Atlantic, 1980

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Yesshows is an album credited to the progressive rock pioneers, but which the group itself – with the exception of ever-diplomatic drummer Alan White – has largely disavowed.  It is also beyond dispute the only album issued at a time when the band itself technically did not exist.  In the wake of Yes’s dissolution following the Drama album and tour, bassist/harmony vocalist Chris Squire, who was left holding the rights to the name, personally oversaw the assembly and issuance of a live album compiled from the tapes that had accumulated over several tours since the Close To The Edge tour that produced 1972’s triple-live LP Yessongs

When the idea of a second live album had surfaced a year or so before, the group’s intent had been to deliver another triple-length extravaganza, but the project was shelved, and when Squire returned to it much later, all that was anywhere near ready for release was two LPs’ worth of raw, basically demo-quality tapes.  Squire proceeded, for better or for worse, to mix those tapes himself, and the end result became the double-live Yesshows

Now, it’s more or less a given that progressive rock musicians have outsized egos.  What else would lead someone to issue a studio album consisting of four 20-minute suites, play concerts wearing fringed capes, or write pseudo-profound lyrics that make no sense whatsoever?  But a single listen to Yesshows is all it takes to sympathize with Squire's outraged bandmates.  Even mild-mannered keyboardist Patrick Moraz, who’s only featured on two 1976 cuts here, couldn’t help commenting: “I mean, there’s a lot of bass, no?”

Yeah, and the Himalayas are kind of tall.

Listening again 20 years after my first purchase of this album, from the opening verse of opening cut “Parallels” all I can think is “Oh dude, you are so *busted*.”  The bass was big in the original studio recording – after all, it is a Squire song -- but there is no pretense of balance between instruments here; in Squire’s mix, the bass is rib-cage-rattling in comparison to the rest of the instruments.  Guitarist Steve Howe does great work on “Parallels,” but on my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Yesshows you can barely hear him in places; even during Howe’s solo, Squire has the bass mixed so strong that he’s stepping all over Howe.  (It’s also a little frustrating in this song that Wakeman chooses to go with very mechanical, zingy synth tones for his solo rather than the rich, stately church organ tones that are featured throughout the studio version… damn you, 1980s!)

The mixes don’t get any better from there, which only makes the solid track choices that much more frustrating.  “Time And A Word” is a nice artifact of Yes’ early pre-Howe, pre-Wakeman incarnation, just about the only song from that era that they played between about 1973 to 2008.  And “Going For The One” is just a great rock tune, with a superb vocal arrangement, one of Anderson’s best lyrics, and strong parts for every player, especially Howe’s wailing slide guitar.  If only White’s drums didn’t sound flat next to Squire’s Godzilla bass.

Quotes from the band in Tim Morse’s entertaining Yesstories indicate that one of their collective goals for Yesshows had been to capture a definitive live version of “Gates Of Delirium,” one of the band’s finest extended epics.  Unfortunately the mix used here is mediocre at best, with Moraz in particular inaudible until the dynamic “battle” section, where he trades solos with Howe.  It would be another 25 years before a truly great live rendition of “Gates” would appear, on Symphonic Live.

Tormato’s single “Don’t Kill The Whale” comes off well if you can ignore Squire’s bass overpowering everyone else.  And then you get to the third major crime Squire committed with this album – cutting the extended suite “Ritual” into two tracks, which appeared on different sides of the original double LP.  This has the slightly suspicious effect of making Squire’s three-and-a-half minute bass solo the opening section of part two of the split track.  Hmm.

Regardless of motives, the track itself, the most coherent of the mostly incoherent Tales From Topographic Oceans suites, is expanded from its original, bloated 21 minutes to a truly ponderous 28, by which point it’s a chore just to get through.  Yesshows closes with “Wonderous Stories,” a pleasant bit of fluff that’s unintentionally hilarious in this version.  On the airy studio recording you barely notice the bass; in this mix, it sounds like it’s the lead instrument. 

Ever-quotable keyboardist Rick Wakeman called Yesshows “disgraceful,” while singer Jon Anderson merely called it a “disaster” (both quotes again courtesy of Yesstories).  Personally, I choose to think of it in simpler terms: Squire’s Folly.

Rating: D+

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