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Yes, Topographic Drama – Live Across America: a Review

This post is the part of my Yes concert series of posts.  I started this series here and you can read the others here.

Yes has just released its latest live album called Topographic Drama – Live Across America documenting their 2016 tour.

The line-up Yes fielded on this album is:

The track list is as follows (the album from which the songs come in parenthesis):

Disc One:

Disc Two

  • Review:

I have written several reviews on this blog.  I have reviewed albums, concerts, movies, and books.  One of the things I have realized is that any review, whether good or bad or high quality or low, is almost always dependent upon what one expects from the thing reviewed.  Deviation from expectation nearly always leads to bad reviews while meeting expectations nearly always leads to good.  There is also the “damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t” variation of the expectations problem of making an album that sounds too much like prior albums (is this respect for an established sound or a reflection of a lack of creativity?) or sounding too little like prior albums (is this disrespect for an established sound and rejecting what Yes (or whomever) is “supposed” to sound like?); Yes’ last studio album Heaven and Earth suffered from this quandary (see here).  I have done my best to acknowledge my expectations when reviewing things, but I am sure I, too, have fallen victim to expectations.

I mention this because, as this is a Yes album purchased nearly only by Yes fans (I doubt many causal music listeners are buying a random new live album by a ~50 year old prog rock band that is largely out of fashion).   Jon Anderson, Yes’ co-founder, composer, and long time vocalist, left Yes in 2005 or so, and Yes has toured and released albums and videos without him since 2008.  It goes without saying that Anderson is enormously influential on Yes and, for many, is inherently identified with Yes.  Similarly, Chris Squire, Yes’ other co-founder who defined Yes’ sound for a generation and is the only member who never left the band and is the only member present in every official Yes iteration until 2015, died in June 2015.   Indeed, due to his constant presence in the band from its founding to his death, Squire, too, is often inherently identified with Yes.

I mention the above because, no matter what this album sounds like and no matter how good the performances are, this album will never pass muster or sound like “real Yes” for many fans.  Davison and Sherwood are different people than Anderson and Squire and, despite their similarities to Anderson and Squire, can never precisely duplicate Anderson or Squire (of course, if they did, they would be then accused as aping Anderson and Squire, which leads to an impossible conundrum: on one hand they are criticized for not sounding like Davison and Sherwood, but on the other, if they sound too similar, they are accused of being uncreative copycat hacks.  I suppose this is why some say Anderson and Squire should never be replaced and Yes should fold.).   In light of this, this album, and indeed this iteration of Yes, will never be heard in a positive way by many Yes fans due to its lack of Anderson and/or Squire.  So, just for full disclosure, while I am a Yes “fanatic,” I am of the school of thought that is willing to allow Yes to move on from Anderson and Squire and into a new reality where Davison and Sherwood are taking the band into its next phase of existence, and will judge it accordingly.

This album documents the 2016 tour.  I had the opportunity to see a show from the 2016 tour and most of my thoughts about this album mirror that show, so I will not repeat what I said about that show here; just look at my review for my thoughts on it here.  Instead, I will just focus on this album.

With the above out of the way, and in the light of the above, I can say that this album is an excellent album of well played and well executed Yes music.  The playing is at the level a Yes fan should expect.  The vocals are soaring and well harmonized.  The guitar playing is aggressive and intricate.  The drumming is solid and driving.  The keyboard playing, arguably the most questionable of the instruments in this iteration of Yes, are exactly what one should expect from a Yes keyboard player: Downes plays expertly and successfully adds his own flavors to Rick Wakeman‘s material albeit in his own style.  Finally, Sherwood’s bass playing, which is significant in Yes history as this is the first time Squire is not the bass player on an album, more than does Squire justice.  Sherwood plays all of the parts with heart and maintains a very Yes sound while giving his bass tone a sound unique to him.  Sherwood is somehow able to channel Squire, his style and sound, all the while sounding like himself at the same time.  It is really magical and exactly what one should expect from a Yes member.

The sound of this album is near perfect.  Every instrument is clearly audible, well balanced, and easily identifiable.  All the vocals, sounds, and playing are really crisp.

