Bill Wyman (not THAT Bill Wyman, the OTHER Bill Wyman, the one who’s the former arts editor of NPR and Salon) has written an article at Slate called “The Best Live Albums: From Axl to Zeppelin,” and while many of the classic live LPs he notes are in my collection, I don’t agree with all his choices. For example, he doesn’t include the massive Yessongs by Yes on his list of best live albums.
Yes, Yessongs was three records long, a little excessive. Yes, it sounded like it was recorded in a phone booth. But it’s still my personal favorite live album, the best of what is today an almost nonexistent breed. And yes, Yes is my favorite group of all time, so I freely admit my bias.
Yes eventually became known for disappearing up its own posterior in spectacular, awe-inspiring ways, but on Yessongs they sound raw, fresh, young and energetic. Guitar god Steve Howe, who as he got older got slower and more anal, obsessively wanting us to hear every – single – note of his early leads, here sounds vigorous, passionate, sometimes racing, a way he hasn’t played in decades. Jon Anderson sounds young and innocent (as opposed to older but still innocent). Rick Wakeman has star power with his massive keyboard array and shining robes. And new member (at the time) Alan White is furiously pounding away on the drums, sounding just a tad bit unrehearsed but making up for it with fire and passion.
This live album captures them at a time when the band was still relevant, had yet to jump over any sharks, and had just come off a string of three studio albums that made their marks on music history – The Yes Album, Fragile, and Close To The Edge – a band at the height of their powers.
Yessongs was how I was introduced to Yes. The first versions I heard of their classics were here, and sometimes the later revelation of the studio tracks was just a tiny bit of a letdown, so yeah, I have an emotional attachment. But I challenge any fan of moderately complex music to listen to the live version of Yours Is No Disgrace and not admit that damn, it shreds.
Thanks for writing about Yes.
They were the first band I saw in concert in a huge arena. It was the “Fragile” tour at the L.A. Forum Circa 1971 or 72.
I saw them again on the “Tales from Topographic Oceans” tour in late '73, also at the Forum, and finally for the last time on the “Union” tour in Portland in 1991.
They sounded better than ever in '91. Tony Kaye and Rick Wakeman were BOTH there. Anderson was in perfect voice. Trevor Rabin really added something to the mix.
Bruford and White both kill on the skins, but Bruford is a little more precision oriented. You're right with regard to Alan White's passion. You can REALLY hear it on John Lennon's “Instant Karma”.
From “Long Distance Runaround” to “Changes” and beyond, Yes has been a huge part of the soundtrack of my life. There will never be another band quite like them. Not counting attempts by Asia, Anderson-Bruford-Wakeman and Howe, and YOSO, who we won’t even mention.
I became a fan of Yes in 1979, devouring my copy of Yessongs. Gradually I collected all their albums, even loving the Anderson-less Drama.
I've only seen them on four tours – Big Generator, Union, Talk and Open Your Eyes. However, I did get very up close and personal at their in-store appearance in L.A. when they were promoting their 35th anniversary collection. I'm pretty sure Jon Anderson was hitting on my wife at the time.
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