Yes keyboardist heaps scorn on Gary Steel. The hapless reviewer responds.
I’D LIKE TO think it was friendly fire, but when you think about it, no matter how friendly the fire, the bullets still kill, Bill.
I’m talking about the right royal drubbing I got from a phalanx of Yes fans last week, after I reviewed the group’s concert at Auckland’s Vector Arena, which you can see here. It started when keyboardist Geoff Downes, obviously having Googled the latest news on himself, weighed in with a review of my review on Witchdoctor, then went on www.yesfans.com to berate me, unleashing the scorn and opprobrium of the international hardcore Yes-loving community.
I don’t usually reply to critiques of my critiques, because I believe in free speech, and as Frank Zappa said, opinions are just like assholes… everybody’s got one.
In this instance, however, I feel a reply is warranted.
Firstly, I would like to point out that my review of the Yes show was OVERWHELMINGLY positive about the group and its performance. Few seem to have noticed that. In it, I tried to point out that progressive rock had had an even harder time of it in NZ than in many other countries, providing some context that the NZ Herald’s writer lacked. My verdict, right there at the end, was pretty clear:
“Overall… Yes at “half a Vector” simply scorched… Pretty amazing.”
However, current keyboardist Geoff Downes, in the “comments” section, wrote:
“Saw your review of the Yes Auckland show. Thanks for the support – ha-ha – not that I actually give a f**k. But… shame you got all your facts wrong – see, was never on ‘Owner Of A Lonely Heart’ nor 90125. Back to the homework before you review anything again I suggest. Nothing worse than getting your facts mixed up. Try Google as a starting point.”
Downes then went on www.yesfans.com and berated me some more, which set the whole pack of sycophantic fanboys against the hapless reviewer.
I was delighted to see Downes communing with his lowly subjects so freely, and also delighted to see such a free and open exchange of ideas and opinions on the Yes forum, and to see that the average participant was considerably more articulate than most fan site forums you’d care to take a look at.
What I found bizarre was that Downes – who obviously has a somewhat fragile ego – found it necessary to seek solace and emotional support from his fans, and that he would do so by misinterpreting and distorting the content of my review, and getting personal about me, and the Witchdoctor website.
What I found disturbing was that most of Downes’ minions acted like a sickening sycophantic chorus. (More about unbalanced fan/musician relationships below).
But let’s have a look at Downes’ grumbles. Were they justified? Did I get ALL my facts wrong, as he claimed?
Well, no, actually. I admit to one thing: I was tired when I wrote the review and in one hell of a rush (not Rush, natch), and although it’s not explicitly stated, one sentence suggests that Downes was the keyboardist on the original version of the dire ‘Owner Of A Lonely Heart’, when I meant to refer generically to the band around the time of that hit single, irrespective of whether Downes was in the band or not.
Downes picked up on this one “error by inference”, believes as a result that I’ve got all my facts wrong, and then suggests that – having made one inference in the review that could be interpreted as a mistake – my opinion is worthless.
Of course, it was his bruised ego talking. In a review that was incredibly positive about the Yes show in Auckland, my one real criticism was of Downes:
“The only real disappointment is Geoff Downes, who despite being surrounded on three sides by various keyboards (with his back turned to the audience) fails to ignite any synth or organ wonder in the manner of Rick Wakeman.”
I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings, Mr Downes, but you just weren’t that impressive the night I saw you play. (Although, having read posts from other fans who witnessed the event, I’m open to the idea that you may have performed some dazzling work that was either just inaudible to the audience, or sounded like shit. The thing is, while the sound mix wasn’t too bad on the night, it was a bit thin in the top end, and somehow, your keyboards came through all nasty and sharp and digital-sounding, and anything virtuosic you may have been performing just couldn’t be heard).
So Downes thinks that if a reviewer makes one mistake (even if it’s actually an erroneous inference), then anything else the reviewer has to say is a complete pile of doggy-do? Does that mean if he fluffs one line during a performance, then the audience has justification for thinking that whole performance was rubbish? I don’t think so. We’re all human, we all do make mistakes; that’s just part of the territory. And as any musician, or serious music fan knows, some of the best music comes out of performers fluffing their lines, especially if they have the balls and talent to go wherever that “mistake” takes them, as in an improvisation.
It’s not really Geoff Downes’ attitude that disappoints me here, but the attitude of his fan-boys. Over the more than 30 years I’ve been writing about musicians, I’ve rarely met one that didn’t have a healthy ego, or the need to supplement that ego with fulsome praise. So it’s part of the territory. Unfortunately, what’s also part of the territory in these unbalanced times is an attitude that one’s favourite musicians are somehow godlike, that they can do nothing wrong, that they’re above criticism, and that unlike us, they NOT FLAWED.
Maybe it’s a hangover from a hundred years ago when we still thought the British royalty were replete with some quality that made them better, more important than us mere serfs. Or perhaps it has something to do with the cult of celebrity that is rife in society. Whatever, it’s sad, and somewhat alarming.