I loved hearing the Drama material, which from 1981 to 2008 was totally ignored, played in full here.  It was really special to hear “Into the Lens” and “Does it Really Happen?” as those songs have not been played live since 1980.  Perhaps most interesting is that this album documents a live performance of “Run Through the Light” which had never been performed live before the 2016 tour.

This album, to me, is a superb Yes album.  Unless one specifically listens for the stylistic differences between Davison and Anderson or Downes and Wakeman or Squire and Sherwood, I found it very easy to get lost in the music and sound and forget who is in the lineup.  This album, despite featuring a very new and different lineup, sounds like Yes and what Yes should sound like.

If I had to, there are admittedly some nits to pick.  The tempo in some of the songs is a tad slow (mainly the songs featuring White as the drummer).  So, “Machine Messiah” is a little slow, “Roundabout” seems a little slow to my ears (perhaps this is only in contrast to older live versions which were faster than in the studio), and “Starship Trooper” (though this is mainly Howe’s doing).  Of course, when it comes to “Starship Trooper,” its been slower since the band started trying to precisely replicate the studio version starting in 2013 (see here), and the slower tempo I hear is in contrast to older and faster live versions and not the studio version.  Some say “Tempus Fugit” sounds slow, but I think it sounds as fast as any live version I have heard and that, according to Howe, it has never been played live as fast as on the studio.  “Roundabout” is a snore to me (and usually skipped to be honest), but that is mostly due to it being utterly overplayed and over-included on collections like this.  Finally, it probably goes without saying that Davison was brought on board because he can sing Anderson’s songs well and in the same (or similar) register as Anderson and in a similar style.  Unfortunately, one of the featured albums on this collection is Drama which features Trevor Horn as lead vocalist.  Davison’s voice creates a little bit of a different feel for the Drama songs as compared to how Horn sang them.  For a lot of it, honestly, you do not notice it, but there are times, like during “Does it Really Happen?” or “Into the Lens,” where Horn’s vocals are short, crisp, trippy, or terse, as opposed to Anderson’s more soaring and melodic vocals, where Davison’s approach is a bit of an awkward fit to the music.  On one hand his vocals could be seem as an interesting approach, and a window into how Anderson could have approached this material, while, on the other, they seem ill-suited to the music which was crafted for Horn’s vocals.  Luckily those moments are fairly few and far between.  Indeed, for the heavy-duty Yes fan, Davison’s take on “Does it Really Happen?” could be an interesting insight into how Anderson would have sung the song were he to have remained in the band as it was, interestingly enough, originally an Anderson song (see here for a recording of the song with Anderson).  In fact, Davison sheds a little light on what an Anderson sung Drama could have sounded like in general.

I have to say that I really enjoyed this album as it shows a new Yes with energy that has its own stamp while, at the same time, sounding like how Yes is expected to sound.

  • Packaging:

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.

  • Photographs:

Anderson-Ponty Band Concert Review, 10/27/15 Glenside, PA

This post is part of my series of posts on progressive rock, which you can see here, and Yes which you can see here.

On October 27, 2015 the supergroup Anderson-Ponty Band (APB), led by Jon Anderson, the vocalist/harpist/guitarist co-founder of the progressive rock band Yes‘ and virtuoso progressive rock (and classic fusion bands and Zappa alumnus) violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, played show at the at the Keswick Theater in Glenside, PA in support of their “Better Late Than Never Tour” in support of their new album of the same name (see here).

The band was:

  • Jon Anderson – lead vocals, mandolin, guitars, percussion
  • Jean-Luc Ponty – violin
  • Jamie Glaser – guitars
  • Wally Minko – keyboards
  • Baron Browne – bass
  • Rayford Griffin – drums & percussion

The set list for the evening:

