By Bobby Reed | Published November 2020
At first glance, it might seem that The Royal Affair Tour: Live From Las Vegas is an album only for hardcore Yes devotees. A spin of this excellent disc, however, reveals it to be a fine entry point for casual fans curious to know what the band sounds like today, more than 50 years after it was founded. At least 19 musicians have been members of Yes, and the lineup that played at the Las Vegas Hard Rock Hotel on July 26, 2019, was guitarist Steve Howe, vocalist Jon Davison, keyboardist Geoff Downes, bassist Billy Sherwood, drummer Alan White (a member since 1972) and supporting drummer Jay Schellen.
Over the past seven years of tours, Yes frequently has built set lists that include the performance of an album in its entirety, such as Fragile, Close To The Edge and Drama. But for the 2019 tour, the group took a different route, as reflected by the track listing here.
In addition to classic-rock radio staples like “Roundabout” and “I’ve Seen All Good People,” the band added a few twists to the set list, all of which worked splendidly. An epic, 11-minute rendition of Paul Simon’s “America” that folds in Howe’s composition “Southern Solo” proves that he remains just as agile as he was decades ago. John Lennon’s “Imagine” is delivered as a poignant vocal duet between Davison and John Lodge (one of the opening acts on the tour). Howe cleverly makes his guitar “sing” in a way that mimics Lennon’s famous vocal line, and the drums are courtesy of White, who played on the composer’s original 1971 recording.
The current members of Yes realize that comparisons to the group’s mid-’70s personnel are inevitable. Davison, gifted with an elastic tenor, can’t sing exactly like band co-founder Jon Anderson; Sherwood, capable of crafting an earth-rattling rumble, can’t play bass exactly like band co-founder Chris Squire (1948–2015). But neither Davison nor Sherwood is required to mimic their predecessors; their job is to honor the compositions. No one alive can swing like Count Basie, but that doesn’t prevent his namesake orchestra from making transcendent music. And the same is true for Yes.
Howe, who replaced Peter Banks as the group’s guitarist in 1970, remains the heart of the band. From the album’s opening track—an arrangement of Richie Havens’ “No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed” featuring Howe’s psychedelic-flavored, twangy quotes from Jerome Moross’ score to the 1958 film The Big Country—to the gravity-defying, intergalactic riffs on the closing track, “Starship Trooper,” the six-string wizard ensures that the 75-minute program remains authentically Yes.