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Concert Reviews:
Yes, Toto celebrate late members at Freedom Hill

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Sunday, August 16, 2015

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STERLING HEIGHTS -- The prospect of Yes and Toto touring together this summer was interesting enough on a musical basis. It didn't need tragedy to make it moreso.

But the fact that both bands lost bass players this year -- Yes co-founder Chris Squire on June 27 to cancer, Toto`s Mike Porcaro on March 15 after a long battle with ALS -- gave the two acts' performances on Saturday night, Aug. 15, at the Freedom Hill Amphitheatre an emotional heft that made the show as much memorial as concert but also a living testimony and celebration to the music both men made.

Neither group soft-pedaled the circumstances. At the outset of Toto's set, guitarist Steve Lukather noted that both had bands had "been through a lot, dedicating the show "to Mikey and Chris" ad noting that "We're keeping their whole spirit alive...I like to think they're looking down on us, having a drink." Toto, with original bassist David Hungate back in the fold, later dedicated the suite-like, Yes-inspired song "Great Expectations" from its latest album, "Toto XIV," to Squire.

Yes, meanwhile, started its set with Squire's Rickenbacker bass spotlighted at center stage while images of him cycled on a video screen accompanied by the group's song "Onward." And two songs in, frontman Jon Davison led the crowd in a chant of, "We love you Chris Squire. You will never be forgotten."

None of this was maudlin, mind you. The salutes were genuine and heartfelt -- by the Freedom Hill crowd as well as the bands -- and while they certainly created a meaningful context for the night they did not detract from the business at hand, either.

With longtime cohort and Squire friend Billy Sherwood taking over the bass spot, Yes presented a particularly interesting selection of songs during its 90 minutes onstage. After a couple of years of playing full albums during its shows, Yes returned to a song-oriented set that featured some of the slightest material in its 47-year canon, including the opening "Don't Kill the Whale" and "Tempus Fugit." And it gave a Yes fan pause to realize during an exemplary performance of 1970's "Time and a Word" that none of the five musicians on stage played on its original recording.

Yes did come loaded with favorites, too, and guitarist Steve Howe was without question the star of the night, whether it was his acoustic showcase "The Clap" or his virtuoistic soloing on Yes' rendition of Simon & Garfunkel`s "America," "I've Seen All Good People" and "Siberian Khatru." Battling a sound mix that was well-balanced but punchless, the group nevertheless managed to pull off solid renditions of "Roundabout" and "Starship Trooper," and Davison remained a fine fill-in for founding frontman Jon Anderson, deftly capturing his vocal nuances and hippie/fairly-like mannerisms. Only 983's "Owner of a Lonely Heart" -- Yes' sole No. 1 hit -- fell flat, especially in the context of the rest of the material.

Toto, meanwhile, had plenty of polish and energy as well as substantive musicianship -- something that's often eclipsed by the group's pop successes. But on Saturday the nine-member ensemble's precision was evident throughout the course of its 14-song set, which featured muscled-up versions of hits such as "I'll Supply the Love," "Georgy Porgy" and "Rosanna" alongside meatier fare like "Hydra," "Never Enough" and "On the Run." And the polyrhythmic "Africa" brought Toto's show to a strong close with Lenny Castro's percussion solo and singer Joseph Williams leading the call--and-response that left fans humming the tune well after the group left the stage.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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