  • Intro (a new piece which is sort of like an overture for the APB album)
  • One in the Rhythm of Hope  (a reworked Ponty piece (see here))
  • A for Aria (a new piece)
  • Owner of a Lonely Heart  (a reworked Yes song (see here))
  • Listening with Me (a reworked Ponty piece called “Stay With Me” (see here))
  • Time and a Word (a reworked Yes song (see here))
  • One Love/People Get Ready (a Bob Marley cover (see here))
  • Infinite Mirage (a reworked Ponty piece (see here))
  • Soul Eternal  (a reworked Anderson piece (see here))
  • Enigmatic Ocean Parts 1 and 2 (a reworked Ponty piece (see here))
  • Drum solo
  • I See you Messenger  (a new piece)
  • New New World (a reworked Anderson piece (see here))
  • INTERMISSION
  • New Country (a reworked Ponty piece (see here))
  • Never Ever (a reworked Anderson song (see here and here))
  • Wonderous Stories (a reworked Yes song (see here))
  • Long Distance Runaround (a reworked Yes song (see here))
  • Renaissance of the Sun (a reworked Ponty piece (see here))
  • State of Independence (a reworked Jon & Vangelis song (see here))
  • Jig (a reworked Ponty piece (see here))
  • And You and I (a reworked Yes song (see here))
  • Roundabout (a reworked Yes song (see here))
  • Re-Remembering the Molecules (a reworked Ponty piece (see here)) – which included bits of Yours Is No Disgrace (a reworked Yes song (see here))
  • Soon (a reworked Yes song (see here))

Thoughts:

As I said when I reviewed the ABP album (see here), I am not going to comment on the songs themselves as nearly all of them are classic songs from legendary prog-rock albums and do not originate with this band.  I am only going to comment on their presentation at the show.

This was my first time seeing Jon Anderson live since the last leg of Yes’ Thirty-Fifth Anniversary Tour on September 3, 2004 (see here).  Much of what I said about Jon Anderson on the ABP album holds true here (see here).  This is post-asthma attack Anderson (see here).  His voice is not as strident or as powerful as it was in days past.  In saying that, he, as a consummate professional, does not struggle to try and duplicate his old singing style.  Instead, his voice is more soulful and breathier (is that a word?) and he conforms the music to his new singing style.  His onstage persona is much different than how he used to present himself with Yes.  Obviously his Yes stage presentation evolved with the band and their music, yet now, with ABP in 2015, Anderson comes across like a wizened and beloved person who has so many years under his belt that he is completely confident on stage playing and singing directly to the die hard fans that have followed him for fifty years now as opposed to something of a new age spiritual hippie guru.  There is very little “persona” now for him.  He does not play with long flowing robes or quasi-monk overtones.  No, instead he comes across as a man who knows he is older, knows he has been around a long time, and knows the people hearing him are the ones who have been fans for decades.  He was loose and appreciative.  He played guitars and percussion and, instead of a harp (as on the album), he plucked at a mandolin here and there (practically inaudibly for me).  Ponty was just a cool guy with no frills playing his violin.  It is amazing that both of these men are in their 70s!

The rest of the band were mainly guys recruited by Ponty.  The drummer, who reminded me of Niacin’s Dennis Chambers (see here), was a powerful and loud drummer who unabashedly plays in the style of fusion.  Although he was an excellent drummer, his playing was a bit too much a lot of the time for the more mellow rest of the band.  The guitarist was very hard for me to hear from my vantage point in terms of the mix.  I was there to see Anderson and Ponty and he played well enough to keep the music going but did not distract away from the main attractions.  As a side note, he reminded me a lot of Jim Belushi in his looks and mannerisms.  The bass player looked like he stepped right out of a reggae concert.  His playing was clean and in the style of traditional jazz.  Like the guitarist, he played the music but did not distract from Anderson and Ponty.  Finally, the keyboardist is the biggest mystery.  His playing, when allowed to expand, was very jazzy, but I felt that he was not particularly creative in his arrangements and approach.  His best playing was his jazzy piano playing.  His keyboard-synthesizer playing was the weakest part of his playing.  In my review of APB’s album (see here), one of my criticisms was that it was far too twee.  After seeing them live, I have come to realize that one of the biggest culprits causing the twee sound is the keyboardist because his keyboard sound is so light, airy, and, honestly, cheesy.   This description may not be helpful to all readers, but his keyboard/synthesizer sound is more eighties than Rick Wakeman‘s was in the 80’s.

