Yes, Songs from Tsongas 3 CD Set: A Review
Yes has just released its latest live album called Songs from Tsongas: The 35th Anniversary Concert documenting a concert played by the band at the Tsongas Arena in Lowell, Massachusetts, on May 15, 2004. This concert was in the context of the Thirty-Fifth Anniversary Tour.
The band fielded the following line up for this concert (and on the 3 CD set reviewed herein):
- Jon Anderson – lead vocals, percussion, guitar
- Chris Squire – bass, backing vocals
- Steve Howe – electric, acoustic and steel guitars, backing vocals
- Alan White – drums, percussion
- Rick Wakeman – keyboards
The set list at the concert (and on the 3 CD set reviewed herein), is as follows:
- Firebird Suite
- Going for the One
- Sweet Dreams
- I’ve Seen All Good People
- Mind Drive (Parts 1 & 2)
- South Side of the Sky
- Turn of The Century
- My Eyes (excerpt from “Foot Prints”)/Mind Drive (Part 3)
- Yours Is No Disgrace
- The Meeting Room (Rick Wakeman piano solo)/The Meeting (acoustic)
- Long Distance Runaround (acoustic)
- Wonderous Stories (acoustic)
- Time Is Time (acoustic)
- Roundabout (acoustic)
- Show Me (acoustic)
- Owner of a Lonely Heart (acoustic)
- Second Initial (Steve Howe solo, acoustic)
- Rhythm of Love
I attended a show on this leg of the tour when the band visited Philadelphia. I intend to write a post describing my memories and stories from that particular show and I do not want this post to sort of devolve into me merely bringing my own experience from that show to this review, though I suspect some of those experiences will find their way into this post a little bit anyway.
The DVD from this show was initially released in 2005. It has recently become relevant again as it has just been re-released on blu-ray with footage from the Lugano show from July 8, 2004 and an interview with Roger Dean as bonus material. In tandem with the re-release on blu-ray, Yes also released the entire Tsongas concert on CD as a 3 CD set, which is the subject of this review.
As a person in the audience at one of these shows, and having seen Yes 20 times as of this writing (see here), I think it is safe to say that this tour was one of the best Yes has ever done, or, at the very least, the best in Yes’ latter-day history. This tour was the most recent, and likely the last, Yes tour to take place in arenas instead of theaters, so, needless to say, the shows were pretty large. The scope of the tour allowed Roger Dean to create one of his large stage sets to set the scene in which the band could play. Indeed, the stage also included large multiple bass drums which attached to long telescoping arms rotating around Alan White’s drum kit. As one can see, the concert was performed by Yes’ classic line-up, which makes it special for that reason alone. The performances on the album are very strong and there appears to be little post-concert cleaning up of the sound and performances. The band plays in top form and the sound quality of the live recording is top notch.
In terms of the songs, here are some highlights: I wish “Mind Drive” was played in full. It is a shame they chopped it up as they did. What was played was very good (full disclosure: I like this song) and really brings across the power and innovation of the song though loses the contrasts and dynamics found in the studio version (none of the acoustic sections are played live unfortunately). “My Eyes” is just the chorus from “Footprints” so, needless to say, it was just a tease to the fans who wanted more! “Southside of the Sky” is amazing and the trading solos at the end of it between Howe and Wakeman is very exciting and really shows off their respective strengths. “Every Little Thing” is a lot of fun. It is rearranged from how they played it on their first album, which is itself a rearrangement from how the Beatles played it. The acoustic material makes this set very interesting as the pieces are all reworked for that sort of presentation. So, for Yes fans who have heard these pieces so many times, this set provides a nice respite: while one can hear some classics they can hear them in new, different, interesting and fun ways as rearranged by the band itself. Finally, this line-up played a Trevor Rabin song (Rhythm of Love) and it comes across very credibly. Wakeman soups up Tony Kaye‘s simple keyboard line and Howe’s solo, while is “very Howe” and different from Rabin’s, fits nonetheless. Well done! I will say more about these songs when I post about the show I saw from this tour.
Perhaps the best part of this tour is the set-list. I cannot think of a set list from any other tour that is so long and so varied! At least thirteen different albums are represented and some extremely rare pieces were played, such as “Every Little Thing” (not played since 1969), “Sweet Dreams” (only played on a couple of tours), “Southside of the Sky” (played regularly for the first time starting in 2002), “Going for the One” and “Turn of the Century” (not played on tour since 1977), Ritual (anything played in full from Tales from Topograhic Oceans is pretty rare), “The Meeting” (an ABWH piece), and perhaps rarest of all are significant segments from the second volume of Keys to Ascension (“Mind Drive” and “My Eyes”) and “Time is Time” (from Magnification) which had never been played live before or since. The band also included material from the 1980’s when Steve Howe was not the guitar player. So, as one can see, material from virtually all Yes eras was played from the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, even including music from the “technically” (i.e.: legally) non-Yes album Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe. To make the set-list even more interesting, this era of Yes saw them experimenting with the then 10-year old idea of playing “unplugged.” The second disc of the set is the acoustic portion of the show. When at the show, the large Roger-Dean-created canopy descended to just over the band and they all gathered at the middle of the stage to play acoustic instruments. Yes converted many of their classics, including things like “Roundabout” and “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” to acoustic pieces. So, the attraction for this show was the fact that it was not only a show by the classic line up, but it was also an anniversary show celebrating their 35 years as a band (which coincided with the release of The Ultimate Yes collection), which explains the diversity of material played, and highlighted their new feature of playing their material acoustically (as found on The Ultimate Yes but truly on the fully acoustic show Yes Acoustic: Guaranteed No Hiss).
So, ultimately, if you are a Yes fan, I highly recommend this CD set and if you are not a fan, this is not a bad place to start with Yes. You get the fantastic combination of great sound, great playing, the classic line-up, diverse set-list, unusual set-list with a lot of rarities, and the fun acoustic features.
The set is packaged very nicely though it is very short on liner-note material. The entire liner is pictured below and as one can see there is virtually nothing to read unfortunately. I was hoping for the liner notes to include some sort of anecdotes or news reports or descriptions or something, but alas no, just mainly some nice photographs of the stage. The packaging is in a traditional jewel case (as opposed to the digipak which Yes has been using of late which I, personally, dislike as they get beaten up and flimsy very easily) with an internal hinge to hold the 3 CDs. Thankfully the hinge does not fold outward (which gets broken very easily) but turns like a book. The entire jewel case fits into a sleeve with a Roger Dean painting that is also found on a lot of promotional materials from that tour. The CDs themselves, which I forgot to photograph (I hope to remedy that omission soon), are light blue with little bits of the sea life shown on the cover itself.
Here are some photographs of the CD set which, within it, includes photographs of Roger Dean’s stage set up as well.