Progeny: Seven Shows From Seventy-Two


Rhino, 2015

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


The question must be raised: does anyone really need a 14-CD box set covering seven concerts by British prog-rock group Yes, when that time period was fairly well documented by Yessongs?

Leave it to Rhino Records, the undisputed king of the all-inclusive “never knew ya needed it, but now you want it” box sets for diehard fans of certain groups. They’ve tackled the Grateful Dead on numerous occasions; they recently took on Chicago by releasing the 16-disc set Chicago At Carnegie Hall – Complete. (Warning: that one is also on my horizon.) And, in 2015, thanks to the discovery of the source multi-track reels, they took on the Close To The Edge period of Yes’s history with the release of Progeny: Seven Shows From Seventy-Two.

One note of warning: do not expect any changes in the set list (aside from reversing “Heart Of The Sunrise” and “Mood For A Day/Clap” in one show). Listening to seven shows in a row featuring the exact same songs might be pushing it, even for the most devoted Yes fan. (And, with no disrespect to Jerry Garcia and crew, this wasn’t the Grateful Dead, who could come up with new sets every single night. The complexity of the music Yes performed undoubtedly prevented a lot of experimentation.)

The first two discs make up the show from Toronto on October 31st—and if one had to use a word to describe the show, it would be “unfocused.” The opening track “Siberian Khatru” actually is a bit sloppy, as the band struggles at moments to stay in tempo. From then on, it feels like certain drum fills by Alan White are missed, guitar licks by Steve Howe aren’t executed perfectly, and even Jon Anderson’s vocals seem strained at times. Believe it or not, as polished as Yes presents themselves, the members of the band are indeed human. (In fact, Jason addressed such performance flubs—and the apparent studio wizardry done to correct them on Yessongs—in his review of the “best-of” from this collection, Progeny: Highlights From Seventy-Two.)

The flaws in the source tapes are clear in this first show—from the occasional crackling of the sound system to the bleed-through of a local radio station during Rick Wakeman’s “Excerpts From The Six Wives Of Henry VIII,” it almost presents a Spinal Tap-like situation (which is one reason why many bands said This Is Spinal Tap was more of a documentary than a comedy).

But is the Toronto show enjoyable? Even with all the flubs and flaws, I’d have to say yes, despite it not being the best performance that Yes could have given.

It is on the next night’s performance, in Ottawa, that some insight as to why the Toronto performance might not have been the best—at least in terms of Anderson’s efforts, as he admits to be suffering from the flu. (Interesting to note, then, that Wikipedia reports that this is the show from which “Roundabout” on Yessongs was culled.)

Ironically, the evening’s performance is more solid than the first show in the set. Howe actually throws a few ad-libs into “Mood For A Day / The Clap,” without breaking away from the molds of either song. And the interplay between Anderson and the audience following “Close To The Edge,” while yet another phantom sound interferes with the performance and Wakeman tries to get his keyboards working, is kinda funny to listen to. All in all, it’s a far more solid performance that Yes offers the listener and is a very enjoyable show.

The set now skips ahead 10 days (during which time Yes performed eight additional shows on the Close To The Edge tour), and finds them in Durham, North Carolina. This is the first show where significant work to maintain the continuity of the show is noticeable; the source material obviously changes during Howe’s “Mood For A Day / The Clap” performance. Not that I’m belly-aching about this—hell, the fact that these shows survive even 50 years after they were performed is a miracle in and of itself.

Other than that noticeable instance, the show overall is in much finer form than its predecessors. Gone are the bleed-throughs from local FM radio onto the PA system—a welcome change of pace. Musically, the band sounds tighter this time around, with White’s drums mixed a little higher in the sound than before, and it does sound like both Howe and Wakeman take more chances with some of their performances. Granted, I could be wrong here—when you’re listening to the third version of the exact same show, some things do admittedly get lost in the translation—but it is a way to keep the material somewhat fresh.

Interesting note: Anderson tells the audience that they are recording that evening, but none of the performances made the cut for Yessongs. Honestly, I don’t know why.

The next night’s performance, in Greensboro, North Carolina, allegedly did provide material for Yessongs—again, per Wikipedia, “Heart Of The Sunrise,” “And You And I” and part of “I’ve Seen All Good People.” Aside from a few small technical glitches—the occasional electronic buzz, etc.—this is another show that is not only well recorded but also has White’s drums up a slight bit higher than the previous evenings.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

It was around this point of reviewing the set—yes, kids, I listened to every disc, and every single note—that I realized the inherent difficulty of reviewing a product like Progeny: Seven Shows From Seventy-Two. Namely, that what I’m hearing, aside from various technical glitches or the rare ad-lib, are essentially exactly the same. (This bodes back to my earlier comment about similar sets from The Grateful Dead, where the set lists were somewhat fluid, and you didn’t necessarily get the same show from night to night.)

