Louis Electric

November issue is here!
more... ArtistsBassistsGuitaristsJuly 2014Steve HoweYes

Cruising to the Edge

A A
FEAT


Cruise to the Edge took place on the MSC Divina, shown here at port in Cozumel, Mexico. The expansive, state-of-the-art ship has 16 floors, a baker’s dozen restaurants and lounges, a casino, and a spa. Photo by Tessa Jeffers.

The 11-minute opus that closes Yes’ 1971 album, Fragile, begins with an urgency and chaos of frenetically blended guitar and bass notes that lead into a gentle coo of rolling, rhythmic waves.

With a flick of a wrist, maestro Chris Squire breaks the soft groove with his unusual lead bass guitar, punctuating everything with intensely building lines and a haunting melodic immediacy. The two musical ideas furiously dance until suddenly the former dangerous vibe becomes infectious, and the unpredictable mystique and intrigue of the climb peaks. It’s as if the song is trying to tempt a listener to come along—make the voyage.

“Heart of the Sunrise,” is an appropriate soundtrack to set sail with on Cruise to the Edge, a progressive-rock themed tour of the Caribbean that travels from Miami to Honduras and Cozumel, and back again, in five days. It first set sail in 2013, making its second run in early April this year.

“I think most artists that have been involved in prog have generally been more clever players than is necessary to be in a lot of rock ’n’ roll, which is all about feel. We in Yes have always developed our interest in that as well, to promote the feel side of music as well as the musicality.” —Chris Squire

Yes, the band that started it all, are gracious hosts. The spectacle includes mood-setting touches both subtle (like the iconic psychedelic artwork of Roger Dean, which made its way from projector screens to fest-goers T-shirts, to the art gallery at the ship’s top deck) and over-the-top (wizard-themed nights encouraging cruisers to wear capes around the deck).

More than 2,000 guests sailed with about 25 bands, so it appears prog-rock is alive and well. Yes is releasing Heaven & Earth on July 8, with the lineup of guitarist Steve Howe, bassist Chris Squire, drummer Alan White, and Geoff Downes on keys and programming. It’s the group’s 21st studio album, and the first with new vocalist Jon Davison. The plethora of friends they brought along for this boat ride—Marillion, UK, Queensrÿche, Saga, and Italian proggers Premiata Forneria Marconi (PFM), to name a few—are enjoying similar late-career renaissances.

“I don’t think I’ve met anyone who hasn’t said they were happy,” said guitarist Steve Hackett, reflecting the general sentiments of the prog-rock passengers. “Besides perhaps those who’ve fallen over and been horribly injured,” he joked, referring to an apparent mishap on the first Cruise to the Edge in 2013. “Mind yourself on those corridors, the stairs, and the wet patches.”

Lay of the Land
For those who’ve never been on a cruise before (like this writer), the majestic MSC Divina is quite an introduction. Boasting multiple decks, fine-dining restaurants, and even a spa, the European MSC line’s newest ship is like a luxurious ocean-going village. Pair the 24-hour all-you-can-eat buffet with an all-you-can-hear menu of various subgenres of symphonic rock, and what you get is a prog-enthusiast’s dream vacation.


Collaborations made Cruise to the Edge 2014 special. Here UK’s Eddie Jobson is shown playing electric violin with the Stick Men on the Pool Stage. Photo by Armando Gallo.

As the ship glided away from the Port of Miami, guests settled into what would be their home at sea for the next five days. Sporting black Cruise to the Edge T-shirts for the blackout-themed disembarkation party, the fans gathered to hear Saga kick off the music festivities on the Pool Stage. The central and highest performance area on the ship, the Pool Stage featured two-tiered concert seating, lawn chairs, hot tubs, and plenty of island-style booze concoctions.

The music went from sun up to, well, almost sun up. A typical morning might include breakfast at the Manitou buffet, followed by some sunning or a dip in the pool while the first performers welcomed you into the day.

Inside the ship, there were a half dozen stages and more things to see than there was time to see them. The Atrium stage provided a nice focal point in the middle of all the activity, and bands had the opportunity to play a variety of shows: a larger concert, an intermediate lounge show, and a stripped-down acoustic or Q&A/meet-and-greet event in a setting reminiscent of Inside the Actor’s Studio.

The classy Black and White Lounge—one of the midsize venues—would be right at home in a 5-star hotel in Vegas. Outfitted in state-of-the-art furniture, it was a favorite among cruisers for its quaint ambiance. For those who might have had their fill of odd time signatures, other vices were at the ready. One could gamble in the casino, shop in the ship mall, puff it up in the cigar lounge, exercise in the well-equipped gym, or gorge in the fine-dining experience at the Black Crab (with bands like Yes and Genesis playing on the overhead speakers at any given time). And for two days, guests could take excursions like scuba diving or explore the Cozumel port at will. (The Honduras stop was cancelled due to storms this year, but most of the music fans didn’t notice.)

A A