by Charles Imperatori and Tiz Hay
Fragile - More than capable of cutting the mustard!
The evening promised much for the discerning YES music enthusiast: a performance of Yes-music throughout the decades, whatever the style or the inclination of the band at any particular point in time. FRAGILE is what commonly passes under the term tribute band. There is a strongly held view suggesting tribute bands consist of obscure copyists desperate to grab the limelight by vicariously re-enacting someone elses successful career. A way of satisfying a desperate desire for success when talent or sheer good luck quite simply arent around to help. Nothing though is as clear cut as it might seem; its 45 years or so since the first rockers jigged about in their blue suede shoes, and the amount of repertoire amassed is now immense. However, if rock always lived for the day and indeed the future, what to do with the past?
The tribute band is a relatively new phenomenon. Primarily a way of satisfying the demands of legions of fans who quite simply arent satisfied with a performance by any chosen hero just once every so many years. Just look at the recent success of the British Yes tour; which saw many fans booking tickets for self, friends and family over and over again; proves that there is an unquenchable thirst for all things Yes. Musical performance isnt though just about satisfying consumerist needs; any classic song written by Yes over the years has a right to reveal itself to an audience. Here, bands like Fragile play a vital role because they introduce the western classical element of interpretation and, in doing so, they ensure that chosen golden moments in popular music stay alive forever. In this context, talk of lesser known musicians paying tribute to famous ones, to snatch a moment of glory reveals an all too fatuous view of music and the trappings of success; let the music play and speak for itself.
Having droned on about the merits/demerits of so called tribute bands, we come to the crux of the matter. What any Yes fan wants to know is if Fragile can actually deliver Yes-music on stage. Such healthy scepticism is easily justified by the sheer complexity of the Yes song-book and lets face it, at least as far as Britain is concerned, there arent any other similarly inclined acts. Anyway, the good news is that Fragile are more than capable of cutting the mustard, their set being a truly mouth watering 11-course Yes meal.
Soundscape track The Source from Yes album Open Your Eyes plus The Firebird Suite opened up with great pomp and ceremony, the latter being just like the good old days, and from then on we almost witnessed a miracle. As the 6-man Fragile ploughed their way through the set, it became immediately obvious that they werent just there for the free ride, to perform the music note for note. In their hands, the mechanical structure of each song was subtly tweaked by the strong individuality of the performers.
Steve Carney pictured with Tom Dawe
What about the voice, you may immediately enquire? Can there be anyone out there who could match Jon Andersons timeless, angelic vocal prowess? Steve Carney, lead singer with Fragile, matched quite easily Jons high pitched notes. Obviously, the tone and the accent is quite different, but Carneys vocal performance was quite simply stunning. As veterans of many progressive concerts and festivals, we must report having not encountered a great singer like him for many moons. His voice could be the envy of many a progressive band, and with the clever backing vocals by drummer Mitch Harwood, Fragile more or less matched Yess complex vocal harmonies - here a third voice would easily bridge the gap. Even a not so popular with the fans number like Rhythm of Love was vocally impressive as the words bounced backward and forward with the music.
Mitch Harwood - Clever Backing Vocals
One of Yess strong points has always been the ability to snap from gentle, pastoral tenderness straight into fast and furious aggression, the soloing flashing from point to point, and Fragile covered all that and managed to improvise here and there. Wisely, they chose to have two guitarists in the line up so that Steve Howes ample choice of multi-layered guitar sounds could be performed live. Oddly though where the two guitarists most amply succeeded was by turning Owner of a Lonely Heart into something more than the Yes version had on offer. With the song rapidly reaching its dramatic finale, a dual guitar improvisation stoked up the creative fires of the band, by now eager to increase the temperature of the venue.
Like Yes, Fragile could blow hot and cold, and like Yes they wanted the music to be heard for what it can give. Otherwise how could it be possible to explain the solo sets by Ruben Angel, a Venezuelan guitarist of elegant poise and eloquent fingering, who easily breezed through Mood For a Day, and the somewhat abstract musings of Robert McGinley performing on the keyboards a piece which seemed to lie somewhere in between Keith Emerson and The Enids Robert John Godfrey.
By now it was no-longer possible to talk about a tribute, and it was so fitting with their somewhat looser interpretation of the material that the concluding Starship Trooper floored the punters by gradually turning into a Southern Boogie stomp a` la Lynyrd Skynyrd then rapidly accelerating into a mad scrambling finale in true Blackfoot style.
Visually, the band engaged successfully aided by the frontmans theatrical arm movements keeping time with each vocal nuance, his attractive black dresscoat with matching trousers, and an uncanny resemblance to Jon Anderson circa early-1980s! The gig also served as an education for relative newcomers to Yes, with frequent commentary identifying the album source and year of release for each number about to be performed. Quite definitely a very good night out.
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