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Prog rock rules at Yestival DTE stop
INDEPENDENCE TOWNSHIP -- “Here’s a blast from the past,” Carl Palmer announced early during his opening set Thursday, Aug. 17, at the DTE Energy Music Theatre.
And that, of course, was exactly what the Yestival crowd had come to hear.
Though Todd Rundgren did have some new music to play during his hour-long middle set, the show was designed primarily to celebrate prog rock’s past, whether it was headliner and namesake Yes’ first 10 albums or Palmer’s ELP Legacy from his days in Emerson, Lake & Palmer. The appeal was, sadly, somewhat limited -- a paltry 3,000 or so turned out to rock with the three veteran acts on Thursday -- but the combination did make a potent statement about enduring musicality and, via Rundgren, about how wide a territory the progressive rock umbrella, with its intricate compositions and virtuosic playing, can cover.
Related: Yes celebrates prog rock with Yestival touring package
All-star drummer Palmer had just half an hour to make his point, but he and his ELP Legacy trio did so in fine form, bashing through favorites such as interpretations of Aaron Copland’s “Hoedown” and “Fanfare For The Common Man” as well as “Karn Evil 9’s” “welcome back my friends...” movement -- bolstered by vintage video material. Palmer turned the instrumental “Lucky Man” into a tribute to Greg Lake, who passed away during December, and worked a truncated version of his usually epic drum solo into “Fanfare...”
Related: Carl Palmer at DTE, 5 Things To Know
Best of all, Palmer promised he’d be back this fall, good news indeed for those who weren’t quite satisfied with Thursday’s short set.
Prog is only part of Rundgren’s make-up, of course, but the rock auteur gamely sampled that side of his catalog with a portion of his Utopia maelstrom “The Icon” and also subtly implied a link between prog and EDM on newer songs such as “Come,” “Truth” and “Sir Reality” -- while at the start of the upbeat “Party Liquor” he made a case that “prog fans can dance, too.” Sporting shades and, initially, a suit and tie, Rundgren dug deep into his canon for much of the hour-long set but carried it off thanks to his own energy and irreverent attitude as well as the crack playing of a six-piece band that featured longtime cohorts Kasim Sultan on bass and Prairie Prince on drums.
Rundgren finished strong, too, with Utopia’s “One World” and his early 70s favorites “Hello It’s Me” and “Just One Victory.” Like Palmer, he too promised that “it won’t be the last time” we see him this year.
Related: Todd Rundgren at DTE, 5 Things To Know
Yes, unfortunately, wound up plowed under by circumstance as well as the conceptual weight of its 90-minute set. Following the energetic expositions of Palmer and Rundgren wasn’t easy, and it didn’t help that problems with Billy Sherwood’s bass kept the group from launching immediately after its taped orchestral overture -- leaving the other members to noodle around on their instruments and singer Jon Davison to make cowbell jokes while waiting for the repair.
Related: See more photos from the show
The sextet never regained momentum after that, with other problems surfacing throughout the early part of the show and guitarist Steve Howe even acknowledging instruments “that should have been checked” before the band hit the stage. And Yes’ ambitious concept for the show, playing a song from each of the group’s first 10 albums, proved to be something of an undoing due to some ponderous selections from the catalog (“Survival,” “South Side Of The Sky,” “Soon”) and not choosing the best material from latter albums such as “Tormato” (“Don’t Kill The Whale”) and “Drama” (“Machine Messiah”).
Howe, Davison and Sherwood did redeem tracks such as “Leaves Of Green” and “Madrigal” with stripped-down, acoustic arrangements, and Howe -- sporting an Abraham Lincoln-style beard and lony pontyail -- was his brilliant self throughout the 12-song set, even adding some muscle to “Don’t Kill The Whale” with an extended solo at the end. Davison, meanwhile, remained a capable singer of original frontman Jon Anderson’s parts, while Howe’s son Dylan was a winning addition on the second drum kit, taking on a few songs himself and working in tandem with Alan White on others.
“Roundabout” brought Yes’ show, and Yestival, to a winning close, but not before the headliner, unwittingly playing gracious host, ceded this night to its tourmates.
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