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Concert Reviews:
Rock nostalgia reigns as Yes' Royal Affair Tour plays Meadow Brook

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

Posted: Thursday, July 4, 2019

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ROCHESTER HILLS -- Progressive rock, by its name, is usually about the future and forward motion.

But the Yes-led Royal Affair Tour on Monday night, July 3, at the Meadow Brook Amphitheatre focused on celebrating the past -- which, in truth, was exactly what the small (about a third of the 7,000 capacity) came for.

Across nearly four and a half hours the show's four acts recreated a fertile time from 1968 to the mid-80s, sounding not unlike an Album Oriented Rock radio playlist of yesteryear. The most recent song in anyone's set, in fact, was Asia's 1985 single "Go," while historic photos and video footage blew by on the video screen throughout the night.

Nevertheless, it was inspiring to see that time has not taken too great a toll on most of the musicians' skills -- particularly Steve Howe's still-nimble guitar playing during the Yes and Asia sets and Carl Palmer's mighty drumming with Asia and his own ELP Legacy. And it was a kick to see early shock rocker Arthur Brown resurface with Palmer's troupe -- still extravagantly costumed and face-painted as the group started the evening with the "Welcome back my friends..." segment of ELP's "Karn Evil 9" and also singing "Knife-Edge" and his own hit "Fire."

The Royal Affair appropriate took stock of those no longer with us as well. Palmer's whole ELP set, of course, is a tribute to his late bandmates Keith Emerson and Greg Lake, while Asia also paid tribute to those two during a performance of ELP's "Lucky Man," and to its own co-founder John Wetton with "The Smile Has Left Your Eyes." John Lodge saluted his late Moody Blues cohort Ray Thomas before "Legend of a Mind," and Yes gave bassist Chris Squire his propers with a dedication before "Onward."

Yes' encore of John Lennon's "Imagine," meanwhile, included some rare footage from the recording session that drummer Alan White participated in, along with George Harrison, during 1971.

The shows' give-them-what-they-want ethos did provide plenty of musical highlights. ELP Legacy's treatments of the group's Aaron Copland pieces "Hoedown" and "Fanfare For the Common Man" were invigorating, with guitar in place of Emerson's keyboards. Lodge -- whose band included Detroiters Jason Charboneau and Duffy King -- included the Lodge/Justin Hayward rarity "Saved By Music" amidst the Moody Blues favorites.

Well-credentialed Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal capably fronted Asia through a set that also included "Video Killed the Radio Star" from keyboardist Geoff Downes band the Buggles. But the group's performance really took off when Howe joined as "a special treat" for four final songs from its multi-platinum 1982 debut album, including the hits "Only Time Will Tell" and "Heat of the Moment."

Yes, meanwhile, celebrated the 50th anniversary of its first album with a kind of kitchen-sink setlist, tossing plenty of rarities, and oddities, into its hour and 50 minutes on stage -- opening with its rocking take of Richie Havens' "No Opportunity Necessary..." from its 1970 album "Time and A Word" and then tearing through "Tempus Fugit." The marquee moment was its longest, however -- the 22-minute epic "Gates of Delirium" from 1974's "Relayer" album, performed for the first time in 18 years, whose lengthy instrumental passage was delivered with a virtuosic precision that held up to the original.

Yes sent everyone home with more favorites -- "Roundabout" and "Starship Trooper," both featuring White, who only played on a few songs due to health issues. Nostalgia reigned in this Royal Affair, but it was a glorious kind of past that fully merited the celebration.

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