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After 46 years, Yes is anything but "Fragile"

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

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Yes was on the short list for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year but didn't make the cut.

You won't find any of the veteran British progressive rock group's members grousing about the slight, however.

"I sleep OK either way," guitarist Steve Howe says with a laugh. "Those kinds of things...Obviously I wanted to win Top Guitarist and I wanted us to get a gold album and I'm flattered that we did far more than that. We've had so much great success to be happy about and grateful for. So (the Rock Hall) is just another are that will deal with itself if and when."

Bassist Chris Squire, the only constant in Yes' lineup since its formation in 1968, adds that, "In some ways I knew the way it worked. Many of the other people who were on that short list with us had been nominated before, and I figured that unless you're in Nirvana you're not going to get in the first year, so there you go.

"I'm not too disappointed. I'm sure it'll come up again."

And Yes certainly has plenty to keep it occupied until that does.

This year, in fact, not only marks the 45th anniversary of the group's self-titled debut but also finds Yes mining both its present and its past. The latter comes in the form of a summer tour that continues a theme Yes began last year of playing some of its classic albums in their entireties. This time around the group is reprising 1972's "Close to the Edge" with it's side-long, nearly 19-minute title track, as well as 1971's "Fragile."

"The album shows, as we call them, really appealed to me," says Howe, 67, who's served two tenures with Yes and also formed the band Asia in 1982. "We talked at length and disagreed, really, about whether or not you can do this. The delicacy of any of the music that Yes plays has always been challenging on stage. But we went out last year with the three albums and it worked and it was very successful.

"And I like it because we are very much an 'album' band. Any of the singles have been accidental, almost. So to play (the albums), I think, is a truer representation of what Yes are than even just playing a bunch of individual songs."

"Fragile," meanwhile, presents its own challenges for a live presentation. The album, Yes' fourth overall, contains the group's first big hit, "Roundabout," as well as staples such as "Heart of the Sunrise" and "Long Distance Runaround." But its tracks are tied together by short musical segues, some as short as 35 seconds ("Five Per Cent For Nothing") and some of which have never been played in concert. That makes it a tricky proposition -- which Howe says makes it all the more attractive to attempt.

"We always knew that 'Fragile' would be something we'd have to try," he notes. "It's an experiment because of the way the music is on that album; how close can we get to those particular moods is going to be our first challenge. I'm a bit more obsessive about this concept because I like the mood of the records. Some will say it changes a bit when we play it on stage, but I'm actually looking for a little bit of that taste, that we were so good at in delivering the music live."

While it's revisiting its past glories, Yes also has new music for fans this year. The group releases "Heaven & Earth" on July 22, following up 2011's "Fly From Here." The eight-track set was produced by Roy Thomas Baker, a rock icon who previously worked with Yes on an aborted late 70s project, and it marks the recording debut of current frontman Jon Davison, who joined the group in 2012 to replace an ailing Benoit David (who in turn had stepped in for original singer Jon Anderson.

It mixes lengthy opuses such as "Believe Again," "Light of Ages" and the jazzy "Subway Walls" with more compact fare like "It Was All We Knew" and "In A World of Our Own" and is, according to Squire, "pretty well song-based in many ways" rather than conceptual. "It's definitely got the Yes stamp of arrangement on the album, there's no doubt about that," adds the bassist.

Howe adds that, "There was kind of a new twist to this album. With the better tracks we had, we could see they were expressive of the writing teams that had got collaborated. It is diverse, and it's not like (2011's) 'Fly From Here' It's got a different kind of flavor to it."

Davison, who was previously with the bands Glass Hammer and Sky Cries Mary, makes a strong mark on the set, writing one song ("Light of Ages") himself and collaborating on six of the other tracks. "The way Yes works is when we have a new member come in, as in Jon Davison, it's appropriate that we see what differences we can get out of a new contributing member in order to keep Yes interesting," Squire, 66, says.

"Jon's done a pretty good job. He worked wtih the other four of us on a couple of tracks each, and we've come together at the end of the album with some very strong music."

"Heaven & Earth" is, of course, taking a back set this summer to "Fragile" and "Close to the Edge," but Howe and Squire are confident the new album will get its due. And they feel it's a hopeful sign that this edition of Yes -- the group's 13th lineup overall -- will be productive.

"Honestly, I'm really more interested in playing the new material, and that's really always been Yes' way of working," Squire notes. "I've always been a great believer that you have to keep producing new things in order to keep life interesting not only for ourselves but for the audience as well.

"That's really always been our principle and way of working. So presumably there'll be even more new music in the future."

Yes and Syd Arthur

8 p.m. Tuesday, July 22

Meadow Brook Music Festival on the campus of Oakland University, Rochester Hills

Tickets are $39.50 and $39.50 pavilion, $25 lawn

Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com

Web Site: www.palacenet.com

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