist that they had to, the one that will stay in posterity, the one through which Yes will have definitely marked the history of music. We leave them with regret after hearty congratulations and hugging and kissing, it is nearly 3 in the morning. Even better, they have promised to return and they have even promised (mostly to Jean Marc who was on the point of having a fit) to play the whole of "Awaken" next time. If this was a trick to make us come back, it wasn't necessary. When they want to, we'll be there. Don't hesitate to contact their website. I am sure that they will appreciate your encouragement and (as I am interested) that they will come back even quicker.

Pierre Romainville

A Great Keyboard Player . . .

. . . and the next Jimmy Page?

You can't see them but the band tell me that the audience were a big part of the show too!
 
 
 

You can read Pierre's original review in French and see some more of his great pictures from the night here.

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