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Yes, Progeny: Seven Shows from Seventy-Two: a Review

This is part of my series of posts on the progressive rock band Yes which you can find here.  This is a review of Yes’ live box set released in May 2015 entitled Progeny: Seven Shows from Seventy-Two.

The band fielded the following line up for all of the concerts documented on this album:

The set list (the albums from which the songs are taken are in parenthesis next to each song) at each of the concerts on this album are as follows, though sometimes in a slightly different order (specifically, sometimes “Clap” and “Mood for a Day” are switched or even interspersed and sometimes those pieces are flipped with “Heart of the Sunrise”):

Disc 1:

Disc 2:

Review:

It is tough to review the music as this is a live album and the music really is derived from previously released studio albums, so any review of the music could become really a review of those albums.  I will do my best to avoid reviewing the songs (as that is really a review of the albums from which they come) and stick to reviewing this as simply a live set.  So, in order to avoid reviewing the underlying studio albums, I will focus on the sound of the music more than anything else.  Suffice it to say, the music on this set is drawn from The Yes Album, Fragile, and Close to the Edge which are absolutely classic and stalwart Yes albums and comprise what some consider a “holy trinity” of Yes albums forming their most influential, famous, and greatest music.  Indeed, Close to the Edge is considered by many to be the greatest progressive rock album of all time or, if not the greatest, certainly in the top three.

Progeny is a release exclusively for the absolute die hard Yes fan.  The album consists of seven complete Yes concerts from the Close to the Edge Tour in 1972 and comprises nearly fourteen hours of music.  Each of the seven complete concerts, though different and unique performances, are nearly identical to one another in content and presentation.  If the above were not enough to show that this album is really only for the ultra-Yes-fans, aside from the sheer volume of music and repeated performances of the same material, this album also stands along side the classic 1973 triple-disc Yessongs live album (which was my first Yes album and made me a Yes fan) and the Yessongs live video, which, taken together, document elements of eight concerts also from Close to the Edge Tour (just as a side note for the sake of clarity and completion, three tracks from the Yessongs album, namely “Long Distance Runaround,” “The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus),” and “Perpetual Change” were all recorded live from the Fragile Tour and feature Bill Bruford on drums accordingly).  So, to put it simply, Progeny more-or-less releases seven different performances of live material that had already been released since 1973!

The “seven shows” featured on the Progeny box set are the full, complete, live, and unedited recordings from the following concerts:

There is some cross over between the live recordings on the Yessongs album and those on Progeny and they are as follows (copied from Wikipedia here):

“The release of Progeny: Seven Shows from Seventy-Two reveals further audio similarities [with Yessongs]:

  • the first portion of “Roundabout” is from Ottawa, Ontario on 1 November;
  • “Heart of the Sunrise” and “And You and I” are from Greensboro, North Carolina on 12 November;
  • the first two thirds of “Excerpts from ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII'” are from Athens, Georgia on 14 November;
  • “Siberian Khatru” and “Yours Is No Disgrace” are from Knoxville, Tennessee on 15 November; and
  • the “Firebird Suite” intro (including the Mellotron/bass pedal link piece), the final third of “Excerpts from ‘The Six Wives Of Henry VIII'” and “Mood for a Day” are from Uniondale, New York on 20 November.

(“I’ve Seen All Good People” and “Roundabout” from 5:26 onward do not match any specific performances on the Progeny set or in the Yessongs film; they may be culled from the performances at the Rainbow which were not used in the film.)”  What is interesting is that the recordings in Progeny reveal that the tracks on Yessongs have been doctored as the Progeny recordings are completely unadulterated.

How is the album?  Well as a Yes super-fan I think the album is amazing.  The Close to the Edge Tour features the classic Yes lineup in their prime playing arguably the most classic of Yes music.  1972 saw the band come truly into their own and play with raw power.  They played their music with high octane youthful energy and with an aggressive edge to it, perhaps most due to the fact that Steve Howe’s guitar sound seems much more distorted than even compared to its sound by the end of the 1970s much less during the 1990s and following.  Of course, part of the more aggressive sound also comes from the fact that the more “acoustic” moments from Yes’ set (e.g.: “And You And I” and portions of “Roundabout”) are played live on electric guitar as, at this time in history, they were not able to sufficiently amplify the acoustic guitars on stage to a satisfactory level for those songs.  So, even the “acoustic” portions of the set sound more aggressive as a result in this live setting.  Finally, the band plays the pieces so aggressively and at such a break-neck-pace that it often sounds like the wheels were about to pop off the bus at any moment, and that gives the concerts a certain excitement.  I think a lot of the criticism that modern Yes has received about playing the songs “too slowly” can be attributed to the precedent set by performances such as those on this tour.  Now, I will concede that Yes did slow the pieces down during the Benoit David years to compensate for his failing voice.  Aside from that, however, modern Yes has taken to playing the songs at the tempo they were originally recorded at in the studio.  Compared to the tempos on Yessongs and Progeny, the album tempos are a bit slower and I think when those songs are played live at album tempos it only sounds slower because live albums like Yessongs have so influenced people’s thinking as to what Yes should sound like in a live setting.