In terms of the sound mix, thankfully the violin and Anderson’s vocals were louder than everything except maybe for the pounding drums.  The keyboard was loudest after that followed by the bass, the guitar, and whatever Anderson tried to strum at a given moment.  The bass player and guitarist offered background vocals but they may as well have had their microphones switched off as they were nearly completely inaudible.

The songs on the album that were played at the show (and all of them were) all sounded basically like the album, which stands to reason as the album was a live recording.  The only differences I can remember is that the solos were sometimes a little longer), the bass player played the acoustic guitar intro to “Roundabout” on the bass (this intro was omitted on the album), and the band added the instrumental section of “Eclipse” to the end of its version of “And You And I” (also omitted from the album).  “Eclipse” was appended to the end this band’s version of “And You And I” (and lacked the steel guitar) and, I thought, was one of the most powerful, dramatic, and emotional portions of the show and it is regrettable that it was omitted from the album.

When it comes down to it, this show was really a tale of two concerts, with the line of demarcation being the intermission.  The first half was, more-or-less, in the style and sound of the APB album and my comments and criticisms about that portion of the show are basically the same as those I had for the album (see here).  Enigmatic Oceans, which was played during the first half of the show and does not appear on the album, prefigured what was to come in the second half.

The second half of the show moved away from the twee and song based approach of the first half and went headlong into a new-age-jazz-fusion direction that was extremely well performed and musically and sonically very interesting.  The keyboardist, notably, focused more on his piano than the keyboard during the second half which contributed significantly to the overall change in sound, tone, and form.  Moreover, the guitarist played acoustic guitar for several of the pieces.  So, between acoustic guitar, piano, violin, and voice, you had the makings of a very interesting sound in the new-age-jazz-fusion style.  One of the highlights for me was “Long Distance Runaround,” which really revealed the impact that arrangement can have on a song.  The original Yes song is a classic song with multiple, and fast moving, contrapuntal lines.  By contrast APB presented it without any of its traditional instrumental trademarks (e.g.: the walking bass, the bouncy piano, or the punctuated guitar).  Instead, APB turned it into a contemplative jazz piece which, if it were not for the vocal melody, I would never have guessed that it was “Long Distance Runaround.”  As an aside, it is this sort of cover of a song that I really like; why simply play someone else’s song when you can make it your own?  “State of Independence” was very powerful and quite a surprise that Anderson would try and mine that part of his career with APB.  That song is a classic that is often overlooked when thinking about Anderson and/or Yes because too many assume it is a Donna Summers song (see here).  This song, too, was a brilliant reworking.  The original (and even Summers’ version) had a terribly 80’s sound with the drum machine and synthesizer (which has an almost midi type sound) and cheesy 80’s saxophone lines.  APB transformed the song into a fast paced and powerful jazz rock song.  Fantastic.  The Ponty pieces were presented more in line with how he recorded them, which makes sense as the members of the band played with him before and they were, more-or-less, presented in the same style in which they were written.  Anderson composed and sang lyrics over some of his music.  The pieces featured long and mesmerizing instrumental sections led by the violin and it was here that the drummer’s talent really came to the fore.  The instrumental sections really showed off the musicianship and prowess of the band and their ability to tastefully, yet intensely, show off their chops while remaining musical and interesting.

The audience was really into the show the entire night.  At this point in their career, and considering the size of the venue (~1000 seats), the audience seemed to have a direct relationship with Anderson and Ponty while they were on stage that perhaps would not have been there when in their prime (when they still had an image protect and project) and/or in bigger arenas where the audience and musicians are too geographically remote.  So the band, particularly Anderson, interacted personally with members of the audience the entire evening.  Anderson’s birthday was two days before the show, so there were a lot of cries of “Happy Birthday!” throughout the show (to one of them Anderson responded with “Merry Christmas!”).  Before introducing “Infinite Mirage,” Anderson starting speaking of “infinity” in a typical Andersonian-spiritual sort of way and someone shouted “You’re getting heavy Jon!” and Anderson responded with “not yet it’s too early!”  He really seemed to have fun and truly appreciate and feel the love the audience had for him.

