This is part of my series of posts on the progressive rock band Yes which you can find here.
Yes has just released its latest live album called Like It Is: At The Bristol Hippodrome documenting a concert played by the band at the Hippodrome in Bristol, England, on May 11, 2014. This concert was in the context of the Three Album Tour. The album consists of two CDs and one DVD.
The band fielded the following line up for this concert:
The track list is as follows:
CD 1: Going For the One
- Going For the One
- Turn of the Century
- Wonderous Stories
CD 2: The Yes Album
- Yours is no Disgrace
- Starship Trooper
- I’ve Seen All Good People
- A Venture
- Perpetual Change
DVD: All tracks
As I said above, this album documents a show from the Three Album Tour where Yes played three albums in sequence in toto live, which means, obviously, one album is missing from this album. This album contains the entire Going for the One album and entire The Yes Album album, but the actual show also included the entire Close to the Edge album with “Roundabout” from the Fragile album as the encore (naturally). It also lacks any sort of introduction music.
Word is, among Yes fans, is that Yes is going to soon release a live album from their Heaven & Earth Tour in 2014 in the spring of 2015. The set list for this tour included the entire Fragile album and entire Close to the Edge album. So, evidently to avoid duplication on successive albums, Yes decided to not put the Fragile and Close to the Edge live material on this collection. As an aside, the rumor is that Yes will include the live Heaven & Earth material on a bonus disc with the live album to be released in 2015.
It is tough to review the music as this is a live album and the music really is derived from much older and established studio albums, so any review of the music could become really a review of those albums. Needless to say, Going for the One and The Yes Album are Yes and progressive rock stalwart albums that stand on their own as classic albums which have stood the test of time. The Three Album Tour presented complete albums played live very closely to how they actually sounded on their original recordings. So, the songs on that tour – and consequently this album – were not stretched out, the solos were not expanded, and there was virtually no improvisation. So, in order to avoid reviewing the underlying studio albums, I will focus on the sound of the music more than anything else.
The sound quality of the album is excellent. The sound is crisp and there is great separation between the instruments and between the vocals. I am sure some audiophiles could find things to nitpick, but I have no complaints.
Ultimately, I think whether one enjoys this album depends on whether one likes this particular iteration of Yes and can accept the necessary effect age has had on these musicians who are in their sixth decade of performing.
Now, I am long term Yes fan so I have to admit that I wish Jon Anderson (original and long time vocalist) and Rick Wakeman (classic keyboardist) where back in the band and performing live. That being said, Davison is an amazing replacement for Anderson and Downes is a quality prog rock keyboard player. Of course, Downes’ style is markedly different from Wakeman’s at times, and I can’t say I do not miss Wakeman’s playing from time to time, but Downes’ style makes for an interesting change. Wakeman’s playing is flashy, consistently fast, and with a lot of notes whereas Downes’ playing tends toward a lot of chording and being more understated (more cynical people would say “more tasteful” as compared to Wakeman’s choices). In my opinion, this is a legitimate, excellent, and worthy iteration of Yes.
Does this album reflect any change in their live sound due to age? Only a little. I have to say that Alan White’s playing seems to have been deteriorating (at least in a live setting) since at least 2008 as he has gotten older. He looks like a tired guy on stage once a show is over. Don’t get me wrong, he still is a solid drummer who keeps time and provides some good coloring, but his live playing has gotten a lot less complex. He is no longer the so-called “original thunder machine.” Also, Chris Squire’s voice is not what it used to be. I am not saying his singing is not good any longer; quite the contrary, his vocals on this album are very strong and mixed fairly high. The effect of his age is the fact that his vocal parts have been lowered a bit; he is no longer singing in the stratosphere, which provides the songs a slightly different sound than Yes fans may be used to hearing. Some people have claimed that Yes plays the songs too slowly. They did seem to reduce the tempo a little on a handful of songs between 2008 and 2012 (which I think was a concession to help ailing vocalist Benoit David), but with Davison’s joining the band they seem to have sped the songs back up to their appropriate tempos again. Despite that, some still think they are playing too slowly, but I do not think that is a fair criticism at this point. Their live tempos now reflect the tempos found on the studio albums, as opposed to their old practice of playing live a break-neck speeds. The fact is, gone are the days when Yes ramped up the tempos on stage as they used to do in ages past (see Yessongs as an example), but the fact that modern live tempos are slower than their live tempos from the 1970s does not mean that modern live tempos are slow compared to the studio recordings. The other thing to note is that the band’s live tone and presentation on this album is consistent with what they have been largely doing since 1991’s Union tour (with exception of the 1994 Talk tour), which is to have a cleaner and warmer sound as opposed to the dirtier and aggressive live sound they had in the 1970s and 1980s.