At least I can say with pride that amongst my friends are a bunch of musicians who I love and respect, but who know I don’t think they’re any more important than any other special friends, and who know that if they ever release a crap record or play a crap performance that I’ve witnessed, I’ll be duty bound to report on that. That’s friendship, not idolatry.
So, then, what to make of all this?
It’s unfortunate that Geoff Downes found it necessary to respond to a criticism of his performance a) by seeking emotional solace in the arms of his serfs, and b) by resorting to personally attacking me, and the website I wrote the review for, Witchdoctor. And it’s an even greater pity that so many Yes fanboys followed by accepting Downes’ verdict, without even reading my review properly, or bothering to think it through. Notably, few of them saw the performance; I did.
I’ll finish by answering a few specific charges by those fanboys:
“Looks like this music reviewer is like a weatherman. He can get his facts wrong and still get a paycheck.” – Shamus McNasty
I don’t get paid for Witchdoctor reviews. I write them because I want to, just like you write about what you want to on sites like
“Bitter? Chainsaw? Facts wrong? I think it’s a great review. There is one minor mistake and all you “Comic Book Guy” types are choking on your Milo! A Google search finds Geoff was in Yes in 1980/81 and ‘Owner Of A Lonely Heart’ was released in 1983 – both happened in the ‘80s and the review doesn’t actually STATE that Geoff was IN THE BAND when ‘Owner…’ was RELEASED, just that he’s a relic of the same Yes that was around in the ‘80s and released that song. Nothing really to get your pubes in a twist.” – Leon
Thank you, Leon.
“This is an excellent review.” – Rubylou
Thank you, Rubylou.
“He says that Yes never was very good with harmonies?” – Tim
No, Tim, I said that Yes were “a band I had never considered for their harmony vocalising… their three-part harmonies were utterly brilliant.”
“It’s a pity that some reviewers have to prop up their egos by having a crack at someone more talented than themselves.” – Strat
It always amazes me that fanboys just know that I’m just a talentless hack who desperately wants to be a touring musician with a three sided-keyboard rig. Strat, I’m completely at one with myself, but thanks for your concern.
“No problem if someone slags you off. I can take it… But IMHO, when you bring it on, you gotta have your facts abso watertight, otherwise you end up looking a complete knob like this geezer who assumed I was on 90125 without dong his research. Can’t take him seriously as a result. Wrong – chum! I let him know that on his crappy little website…” – Geoff Downes
So, Geoff, you’ve never fluffed a line on stage? And would you like to clarify why you think Witchdoctor is a crappy website, or were you just pissing in the wind with that comment?
“Haters gonna hate Geoff! Ignore them, you were the star of the show when I saw Yes last year…” – Tommy Topographic
“I read the guy’s review of the Crosby, Stills and Nash concert in NZ. He stated that they played ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ at the show for the first time in 20 years. The single comment of the review reads as follows: “Went to their last gig in Auckland about four years back. They sang ‘Suite Judy Blue Eyes’ then, not 20 years ago.” – Bobby Dread
That’s right, Bobby, try to debunk the reviewer in any way you can. During the CS&N show, they said that it was the first time they had attempted to perform ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes’ in 20 years, and to go easy on them. I have no idea if they lied to their audience, as I didn’t get to see them on their previous tour.
“Ahhh, don’t pay any attention to reviews like that Geoff. The audience is what counts and the audience LOVED THE SHOW!” – True Believer
And if you, True Believer, had read my review, you may have noticed that I loved the show, too.
Finally, here’s an extract from an email “review” sent by a friend who saw the show in Auckland. I thought that some of you, at least, might find it amusing. It’s by a well-known NZ writer who has agreed not to remain anonymous (thanks, Mr David Slack):
“Steve Howe was marvellous. He played several guitars and did impressive things with all of them, but the one he used most, and sounded Just Like The Record, I actually looked up next morning. It’s a Gibson, it’s his favourite and he has been playing it for more than 40 years.
They played a few from The Yes Album and Fragile, a few from the new one, plus a bit from Close to the Edge and Going for the One.
That was enough to make me glad I was there.
On the other hand: Chris Squire looked like a buxom blinged-up middle-aged barmaid and he had a fucking wind machine blowing his hair. That was even worse then seeing The Buzzcocks with beer guts a couple of years ago.
They got their replacement vocalist from a tribute band, and so instead of a sort of Robert Plant with his balls being squeezed, you had this fey long-haired 30 year old man from LA dressed for 1968 and simpering. So that kind of let the air out the tires.
I was truly looking forward to seeing if they would get a proper audience, and what it might be composed of. The answer was: just enough to go ahead, and: what you might expect if you had a game of Dungeons and Dragons for a couple of thousand people. During a dull bit I actually counted them, one by one. 1400.
Also they had Powerpoint, or a screensaver, as backdrop, but neither of us had brought any drugs with us, sadly, so it was wasted on us. We were glad to see there were no bullet points.”