Over all it was an excellent show and great way for Yes fans to see Anderson in a band setting singing the classics.  As indicated above, the first half of the show was somewhat uninteresting and lightweight, but during the second half the band, and, indeed, its prog-rock potential, came through with some really great new-age-jazz-fusion arrangements and some furious playing.

Photographs:

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Anderson-Ponty Band, Better Late Than Never, a Review

In September 2014 progressive rock band Yes‘ co-founder and vocalist/harpist/guitarist Jon Anderson teamed up with virtuoso progressive rock (and classic fusion bands and Zappa alumnus) violinist Jean-Luc Ponty to form the supergroup Anderson-Ponty Band (APB) to play a live concert to be recorded for an album (CD/DVD) which was released in September 2015.  The set list they played consisted of mainly reworked Yes, Anderson, and Ponty pieces with a couple new tracks thrown in for good measure.  Apparently (see here) the actual set list was a little longer and included a few more pieces left off the album.  The live concert from September 2014, upon being recorded, was then modified and edited and overdubbed in the studio.

CD Track List:

1. “Intro”
2. “One in the Rhythm of Hope”  (a reworked Ponty piece)
3. “A for Aria”  (a new piece)
4. Owner of a Lonely Heart”  (a reworked Yes song)
5. “Listening with Me”  (a reworked Ponty piece called “Stay With Me”)
6. Time and a Word”  (a reworked Yes song)
7. “Infinite Mirage”  (a reworked Ponty piece)
8. “Soul Eternal”  (a reworked Anderson piece)
9. Wonderous Stories”  (a reworked Yes song)
10. And You and I”  (a reworked Yes song)
11. “Renaissance of the Sun”  (a reworked Ponty piece)
12. Roundabout”  (a reworked Yes song)
13. “I See you Messenger”  (a new piece)
14. “New New World”  (a reworked Anderson piece)

DVD Track List:

1. “One in the Rhythm of Hope”
2. “A for Aria”
3. “Owner of a Lonely Heart”
4. “Listening with Me”
5. “Time and a Word”
6. “Infinite Mirage”
7. “Soul Eternal”
9. “Renaissance of the Sun”
10. “Roundabout”

Personnel:

  • Jon Anderson – lead vocals, harp, guitars
  • Jean-Luc Ponty – violin
  • Jamie Glaser – guitars (Jamie Dunlap was part of the original line-up of APB and thus performed live on 20 September 2014 at the Wheeler Opera House, Aspen, Colorado, United States but by January 2015, he had left the band and had been replaced by Ponty’s guitarist Jamie Glaser who, as a result, overdubbed Dunlap’s parts on the present live album)
  • Wally Minko – keyboards
  • Baron Browne – bass
  • Rayford Griffin – drums & percussion

Review:

So, like most reviews, what one thinks of an album depends on what one expects from it.  If one expects a prog-rock tour de force, then one will be sorely disappointed.  Despite the pedigree of Anderson and Ponty and, indeed, the fusion background of the rest of the band, ABP does not live up to its potential.  Instead, the music is very light (even when it is heavy like during “Owner of a Lonely Heart), often twee, and and is more a fusion of new age and rock, with jazz sounding bass, than a fusion of jazz and Anderson.  Of course the underlying Yes, Anderson, and Ponty music is amazing and the stuff of prog rock legend, but I will try and keep this review just about the interpretation that APB has given them.

Anderson, I think, does most of the heavy lifting in the creation of this album as he wrote most of the music and pushed the kickstarter campaign (see below for more on that).  Excluding “Intro” (which is something of an overture written by Minko), 7 of the 13 remaining songs are from Anderson’s prior work and at least one of the new songs “I See You Messenger” is derived from Anderson’s stock of unreleased material.  Ponty’s solo compositions are instrumental and Anderson’s contribution to them are largely adding lyrics and melodies with which to sing those lyrics over Ponty’s music.  So, Anderson has a writing credit for every track on the album save “Intro.”  Aside from singing, he also strummed a guitar, plucked a harp, and a played very small stringed instrument which seems to be turned to a specific chord for him to strum (I do not know the name of this instrument).  Ponty is an excellent, virtuoso, and experimental violinist, and his playing throughout the album is technically top notch though not particularly inspired.  He more-or-less noodles over the Yes/Anderson material – though on occasion he plays something interesting – and, probably obviously, seems much more at home with his own material.

