|Central Theatre - Chatham||14 May 2003||by Steve Carney|
I must declare an interest from the start. As vocalist of the UK's Yes tribute band Fragile (www.yestribute.com) my desire to see Rick in action was only equalled by a curiosity as to developments in the vocal department! Damian's departure was the source of much speculation on the night, but Rick rightly made only minor reference to the challenge posed by Damian's absence. So how did things pan out?
Well, firstly the band as a whole played very well and Rick was in fine form. The stage set up afforded the crowd at this intimate venue an excellent opportunity to see Rick in action close up. The band played with a strong sense of humour and the feeling was more of a 'rock club' date than a theatre. Having said that, the back projection and some other nice visuals provided some appropriate theatrical moments.
The replacement of Damian by Ashley inevitably meant a change in set content, but the evening did not suffer from a reliance on older favourites and the selections performed from 'Out There' were probably the strongest on the CD.
How did Ashley fair? Well in short, brilliant! I have to express a prejudice here, I never warmed to Damian's voice and always found it a tad too 'Les Mis' for my liking. Technically he was faultless, and his control and reach were wonderful. However, his tone lies somewhere between operatic and cod-rock, a kind of David Coverdale sings Tolkien. Given that to some extent 'Out There' appears to have been written around and with Damian's voice in mind, Ashley had a tough job on his hand. The good news is that he delivered, Rick and the guys affording him the chance to warm up with 'Journey' before tackling anything from the new recording. As a vocalist, I fully appreciate how difficult it is to sing with a lyric sheet. It impinges upon your performance and is no fun full stop! In the circumstances Ashley coped really well, and more so given the very complex structure of the vocal arrangements that feature on 'Out There'. As the evening went on he grew stronger, and his slightly 'dazed and confused' stage persona lent a real warmth to the show!. By the end everyone was of the view that Ashley had delivered, and how on earth he dropped in with so little notice and virtually no preparation is remarkable. Thanks to Rick for having the wisdom to call in the cavalry.
Other people have remarked on the set content at length so I won't comment on each title. However, I have to mention 'Starship Trooper' not least because yes, I am a Yes fan of 30 years, and also yes, because I sing it fairly regularly! In my view Ashley did a fine job given that the tonality and reach of his voice is entirely different to Jon's. In all the alternative versions of 'Starship' I have heard there is a tendency for vocalists to sing it in the style of 'Europe' ('a la' The Final Countdown). Rick's reworking enables a bit of wigging out and I find it interesting that he enjoys performing this Yes song in preference to others (mind you, it is one of the more simpler pieces!). The number gave Ant and Lee a chance to shine and I liked the references to 'Heart Of The Sunrise' dropped in here and there!
All in all, a great night, and it was lovely to speak with Rick at the end of the evening and pass on a copy of Fragile's 'Live in Helsinki' CD. Rick was as gracious as ever and people really appreciate the time he gives to them. He sets a standard for others to follow where professionalism and humanity are concerned. Looking forward to seeing you on this summer's Yes dates Rick, and keep on with your solo and NERE ventures.