- Opening "Firebird Suite"
- Siberian Khatru
- Heart of the Sunrise
- Perpetual Change
- And You and I: Cord of Life/Eclipse/The Preacher the Teacher/The ...
- Mood for a Day
- Excerpts from "The Six Wives of Henry VIII"
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In many ways, the extravagance of this package equates the profligacy of the prog rock combo themselves. After all, how else but on a triple-LP collection could one hope to re-create (and/or contain) an adequate sampling of Yes' live presentation? Especially since their tunes typically clocked in in excess of ten minutes. Although they had turned in five studio long-players, the vast majority of Yessongs (1973) is drawn from their three most recent endeavors The Yes Album (1970), Fragile (1971), and Close to the Edge (1972). There are two exceptions, the first being the "Opening (Excerpt from Firebird Suite)" -- which comes from the 1969 Boston Symphony Orchestra's recording, conducted by Seiji Ozawa. The other is Rick Wakeman's keyboard solo "Excerpts from 'The Six Wives Of Henry VIII'." Yes had just undergone a personnel change shortly after concluding work on Close to the Edge as Bill Bruford (percussion) left to join King Crimson in July of 1972. Bruford can be heard on "Perpetual Change," as well as the medley of "Long Distance Runaround" and "The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus)." Enthusiasts keen on various and arguably irrelevant minutia should note the spelling of "praimaturus" as credited on Yessongs. It is slightly different from Fragile, which is denoted as "praematurus." That bit of trivia aside, the new lineup finds Alan White (drums), quite ably filling Bruford's shoes, alongside Jon Anderson (vocals), Steve Howe (guitars), Chris Squire (bass/vocals), and Rick Wakeman (keyboards). One of their trademarks has always been an ability to re-create their often densely layered sound in concert. They effortlessly pull off the tricky chord progressions and changes in time signatures of "Siberian Khatru" and a sublime "Heart of the Sunrise," which unquestionably bests the dexterity of its carefully crafted studio counterpart. Both Howe and Squire's respective solos during "The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus)" are highlights as they give the entire unit an opportunity to show off their capacity for dramatic dynamics. The remainder of Yessongs is similarly strong, particularly the note-perfect "Close to the Edge," and the inspired concluding instrumental jam during "Starship Trooper." However, one criticism that can be leveled at the entire Yessongs release is the less than optimal audio quality throughout. The sound is generally muddy with no real fidelity to speak of and an even less precise stereoscape. But until someone goes back to the multi-tracks and remixes them for 21st century ears, this is as good as it gets when documenting Yes during this seminal transition period.
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Yes is one of those groups that you wouldn't think to be a good live band. Their studio stuff has lots of musical effects, and so many of their songs are extended in length; you just don't think it's going to translate well live. Think again. Some of these not just equal but surpass their studio original. While the actual recording quality is not good, the performances themselves are amazing. The rhythm and meter changes, the effects, the transitions from section to section during the extended numbers; all are practically seamless and are performed to perfection, while still leaving ample room for solos and improvisation. These performances represent the band at its peak, both musically and creatively. Jon Anderson's absurdly high vocals are clear as a bell; Steve Howe's guitars rock or lull depending on what is called for; Chris Squier's bass is amazingly lyrical one moment, but can break into a power chord or an aggressive run up and down the scale at any moment. Rick Wakeman's keyboards can be softly supportive but take a solo as few others could; Bill Bruford and Alan White on drums are solid as a rock. I wasn't old enough to hear this incarnation of Yes live; I was a child of the 80's and saw them on the 90125 tour. But this set makes me wish I was. Buy it without hesitation; its worth every penny.
About 30 years ago I bought the three albums that comprise most of this set but never bought the then 3 LP set and lost interst in Yes. About then reviewers turned against the band as new styles replaced prog. In retrospect, this is an excellent live doccument. The sound is not that bad. In fact, it may aid in giving an edge to the tracks that shows how fiery the performances were. Yes, the lyrics are silly, but Anderson dounds less wimpy then in the studio. The other four members all stand out and play loudly at times, especially Squire and Howe. At other points they fashion spacey sections the equal of any band at the time. I am curious enough to try some of thir more recent live efforts with modern sound technology.
I think it's rather rare that fan of any band would recommend a live album as either a starting point for new listeners or as a highlight of the band's career - but I think this is a notable exception.
While I love all of the studio albums from which the material on this record originates (primarily Fragile and Close to the Edge, but there are some songs from earlier albums as well) I think almost every song is much better in its live for as presented here on Yessongs.
In particular, the three songs originally from Close to the Edge truly stand out. And You and I has a rather different structure in its live form, which I find more compelling than the studio version. But the true gem of this album is Close to the Edge - specifically, Rick Wakeman's stunning keyboard solo leading into the final third of the song. I always felt that the studio version of this song lacked cohesion and didn't really carry as much atmosphere as other Yes songs from the same era. The live version is a beast. The whole thing is solid but Wakeman's solo in particular - as well as the final verse with his lead on top of it - has a dark urgency to it that I haven't heard in any of his other performances with Yes, live or in the studio.
Definitely one of the best prog rock recordings of the early 70's - if you're interested in Yes at all, don't miss this one! Roger Dean's trippy liner notes, an alternate visual history of how life came to earth, are an added bonus.