Of course, the music – especially the Yes material – is rearranged to fit a vaguely new-age-jazz sound which is often stripped down in its complexity compared to the originals, but and some of the interpretations are interesting.   In saying that, I really did not need yet another version of “Roundabout” and “Owner of a Lonely Heart.”  It is worth noting that “Time and a Word” is a reggae interpretation with some Beatles references thrown in here and there.  Although this version is fun, it is hardly original to APB as Anderson has been doing since at least 2008.  Various quotes from songs like “I’ve Seen All Good People” or “And You And I” or even “Don’t Kill the Whale” (in “I See You Messenger”) are sprinkled throughout.  As an aside, I really like the “Don’t Kill the Whale” quote and I think that song is catchy and the quote makes it doubly so.

As a huge Yes fan, I was most interested in Anderson.  It is very nostalgic for me to hear a new recording from this legendary singer who has made so much music that has such an impact on my life, especially since he nearly died not long ago (see here).  His range is still there.  His spirit is still there.  His emotion is still there.  Despite that, his strength is not nearly what it used to be.  The power of his voice is greatly diminished.  Though still ethereal, his voice is more “breathy” (for want of a better term) and less strident now.  I have to say that, despite this, Anderson, as always, seemed to be very aware that his voice is very unique and tries to use it uniquely if only for it’s sound and he does that here as well (e.g.: the vocal sounds on “One in the Rhythm of Hope”).  Lyrically, he is not really offering anything new.  There are various Yes song references (e.g.: lyrics like “Second Attention” or “That that is”) here and there and the remaining new lyrics fit Anderson’s long standing custom of writing about the sun, light, innocence, Earth, love, moon, and other sorts of “mystical” things.

As a brief editorial, considering Anderson’s diminished voice, stale lyrical ideas, and rather pedestrian musical ideas on this album, I do not think he would be an improvement over Jon Davison (Yes’ current singer) in Yes as Davison’s voice is stronger and his writing is much more creative and interesting right now.  Of course, none of that speaks to the nostalgia and love of/for having Anderson back in Yes and I, for one, would not oppose his return in the least, nor does it in any way diminish Anderson’s influence, creativity, and impact on Yes and prog rock in general.

This collaboration started its life as Kickstarter campaign (see here) and took over a year to prepare, perform, record, produce, and release.  The extended time it took to go from inauguration to release is the inspiration for the title “Better Late Than Never.”  I have to say, as far as expectations are concerned, for an album that took over a year to put together, I was truly hoping for more than just some fairly twee rearrangements of old songs and a couple of light weight new ones.  I was hoping some true creativity would work its way into the music.

All in all this album is really only for Anderson and Ponty fans who enjoy nostalgia and enjoy the idea of these two luminaries working together and enjoying the music of other.  So, as fans of both Anderson and Ponty, I really enjoyed the music and hearing the collaborate, but I was disappointed that they did not really do anything special or creative or really stretch themselves at all.

Photographs:

 

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Yes, Like It Is: At The Mesa Arts Center DVD/CD Set: a Review

This post is the part of my Yes concert series of posts.  I started this series here and you can read the others here.

Yes has just released its latest live album called Like It Is: At The Mesa Arts Center documenting a concert played by the band at the Mesa Arts Center in Mesa, Arizona, on August 12, 2014.  This concert was in the context of the Heaven & Earth Tour.  The album consists of two CDs and one DVD.

The line-up Yes fielded that show was:

The track list is as follows (the album from which the songs come in parenthesis):

CD 1: (Close To The Edge)

  • Close to the Edge
  • And You And I
  • Siberian Khatru

CD 2: (Fragile)

  • Roundabout
  • Cans and Brahms
  • We Have Heaven
  • South Side of the Sky
  • Five Percent for Nothing
  • Long Distance Runaround
  • The Fish
  • Mood for a Day
  • Heart Of The Sunrise

DVD: All tracks

As I said above, this album documents a show from the Heaven & Earth Tour where Yes played tw0 albums in toto live, as well as some a few other songs to round out the set from Heaven and Earth and The Yes Album.  This album contains the entire Close to the Edge album and entire Fragile album (the actual show featured the Close to the Edge songs in reverse order).  This album lacks any sort of introduction music that the band had live at the show.

