(Hi all, it's been a while!)
I've been on a bit of a Yes kick these last few days... started with digging out a Trevor Rabin live album to burn for a co-worker, actually, but then I pulled out a YesWest compilation, and it's gone from there... I've been flipping through various things on YouTube, and something I've noticed is that, in the last five years, Steve Howe might be playing better than he EVER has. Part of it seems to be that he has a really good tone again; I recall a common complaint among fellow guitarists on this board was that, from the time he rejoined until 2004 or so, his guitar sound was far TOO clean, even when it shouldn't have been. Whatever the reason for his tone change (perhaps he ditched Zoom effects pedals!), it seems to coincide with a renewed energy in his playing. He RIPS it up now (think "South Side of the Sky" at the very end), whereas there were times back in the late 90's/early 00's where I wasn't sure if he still had it in him.
Oddly enough, the example I'll throw out there isn't one of his songs: "Owner of a Lonely Heart", live this past tour (see it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ke-cIVpS7cw&feature=related
). He completely makes the song his own, even putting his own cool spin on the infamous solo in the middle, and it kicks ass!! He's not 'trying' to sound like Trevor Rabin (which would be silly), but I also get the sense he's put much more effort into the song than he did when he first rejoined the band, when oftentimes he sounded completely bored/annoyed with the song - VERY uncomfortable to listen to it in that situation!
This is just one example, but I could list plenty others. I know I've been critical of Steve in the past, but I still think he's a one-of-a-kind guitarist who you can spot in less than two seconds when he's 'on'. If Yes is going to move on without Jon and Rick, he's truly the sonic 'keeper of the flame' for Classic Yes now, so it's good that his playing is back to the level he's truly capable of!