Walking into Kilbourn Hall for the first time, it was immediately clear that the venue, a relic of the roaring ‘20s, complete with gilded stone, beautiful wooden panelling, and a hint of the Venetian Renaissance, was perfect for the self-indulgence of a prog-rock concert.
I can think of nothing more suitable for Yes and Pink Floyd tribute concerts, 30 years too late.
Being one of the first to be seated, I did some people-watching as others trickled in. A group of boisterous middle-aged men shouted out for “Mike!”
You could tell a similar story about nearly any group there, for the audience was nearly entirely composed of middle-aged men sporting band t-shirts — you know the ones, with a list on the back of concerts in random mid-western towns — accompanied by their wives and friends. The theater was fully booked, and we students were seriously outnumbered.
Without delay, the lights dimmed and a cheesy recording announced the band and thanked us for attending Fringe Festival. While this introduction was less than awe-inspiring, as soon as the band walked out, you could tell we were about to hit peak dad-rock.
Going for the One, founded by the University’s own John Covach, is, according to the program, North America’s premiere Yes tribute band. The band definitely had the credentials, and I was fully prepared for them to break through any expectations that I had.
The band started with “Siberian Khatru,” the last song of the three-track album. What I was expecting was a flashy guitar riff and the thumping basslines that were the signature of Chris Squire — the late bass player of Yes.
Sadly, I was initially disappointed.
Don’t get me wrong, all of the performers were wonderful musicians. Yet, I have one major complaint about the concert: The lack of dynamism that I’d expect at a rock concert. I think I had to wait 15 minutes to see as much as a head-bang from the keyboard player.
James Warlick, the lead singer of the band, did his best to be the rocker, even briefly donning rose-tinted, Lennon-style glasses and a deep-cut button up. But even his energy appeared standoffish relative to the lack of it in the rest of the band.
Despite this, the band had musically meshed quite well by “And You and I,” their second song. Kovach gracefully played the songs opening harmonics, and the band beautifully developed the slow-building first movement of the piece. The three vocalists harmonized with few stumbles, certainly supporting the music, yet still with little energy.
Perhaps the main goal of a tribute band is what stood in the path of what I would consider to be an amazing concert. The band had clearly practized each note to precision. But, in their mission of perfectly replicating the band they love, they diminish their own ability to really rock.
I don’t mean that they should totally deconstruct the songs that they’re performing, but simply adding a little more personal flavor could go a long way in augmenting the energy of the performance. The one exception I would not wish this for is “Roundabout.” As it’s one of Yes’ most popular songs, any crowd would demand perfect replication, and I can’t argue with that. Their rendition was excellent, and was a perfect way to finish the set.
It wasn’t the end of my night, however. I came back an hour later to watch a performance of “The Dark Side of the Moon,” plus a few other favorites by Pink Floyd. Most of Going for the One are also in The League of Extraordinary Uncles, and, along with some students and a different singer, played this set as well.
At first, I was skeptical of the large amounts of sampling from the Pink Floyd recordings that the band used. But, by the end of the concert, I thought that the group’s attempt to perfection had succeeded spectacularly.
The most obvious difference between the two shows was the pure energy between the performers that I could feel in the air. From Covach and saxophone player Bill Tiberio trading licks in “Us and Them,” to Alison Eberhardt’s spectacular parts throughout the set, it was simply fantastic.
Eberhardt deserves special commendation. “The Great Gig in the Sky” is one of the most prominent female parts in prog rock, and she absolutely blew me away, along with everyone else in the crowd.
Almost every element of the rest of the performance exceeded my expectations. The saxophone parts of “Money” were not well mixed, but I would hardly blame the group for that, and it was by far made up for by the following piece, “Us and Them.”
To the last lines of “Eclipse,” the group perfectly mastered every ounce of some of Floyd’s best work. Then, as if they hadn’t impressed enough, the pulled out some more tunes, three of some of the most exciting songs off of Floyd’s other chef d’oeuvre “The Wall.” Nothing felt more right than belting out, “We don’t need no education,” in “Another Brick in the Wall” while at school.
Covach is the director of the University’s Institute of Popular Music. The institute organized these two shows, and are trying to build support for many more down the road. Based on the quality of these two concerts, I’m sure that their futures ones will be equally successful.