This album serves as a companion to the live album Yes released immediately prior to this one entitled Like It Is: At The Bristol Hippodrome which you can read more about here.  Over the past two tours Yes has taken to playing complete albums. Yes’ Three Album Tour featured the entire The Yes Album, Going for the One, and Close to the Edge albums played in their entirety.  The Heaven & Earth Tour featured the Close to the Edge and Fragile albums in their entirety.  Between this live album and Like It Is: At The Bristol Hippodrome Yes has released the live presentations of all four albums.

I reviewed a show from the tour this album documents which you can see here.

It is also worth noting, sadly, that this album is the last one recorded with Chris Squire in the band.  Chris Squire passed away in June 2015 right before this album was released.  You can read more about Chris’ passing here.

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, Close to the Edge and Fragile are Yes and progressive rock stalwart albums that stand on their own as classic albums which have stood the test of time.  The Heaven & Earth Tour presented these two complete albums played 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.”  In saying that, though, he does have some pretty good fills, as he does on “Heart of the Sunrise.”  Also, Chris Squire’s voice at this point in his career was not what it used to be.  I am not saying his singing is not good on this album; 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 no longer was singing in the stratosphere at this point, 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.  I think Howe’s playing on this album is typical of his current cleaner style rather than the more aggressive style he employed back in in the 1970s.  Regardless of what he thinks, I think his use of a guitar synthesizer does an injustice to the coral electric sitar and twelve string acoustic guitar it allegedly duplicates.  It just does not sound right to me.  On “Siberian Khatru” it sounded like Downes got sloppy on the harpsichord solo in trying to play it as fast as Wakeman did/can. I am not sure Downes can generate the finger speed!  “And You And I” sounds as classic as ever (despite the guitar synthesizer) though, as is typical of these “whole album” presentations found on this album and the prior one, Downes does not extend the keyboard solo like Wakeman would.  “Close to the Edge” sounds a little thin, I think, as Howe’s guitar lacks the distortion he used to use and he uses that guitar synthesizer (though his sound on this track has been the same since at least 1998) which I do not think is nearly as good as the original instruments it supposedly duplicates.  The organ solo in “Roundabout” has been reworked as a Downes solo as opposed to him trying to replicate Wakeman so whether one appreciates the solo depends on whether one enjoys Downes’ playing or thinks Wakeman’s solo is “classic.”  Fragile‘s “solo tracks” “Cans and Brahms,” “We Have Heaven,” and “the Fish” we all played exactly as on the album, which is to say that they all used previously recorded tracks over which the soloist played live in order to recreate the studio recording as much as possible (these tracks are impossible to play live without backing tracks as the were recorded in the studio using multiple layers of overlaid recordings to allow for more sounds than just the five guys in the band can produce).  On a personal note, I love having an official live version of “Five Percent for Nothing” as that track is so short, so goofy, and so obscure that I would never have thought they’d ever play it live let alone release an official live version of it.  In saying that, I have to say  that having musicians play another musician’s solo track (e.g.: current drummer Alan White playing former Yes drummer Bill Bruford‘s solo track “Five Percent for Nothing”) is a little weird and does take the listener “out” of the listening experience if one is aware of it.  For that reason I found Fragile to be a really weird choice as an album to play precisely because it has so many solo tracks featuring long departed Yes members (3 of the 5 members of Yes on Fragile are not in the 2014 lineup); if the listener rankles at this, I understand the feeling.  My approach simply has been to accept the tracks as a new presentation in 2014 and to appreciate the new approach this particular lineup of Yes gives them.  To that end, it appears to my ears that the 2014 lineup recorded itself in the studio to present the studio tracks that need backing tracks instead of relying on using the preexisting recordings on Fragile.  So, that gives these live presentation of the solo tracks a little more legitimacy.  They are not relying on the old recordings.  Since 2002, “Southside of the Sky” has become a classic live track and as much as I absolutely love the Howe/Wakeman guitar/keyboard duel at the end of live version of the song (as memorialized here), Downes does not recreate Wakeman’s sound or his style here.  The guitar/keyboard duel is played in Downes’ own style and, I have to say, I think he did a great job and his soloing is really well done.  Unfortunately, as mentioned above, as is typical of these full album tours (and therefore this album), the solos were all of a rather modest length (for Yes), so it was not stretched out like on prior tours.  Finally, I really love the version of “Heart of the Sunrise” on this album.  It is really well done and has a nice dirty sound absent from some recent prior tours.

