Yes, who plays Washington’s Warner Theatre this Tuesday at 8 p.m., is a progressive rock band. That’s not a comment on their politics, though, as chronicled in a cover story in the Washington Post Magazine last year, political operatives have played a late, unusual role in the band’s storied, four-decade-plus history. Instead, progressive rock refers to a style of music that had its heyday in the 1970s and is now regarded as the sea-monkey chapter of rock. Think bold, symphonic approaches and ever-changing time signatures. Think the aural equivalent of the theory of relativity. Think half-armadillo, half-tank creatures on album covers and keyboard players in capes.
Back to the political operatives: A group called Voices for Yes was formed last year because Yes has continually failed to make it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in Cleveland, which is thought by many to have an uneasy relationship with progressive rock. (For the Hall, prog seems to be akin to stepping out in a pair of Foster Grants.) Of the genre’s many stalwarts, only Genesis and Rush have made it in. So Yes fanatic John Brabender, the top strategist during Rick Santorum’s 2012 presidential run, put together a team that included Tad Devine, senior strategist to Al Gore and John Kerry’s presidential runs; Leslie Gromis Baker, chief of staff for Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett; Sara Fagen, White House political director for George W. Bush; and Steve Capus, who was head of NBC News for eight years.
The group worked its own version of a Washington political campaign to make the case for Yes’s induction—giving interviews, working social media, putting together a video that touted the band’s credentials. But when the Hall’s induction announcements were made last December, Yes got the no vote once again. Instead, Nirvana, Linda Ronstadt, Cat Stevens, Peter Gabriel, Hall and Oates, and Kiss got the nod. Kiss was another band whose diehard fans had loudly cried foul over the band’s exclusion. In recent years, Kiss began publicly affecting indifference, or downright hostility, toward the Hall. In 2012 bassist Gene Simmons told Rolling Stone Magazine that he had a solution to the problem. “We’ll just buy it and fire everybody,” he said.
Brabender says Voices for Yes is still active, though the group plans to play a more low-key role this year. Meanwhile, Yes delivers their 21st studio album later this month with “Heaven and Earth,” their first with vocalist Jon Davison, who is the second replacement for longtime singer Jon Anderson. If voting members of the Hall give a listen, it’s not likely to help the band’s cause. The album is marked by too many barely mid-tempo songs as distinct as clouds, keyboard sounds befitting self-help audio books, and wing-and-a-prayer-type lyrics about. . .a wing and a prayer. This is the kind of lite rock that should make Air Supply nervous.
The good news is, on Yes’s current tour, they’re playing two masterwork albums in full: “Fragile” and “Close to the Edge,” which sound today as transcendent and boundless as they did when they were released back in the early 1970s. True, the lineup changes over the years have been as easy to keep up with as the Redskins’ coaching staff. But musician by musician, Yes has generally been like “The A Team” of rock: masters of their domains. And these days, Yes shows little signs of fading away. In fact, in an interview last September with the Post, bassist Chris Squire, the only Yes member to play on every album, suggested a longevity that no other rock band has even dreamed of.
“It’s very possible that there could be a Yes in 100 years from now,” Squire said. “I’m sure I won’t be in it at that point. But in a way, Yes has always been in existence to honor its music, from the beginning until the present day, so I’ve started to look upon the Yes idea that it’s more like a city symphony orchestra that could still, you know, be around in a couple hundred years.” Squire considered that idea for a moment, and then said with a laugh, “Assuming we all are.”