In terms of diversity in the performances across the Progeny set, keep in mind that Yes music is very composed, but there is limited room for improvisation.  Howe is constantly throwing in different improvised notes here and there from show to show for flare and excitement and changes up his solos each night.  Indeed, his solos on “Yours is no Disgrace” are all rather different at each show, and his presentation of his solo pieces also change, where sometimes he even includes “Mood for a Day” within a break in “Clap.”  Wakeman’s solos differ too but not nearly as much.  Most notably, the third segment of his solo spot seems rather different each time.  Anderson has a penchant for making little noises and adding syllables here and there for his own sort of improvisation.  Perhaps my favorite bits were the improvised introductions to “Yours is no Disgrace.”  Although I knew from Yessongs that they had a little ditty they played before launching into the song, I had no idea just how much it differed from night to night.  For a band not known for its improvisation, it was fun to hear them try it a little from night to night.  This little improv reminds me of the so-called “Flight Jam” Yes would improvise before playing “Awaken” on the Going for the One Tour (hear it here).  Although not as ethereal, and far more Earthy and blusey, I think the “Yours is no Disgrace” improv deserves its own name along side “Flight Jam”!  I was also surprised to hear how they ended “Close to the Edge” each night with a little improvisation as well, especially coming from Howe (which I did not expect).  Furthermore, the “church organ” section from “Close to the Edge” was presented differently in the shows as well, sometimes with a lot of Howe supplementing it and sometimes not.  Of course, Jon Anderson’s in-between song banter changes from night to night.  Interestingly, he often describes “And You and I” as a “protest song,” which is something I don’t think I ever heard before.  Finally, this was Alan White’s first tour with Yes and, as the story goes, after Bill Bruford’s departure from Yes, he was given three days’ notice of the tour before he started it to learn all the material, and had a single rehearsal with the band before playing his first show with the band.  So, needless to say, his playing is constantly being refined with each show as he learns the material better and that is pretty clear when listening to this set.  I have to say that as much as I am a Bruford fan, White is an absolute monster on this tour and his playing today pales in comparison to what it was then.  White’s playing is fast, aggressive, and, as Anderson likes to say, a true “thunder machine.”  He was all over the place with a ferocious approach, filling every gap with as much as possible.  I am not sure if that reflects the fact that he was still learning the material and just trying to do as much as he could to compensate or is just the way he decided would play that tour.  Sure, his drumming seems rather youthful then and he has matured (to his benefit) as the 70s went on, but his playing today is so sparse that it is hard to believe that the guy hitting as many drums as possible on Progeny is the same drummer.  In terms of the mix, each show is different.  Sometimes Howe is really loud and sometimes he is not.  What was interesting to me is that Wakeman and White are often louder in the mix than they are on Yessongs, so Progeny provides a much better window into what they were playing live in ways I found really insightful and fresh.  Squire’s volume seems to remain consistent throughout each concert and never really “gets loud” like Howe.  The singing is about as audible as it is on Yessongs.  One other interesting thing to note is that, although he is shown playing it on the Yessongs video (so I presume he played it at most, if not all, of the shows for the Close to the Edge Tour), the Coral electric sitar that is traditionally played during much of “Close to the Edge” is either not played for the bulk of the performances on Progeny or is so effects laden that it sounds strikingly like a typical electric guitar instead.  I just could not discern it’s distinctive sound very often during the sections of “Close to the Edge” were it is supposed to be played.

For the average listener there is probably nothing all that distinct between each of the seven shows and, indeed, nothing that makes this release necessary especially in light of the fact Yessongs has already long been released documenting live material from the same tour.  The sound quality occasionally reaches that of Yessongs (which, even in it’s day, was arguably average at best, let alone compared to a modern recording), but it mostly sounds like very good bootlegs.

It is also worth noting, as I intimated above, that the Progeny recordings appear completely unadulterated.  For example, one of the shows was part of a radio broadcast and the radio broadcast can be heard over the PA system and Jon Anderson makes a point of mentioning it.  Another moment is when one of Rick Wakeman’s keyboard fails and Anderson mentions that the roadies are repairing it.  Also, when the songs on Progeny which crossover with the recordings on Yessongs are compared, it is clear that Yessongs was doctored.  For example, both the improv and the guitar solo on “Yours is no Disgrace” were truncated for Yessongs whereas they are in their full glory on Progeny.  Also, as noted above, some of the tracks on Yessongs were more than one performance spliced together.  Here, on Progeny, the performances are included raw with all of the occasional bum notes and flat vocals included.

So, to sum up.  Progeny is a fantastic document of what Yes was like as a live band in 1972.  The songs are amazing and the performances are the stuff of legend.  For the very hard core Yes fan this release is well worth getting in order to soak in the Yes of yesteryear bashing away with abandon on stage (especially for Yes fans like me who are too young to have enjoyed them in person).  For just about anyone else, this box set is about the least “essential” release Yes has ever produced as it duplicates (seven-times over no less!) live performances from the Close to the Edge Tour, which Yes has already released twice before (the Yessongs album and video).

Photographs:

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2 thoughts on “Yes, Progeny: Seven Shows from Seventy-Two: a Review

  1. Pingback: Yes Posts and Reviews Roundup | judicialsupport

  2. Pingback: Yes Album Review Collection | judicialsupport

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