  • The Video (the DVD)

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 because 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.  Luckily, for me, the “Southside of the Sky” images and lighting is somewhat visible in the video as I think they did a really good job with it.  Unlike the video for the previous Like It Is video, this does not seem to favor any particular musician over the others.  It seems to be a much better video presentation which more often than not focuses on the musician one wants to see at a given point in the music.  I will say that I think the audio of the DVD is not nearly as good as that of the CDs.  It is quieter and far less dynamic to my ears.

  • Conclusion

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 was 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.

  • Packaging

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.

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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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Progressive/Celtic Review: Iona-Edge Of The World

This is from Prog Rock Music Talk which you can find here:

“It comes as a refreshing change to review a band that I am very aware of, and that band is the progressive Celtic rock band from the UK, Iona. Beginning back in 1989, the band has not flooded the market with their releases, with only 7 studio albums across their 25+ year existence. The self-titled debut album was issued in 1990 and the latest studio release was the double CD, Another Realm, from 2011, although they have also released 4 live albums, the latest being the one under review, Edge Of The World. (2013)”

You can learn more about this issue here.

I was introduced to the band Iona at NEARFest 2010 where I saw them perform live and purchased one of their albums as I was so impressed by their performance.  Besides playing and making music I really enjoyed, I also liked Iona because they, and their music, are overtly Christian.  As my readers know, I am a huge progressive rock fan and I am a Christian though I do not enjoy much Christian music.  Iona piqued my interest because for one reason or another, unfortunately, it is not often progressive rock crosses paths with Christianity.  So, aside from making great music, Iona also has inspirational lyrics and a spiritually beneficial message.  It is not often I get to listen to great music and, also, derive some spiritual benefit from the lyrics, so Iona holds a special place in my music collection for that reason.  Iona’s brand of progressive rock is to meld rock with Celtic music with a progressive rock ethos.  Anything produced by this band is bound to be quality music and I highly recommend it.

Yes, Like It Is DVD/CD Set: a Review

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
  • Parallels
  • Wonderous Stories
  • Awaken

CD 2: The Yes Album

  • Yours is no Disgrace
  • Clap
  • Starship Trooper
  • I’ve Seen All Good People
  • A Venture
  • Perpetual Change

DVD: All tracks

  • The Missing Album

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.

  • The Music

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 (the DVD)

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.

  • Possible Commentary

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.

  • Conclusion

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.

  • Packaging

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!

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Yes, Songs from Tsongas 3 CD Set: A Review

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 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):

The set list at the concert (and on the 3 CD set reviewed herein), is as follows:

CD 1

  1. Firebird Suite
  2. Going for the One
  3. Sweet Dreams
  4. I’ve Seen All Good People
  5. Mind Drive (Parts 1 & 2)
  6. South Side of the Sky
  7. Turn of The Century
  8. My Eyes (excerpt from “Foot Prints”)/Mind Drive (Part 3)
  9. Yours Is No Disgrace

CD 2

  1. The Meeting Room (Rick Wakeman piano solo)/The Meeting (acoustic)
  2. Long Distance Runaround (acoustic)
  3. Wonderous Stories (acoustic)
  4. Time Is Time (acoustic)
  5. Roundabout (acoustic)
  6. Show Me (acoustic)
  7. Owner of a Lonely Heart (acoustic)
  8. Second Initial (Steve Howe solo, acoustic)
  9. Rhythm of Love

CD 3

  1. And You and I
  2. Ritual (Nous Somme Du Soleil)
  3. Every Little Thing
  4. Starship Trooper

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.

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