So, if you’re looking for some tremendous insight such as this version of “Yours Is No Disgrace” excels for such-and-such reason—well, you’re not gonna get it. Yes being the technical kind of band they were (and still are), there was little to no room for changing around a set list or throwing in lots of improvisational moments (the exceptions being the band’s interactions onstage with the audience). To be blunt, this is the kind of set that was released for the diehard Yes fan—and, for them, this has to be absolute manna from heaven.

All of that said, the Greensboro show proves to be just as good as the previous evening’s outing in Durham. Any glitches that Yes had encountered earlier on the tour (which, at least in terms of playing in North America, had started on September 15) seemed to be ironed out. And it does seem like the band does stretch things out a little bit more on “Yours Is No Disgrace,” both in the lead-up to the intro and in Howe’s guitar solo. So, there is a bit of a fresher feel to the show.

Our travels next take us to Athens, Georgia—where things seem to go pretty well until we reach “Roundabout,” and Anderson’s microphone suddenly drops out. It’s an annoyance for the listener (not to mention the band, I’m sure), but Yes plowed through the glitch. I will give the producers of this set credit for not trying to simply hire Anderson back to do a quick overdub to make it seem like nothing ever happened; while it’s a distraction, it is an accurate picture of the show that evening.

Overall, it’s not a bad show—I can’t say there is any one moment that sinks the overall feeling, or a performance glitch that ruins the vibe. But tedium does to set in if you’re listening to this set in its entirety.

The penultimate show in this set, from Knoxville, Tennessee, features the most ad-libbing on stage from Anderson, as he goes into a commentary about a vegan concession stand and how it was better for you than a certain fast-food chain (complete with mild obscenity). Well, at least Anderson is making sure the listener isn’t bored.

With a few more selections from this show allegedly culled for Yessongs, it proves to be a solid enough show, if not as exciting as previous evenings. Maybe, had I heard this in the beginning of the box set, my opinion would have been different. It’s just that the overall feeling of the show, while good musically and technically, is more “meh” than other nights on the tour. (There is a moment, though, during “Yours Is No Disgrace,” when it seems like Howe loses the beat, and is out of time with White’s drumming during his solo; the pause without guitar is a little jarring in comparison to everything heard in the set to this point.)

The final two discs of the set bring us to Uniondale, New York’s Nassau Coliseum and the next-to-last date on this North American leg of the Close To The Edge tour, per Wikipedia. (Anderson says following “I’ve Seen All Good People” that this was the last night before they went home, however.) This time, not only White’s drums seem to be miked a little hotter, but Chris Squire’s bass is closer to the forefront. (I won’t get into the controversy among Yes fans regarding how low Squire’s bass was for the majority of this set.)

This show will test the listener’s patience in terms of glitches. Anderson’s microphone repeatedly cuts out during “Heart Of The Sunrise,” throwing off his performance when it does decide to work again. In addition, Wakeman’s keyboards seem to have a bit of distortion at times when there shouldn’t be any, though it only seems to affect one particular setup. (Anderson’s frustration is noted at the end, when he says, “I don’t know what to say after that.”) The problems return for “Close To The Edge,” unfortunately, as Anderson’s mic cuts out yet again.

With the technical issues that Yes had this particular evening, it’s somewhat surprising that a couple of songs allegedly made the cut for Yessongs. (I keep saying “allegedly” because Yessongs’s liner notes don’t specify where the performances were recorded.) Overall, it’s just not as crisp of a show—maybe because of all the technical issues, maybe because the band was just tired after a grueling tour of the United States and Canada. Truth is, I don’t know… and while the show is still listenable (despite the occasional problems), it’s not the best of the set.

So—14 CDs, eleven-and-a-half hours later, the question remains: does anyone need such a massive, specialized collection of music? Honestly, the answer is no… but that doesn’t mean the set isn’t good, or that the drooling Yes fan (hell-o-o-o-o, Jason) wouldn’t want to add this to their collection. (That is, if they can still find it… some listings I’ve seen for this set have topped $500 as of August 2022.) If anything, this is the kind of set someone can dip into when they want to go past the added polish of Yessongs and hear the band in their raw, natural environment. Popping on the occasional disc or two? Sure, that’s totally understandable. Listening to it non-stop (or at least broken up into several sessions) like I did? I don’t recommend it.

Progeny: Seven Shows From Seventy-Two does accurately capture Yes at the peak of their ’70s success, and for the ultimate Yes fan, it’s worth the investment, with the caveat that this should be enjoyed in small portions, not all in one sitting.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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