I think the music as played on this tour sounds very much like the original studio versions of the songs, so there are not really very many new interpretations to report for the purposes of this review. Their effort to sound like the album was even down to mimicking the fade out for “I’ve Seen All Good People,” to having a short guitar solo on “Yours is no Disgrace,” and to truncating the jam during the “Wurm” section concluding “Startship Trooper.”
For me, the biggest things to note are “A Venture” and “Awaken.” “A Venture” is special, of course, as this tour is the only time this song has ever been performed live. I always had a soft spot for that song and Yes, despite playing it a little conservative with the other songs, allowed Downes to stretch out the long extended piano solo fade out into a nice smooth jazz jam. “Awaken” is a Yes epic classic and, for some, the true test of Downes’ worthiness as Yes’ keyboard player. I have to say that he turns in an excellent performance all around, but he makes two decisions that I found to be a little disappointing. The first is that he shortens the opening piano introduction a little for some inexplicable reason. The second is his keyboard arrangement during Howe’s first guitar solo. Wakeman’s keyboards are very active – as Wakeman tends to be generally anyway – during this first part of the guitar solo. Wakeman plays ascending and descending scales very quickly almost to double Howe’s fast runs on guitar, which, I think, makes this section sound even more frenetic and exciting. By contrast, Downes opts not to play anything at all during this section in order to allow Howe to have the entire spotlight, and it gives this section a sound that is somewhat more sparse than to what one may be accustomed. Conversely, however, during the second part of Howe’s solo, Wakeman’s playing becomes somewhat understated whereas Downes elects to play hard edged and rapidly played chords when Howe quickly swipes chords on guitar, to make his accompaniment of the solo in this section a lot more exciting and aggressive sounding than Wakeman’s arrangement.
The only other things notable with the songs is that there is no intro music – presumably because it segued into Close to the Edge, which is not included with this set – but instead there is low synthesizer drone that leads into “Going For the One.” Finally, Downes plays a short intro to “Wonderous Stories” which does not appear on the album.
The video is of all of the songs and is an adequate document of the show. The footage is reasonable and fun to watch, though I was a little disappointed in it for a few of reasons. First, virtually none of the video images behind the band are visible, which is a shame since they had a good slide show on this tour. As an aside, the DVD menu screen has a short montage that is the same as the one that opened the show. The other thing I was disappointed about is the shaky camera work that happens from time to time when a mobile cameraman walks around doing close ups of the band. Finally, the footage clearly favors Howe, who has the majority of screen time, followed by Davison, and then Squire. Downes and White get the short shrift.
When the discs are inserted into the CD player on a computer the titles and artwork for the discs are not this album but are Going for the One and The Yes Album respectively. I wonder if this is the current line-up’s subtle message telling fans that this is Yes and not a Yes line up of the past. Some fans have expressed some consternation with the title of this album thinking it reflects some sign resignation by the band of their state and their line up.
As a live album, the album has a quality sound and is enjoyable to hear. As a Yes live album, it is a very accurate document of where Yes is now in 2014 and what they sound like. If someone is a fan of and/or enjoys the Yes of 2014, then this album is worth picking up and adding to one’s collection. This album may help people on the fence about the Yes of 2014 to become fans as it shows truly good performances of classic Yes songs and reveals that this line up can hold its own with Yes’ classic line ups in the past. Otherwise, if someone just cannot accept a singer other than Jon Anderson and/or cannot accept a keyboardist from the Buggles and/or Asia in Yes, then this album is not for you.
The album is packaged as a digipak and the artwork is pictured below. As one can see, the album artwork is standard Roger Dean work and also includes some quality photographs of the band. As a funny aside, the photographs of the band found in the packaging as show below depict them playing material from Close to the Edge which was specifically not included in this set!