YES at the Air Canada Centre (40 Bay), Friday (May 7), 8 pm. $42.50-$55.00. 416-870-8000. In-store autograph signing at Sam the Record Man (347 Yonge), 1-3 pm. 416-646-2775. Rating: NNNNN
A funny thing happened while interviewing Tortoise guitarist Doug McCombs. When I noted that a couple of tracks on their new It's All Around You disc sounded like prog rock, McCombs didn't tell me to go fuck myself. Instead, he took my observation as a compliment, snorting, "I'd rather have our music called prog rock than post-rock any day."
The stigma associated with progressive rock - built up from years of self-indulgent wank and silly muso-pretension - appears to have vanished.
Moreover, the current popularity of unabashedly prog-inspired groups like the Darkness, Coheed & Cambria and the Mars Volta suggests that progressive rock is becoming hip like it hasn't been since the advent of punk.
That means the squirrelly concept albums filled with ponderously long drum and bass solos and puzzling odes to Middle Earth watchers in towers can't be far off.
Even before the smashing worldwide success of The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, there were warning signs of an impending hobbit rock revival.
I noticed something strange was going on in 98, when Vincent Gallo choreographed the brilliant climactic sequence of Buffalo 66 to Yes's Heart Of The Sunrise from their 72 classic Fragile (Rhino). And of course, crowd-pleasing celebrity DJ Armand Van Helden has been known to drop Yes's early-80s comeback hit, Owner Of A Lonely Heart, in his club sets. It's actually the closer on his screwy new mix disc, New York: A Mix Odyssey, just released by Fatboy Slim's Southern Fried label.
The prog-fathers of Yes - innovators in triple-gatefold concept albums and sidelong songs - are well positioned to cash in on the resurgence of interest in all things prog. However, the timely reunion of the group's core members, Chris Squire, Steve Howe, Rick Wakeman, Jon Anderson and Alan White, had more to do with the release of The Ultimate Yes - The 35th Anniversary Collection (Elektra/Rhino), a career-spanning 36-track compilation spread over three discs appropriately housed in a triple-gatefold package.
If famous DJs are spinning Yes tracks in clubs, founding bassist Chris Squire hasn't heard about it.
"Armand Van what?" he growls. "Who's that?"
He sounds just as surprised as anyone that Yes is playing to audiences who weren't yet born when Yes cut their landmark Close To The Edge album.
"When we formed Yes back in 68," explains Squire, lounging in his Miami hotel room, "the benchmark for bands was the Beatles, who had a visible career of about six years - and that seemed like a long time. So to be still doing this 36 years on, it's a bit weird. Good, but very weird."
Encapsulating Yes's substantial creative output over 35 years on what's effectively a two-disc comp (with a bonus disc of unreleased material) is a difficult task. But the fact that many of their finest performances are over 10 minutes long and were conceived in the context of an album rather than as stand-alone pieces makes assembling any best-of-Yes collection seem like a futile exercise .
Squire isn't overly impressed with the attempts at greatest-hits-type packages put together on his group's behalf.
"Elektra put out a collection of stuff in the early 90s that wasn't very well thought out, and they did it without our permission. And now there's The Ultimate Yes collection, which is a decent representation of what we've done, but it's always hard to say what your best work is. I really enjoyed doing the acoustic songs that were added as a bonus."
It's the exquisitely arranged acoustic versions of Roundabout and South Side Of The Sky tossed onto the third disc that make the whole package worthwhile. So it's not entirely shocking that the acoustic set they've been playing at shows on the current tour has been getting a wildly enthusiastic response each night.
"When we were coming off the stage after the acoustic set last night, Rick said, 'We could make a fortune if we toured acoustically!' He's probably right, but personally speaking, I'm not entirely in favour of having a pipe 'n' slippers section in the middle of the show. I like my music a bit more lively."
No doubt working on his next album with the ever unpredictable Vincent Gallo should provide Squire with some excitement.
"After Vincent did Buffalo 66, we hooked up and became good friends," says Squire of the unlikely pairing.
"He's retired from the film business now, or so he tells me, so we've got this plan for a musical project - a Chris Squire solo album that he wants to produce. He's a total music head, so I'm sure it'll be... er... eclectic."