Is this one of those “be careful what you wish for” stories?
On one hand, “Probably every kid fantasizes about being in their favorite band,” says Jon Davison. And he became not just the lead singer, but the driving force behind his favorite band’s new album.
On the other hand, the band is Yes.
“It’s so hard because there’s always this high and strict standard for absolute progressive perfection,” Davison says with a laugh.
The pioneering progressive-rock band has been making albums since 1969, including two certified prog classics — “Fragile” and “Close to the Edge” — which get played in full on the tour that visits the Hard Rock Hotel on Friday.
“You’re never going to measure up to that and we don’t necessarily want to, because it would be forced if we tried,” says Davison, who was born in 1971, the year before “Fragile” was released.
The new album, “Heaven &Earth” must not only compete with that legacy, but with lingering resentment in the group’s fan base for the band replacing its original singer, Jon Anderson, when he was sidelined by illness five years ago. (Anderson is starting a new band with jazz-rock violinist Jean Luc Ponty.)
“Heaven &Earth” came out of the gate last month with impressive sales for a classic-rock group, debuting at No. 26 on Billboard’s album charts.
But fan and critical reaction has been mixed to negative, with the general drift being that it’s too languid and tepid. “Where did the rocking part of Yes go?” asks a typical fan comment on a review site.
“You have to just go where the creativity takes you,” Davison says. “At this stage in the game they want to ease back into some almost relaxing music,” he says of his bandmates. “I don’t mean to sound like everyone’s dull by any means because that’s not it at all. The music’s probably been interpreted that way.
“But it’s just a phase in their lives where it’s kind of an easy-listening record. It just kind of warms over you if you let it. It’s a lighter shade of Yes,” he says. “If people will just sort of put expectation aside, I think eventually over time more people will ease into it. A lot of people already are.”
Concert renditions of the new songs “Believe Again” and “The Game” are sandwiched amid the two quintessential albums, and yet “the crowds are responding well,” Davison says.
“There’s obviously not that bubbling energy of response you get like when you break into ‘Roundabout.’ But they’re studious. Yes audiences have always been very studious. And they really applaud at the end. It seems very genuine. I think people are grasping the new music in a live setting.”
Davison was lead singer for the past two summer Yes tours that stopped at the Palms. He says he owes his job to a childhood friend, Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins.
“We grew up together, learned our instruments together, always shared a love of music together,” he says.
Davison spent most of the ’90s as the bassist for the Seattle band Sky Cries Mary. He later started “developing as a singer” in a Yes tribute band called Roundabout, and Hawkins “followed my progress.” By then the Foo Fighters were good friends with Yes bassist Chris Squire, and Hawkins would tell him, “If you ever need a vocalist, believe me I’ve got the guy.”
Another singer, Benoit David, recorded the band’s first post-Anderson album “Fly From Here,” but did not contribute to the songwriting. Vocal problems eventually forced him to step aside. But Davison has co-writing credit on seven of the eight “Heaven &Earth” tracks, and traveled to different cities to collaborate individually with Squire, guitarist Steve Howe, drummer Alan White and keyboardist Geoff Downes.
“I was just so passionate about doing an album, again because they’ve inspired me for so many years. I just brought a lot to the table,” he says.
The album was recorded on a tight schedule last winter during a break in the band’s relentless touring. “There wasn’t a lot of time. We were going to be off on tour again in a couple of months and we had to really buckle down and get some product organized. I just had so much,” Davison says with a laugh, “they felt like they were happy to take it on board. At least take what they felt had potential and fine-tune it.
“And I think I made it easy for them in a lot of ways,” he adds. “They were very inspired as a result. They just fed off my excitement and enthusiasm.”
So yes, maybe even in Yes, what you wish for can work out fine.
“It seems like they were just so relaxed and welcoming,” he says of the whole experience. “I fit right in and we seemed to get along as people, as if we’d known each other before. It’s odd. Yeah. Luckily.”
Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at email@example.com or 702-383-0288.