Atlantic Records, 1973

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


One of the strange things about bands with the longevity of Yes is that individual fans' point of entry can vary so greatly. There are masses of Yes fans who came on board for their 1972 album Fragile (with its hit "Roundabout"), others who trailed in around the 1977/ Going For The One era, a mass of shiny new faces dancing to 1983's "Owner Of A Lonely Heart," not mention those privileged few there at the creation in 1969. And that's not even mentioning the many younger fans who were quick to catch on in the '90s and '00s to the fact that Dream Theater, Spock's Beard, et al did not exactly invent prog-rock.

This fan's introduction to Yes came as a consequence of making friends with the only guy in seventh grade who had more record albums than I did… a bunch of them by this weird British "progressive rock" (?) band called Yes. He handed the foldout triple-LP gatefold album cover of Yessongs to me and I think my mind started to expand on the spot (no artificial assistance necessary). That striking set of space-age Roger Dean illustrations might have been the end of it if not for my friend's choice of starting places -- the final side, the double encores of "Yours Is No Disgrace" and "Starship Trooper," both originally recorded for 1971's The Yes Album and both already concert staples by 1972.

Twenty-four mind-blowing minutes later, I asked for more, and got it. "Heart Of The Sunrise," "I've Seen All Good People," "Long Distance Runaround" and the entire my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Close To The Edge album -- every one of the best tracks from the band's three powerhouse 1970-72 albums is here, played with exceptional fire by a supremely talented band at the height of its powers. Like all live albums, there's a certain muddiness to the sound in places, and hints of missed notes here and there, but the overall effect of music of this quality played by a band of this talent level is stunning.

Even tracks like "Perpetual Change" -- somewhat of a musical afterthought in its studio incarnation on The Yes Album -- sound tremendous here, guitarist Steve Howe's opening run veering through fat power chords into a slashing yet beautiful melody line as Chris Squire's bass rumbles and throbs underneath. Rick Wakeman's keys are restrained here, staying somewhat faithful to predecessor Tony Kaye's original reading while improving it with the sheer fluidity of his own playing. "Perpetual Change" also gives departing drummer Bill Bruford -- replaced three days before the start of the Close To The Edge tour by John Lennon's erstwhile drummer, Alan White -- a chance to cut loose with a huge drum solo. Huge in talent, and huge in length. Yeah, Bill, you've got a big kit and quick hands, we get it, now could we please get back to the song?

Other solos fare better, with Wakeman, Howe and Squire each cutting loose on solo tracks that offer interest and variety. The award for best instrumental performance here, though, goes hands down to Steve Howe. It's the piece of musicianship that inspired this reviewer's first musically-triggered jaw-drop -- the almost-(oughta-be)-famous "Yours Is No Disgrace" guitar solo. This thing starts as a little detour off the somewhat jazzy melody at around 5:40 into the song, then sharpens and veers and powers ahead into fresh territory. Then at about 7:10, with the rhythm section alternately surging and falling back behind him, Howe simply goes off like the bicentennial fireworks over Washington, D.C., launching into a steadily accelerating four-minute explosion of the most elegant, fluid and ultimately thunderous electric guitar I've ever heard. It's pure musical brilliance, a five-star virtuoso performance.

Fans of the band's earliest works have a right to complain that Yessongs contains nothing from their first two perfectly worthy discs. The fact is, though, that Howe and Wakeman in particular have often been reluctant to play Yes tunes live that they didn't play on in the studio, and the band had by 1973 largely moved on from its earlier, Howe-and-Wakeman-less incarnation. Those realities are reflected in the set list, which is an accurate reflection of the band's tastes and focus at the time.

Yes was at the peak of its abilties as a live unit here, and plays like it. A hundred and thirty minutes of live music spanning three LPs (two full CDs) sounds like the epitome of prog-rock bloat, but musically, this thing has washboard abs. Argue if you care to; for me, it's the greatest live prog album ever recorded.

Rating: A

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© 2004 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Atlantic Records, and is used for informational purposes only.