Album Reviews Yes - 50 Live

Published on 18th January 2020

Yes – 50 Live


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Yes celebrated its 50th anniversary last year with an extensive tour, with shows in Europe, North America and Japan. This year, the legendary group returns with a new double live album that was recorded on 20th and 21st July 2018 at The Fillmore Philadelphia during the group’s anniversary tour.

The last Yes studio album, the moderately/poorly received Heaven and Earth, dates back to 2014. In contrast, we have been flooded with live albums in recent years, this new album is number fifteen in a long series of registrations of live performances. It is both an indication of the band’s creative poverty as well as strength when it comes to live shows. I am a true YES-fan from the very beginning, well maybe a touch later (1973), but even I sometimes wonder if anyone’s still interested in a new (live) album from the group that is sometimes jokingly called the Steve Howe Tribute band.

With that, almost immediately the most important musician is being mentioned. Although in the current line-up there’s no one present from when the band was formed in 1968, Howe is generally regarded as a veteran member, despite the fact that he only joined the band in 1971 as successor to the unfortunately deceased Peter Banks. With virtuoso guitarist Howe, the group’s sound changed considerably and the music received a huge boost in the right direction, one that ultimately achieved super status with Close To The Edge and Tales From Topographic Oceans but also Relayer and Going For The One. The status is still there but the arenas with 50,000 plus spectators are definitely a thing of the past. Apart from the odd one out (Royal Albert Hall home matches), these men, now at an advanced age, play to an average crowd of around two thousand fans.

Steve Howe still manages to steal the show, his characteristic guitar and voice are the glue that keeps the band together; without Howe there is simply no Yes, all the more so since buddy Alan White is sadly struggling with his health. It is sad to see the once so powerful drummer has become an old man who hardly seems capable of playing. Fortunately there is the experienced session drummer Jay Schellen, who flawlessly takes over White’s parts. Then we have keyboard player Geoffrey Downes, once a member of the band at the time of Drama, recorded without singer Jon Anderson. Downes has been present since 2011 and is doing reasonably well. He will never be of the calibre of Wakeman, nor that of Moraz, Koroshev or Wakeman Jnr. for that matter, but it must be said that he seems to be increasingly at ease within Yes. The right man at the right time, something like that, despite the fact that I will never become a fan. Last but not least the ‘youngsters’: bass player Billy Sherwood (54) and singer Jon Davison (48). The first is the band’s best decision ever, his bass playing is very close to that of late, great predecessor and friend Chris Squire while his harmony vocals, together with Davison, seem to get better and better. The person who caused most discussion is vocalist Davison. I feel the need to come to the defence of this musician who has the difficult task of replacing icon Jon Anderson. He does so with verve and respect for his legendary predecessor, there is simply no better substitute to be found than the former vocalist of Glass Hammer.

So that’s the permanent members, however, the secret lies in the guest players invited by Yes/Howe for this special anniversary tour. I am not talking about session player Tom Brislin (The Sea Within) but more so the other keyboard players, Patrick Moraz and Tony Kaye. Moraz was asked to replace Wakeman for the recording of Relayer (1974) and the subsequent tour. He plays on the beautiful Soon, part of The Gates of Delirium from the aforementioned album. He does a great job, the song is a highlight in the set, partly due to the wonderful Fender steel playing by Howe. But the one who stands out for me is original keyboard player Tony Kaye. He was present during the founding in 1968, played on the band’s first three albums and in 1971 was forced to step down in favour of flamboyant Rick Wakeman. He returned again in the 1980s/1990s, but every time Rick got the jitters and returned to the old nest, Kaye once again had to leave the good ship Yes. However, he is a master of the Hammond organ, which is clearly audible. Inspired parts, in particular Roundabout and Starship Trooper, show that there is still sufficient life left in the able-bodied seventy-four-year old. During the encore, no fewer than nine (former) Yes members share the stage simultaneously.

The set list will be forever subject to discussion; how often can you play (or hear) Roundabout without falling asleep? Still there is sufficient variation, I am thinking in particular of Nine Voices from the underrated The Ladder (1999). A great integral performance of Close To The Edge, and of course Yours Is No Disgrace should not be missed. Sweet Dreams, from Time And A Word (1970), makes the link with the start of the band, while We Can Fly From Here (Part 1) represents the more recent material. Two songs from my personal favourite Going For The One, including top-notch song Awaken, plus a few nice acoustic pieces with the highlight being a section of The Ancient from Tales From Topographic Oceans (1973) featuring Howe and Davison. As usual the cover design is by Roger Dean, recognizable as always.

Back to my original question: is anyone still interested in a new live album from YES? I tend to answer the question affirmatively based on YES 50 LIVE. The band simply has more authenticity than its counterparts Yes featuring ARW, which incidentally no longer exist according to the latest reports. Yes is already in the middle of a new tour, entitled The Royal Tour, together with John Lodge of The Moody Blues and Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy. Wanna bet that the next live album is already in the making?

TRACK LISTING
CD 1:

01. Close To The Edge (19:06)
(i) The Solid Time Of Change
(ii) Total Mass Retain
(iii) I Get Up, I Get Down
(iv) Seasons Of Man
02. Nine Voices (Longwalker) (3:52)
03. Sweet Dreams (5:26)
04. Madrigal (2:53)
05. We Can Fly from Here, Pt. 1 (5:59)
06. Soon (8:00)
07. Awaken (18:19)

Time – 63:55

CD 2:
01. Parallels (6:17)
02. Excerpt From ‘The Ancient’ (5:19)
03. Yours Is No Disgrace (12:07)
04. Excerpt From ‘Georgia’s Song’ And ‘Mood For A Day’ (4:01)
05. Roundabout (9:25)
06. Starship Trooper (11:42)
(a) Life Seeker
(b) Disillusion
(c) Würm

Time – 48:54

Total Time – 112:49

MUSICIANS
Steve Howe – Guitars, Vocals
Geoff Downes – Keyboards
Alan White – Drums
Billy Sherwood – Bass, Vocals
Jon Davison – Vocals, Guitars, Percussion
Jay Schellen – Drums, Percussion
~ with:
Tony Kaye – Keyboards (CD 2, tracks 3,5 & 6)
Patrick Moraz – Keyboards (CD 1, track 6)

ADDITIONAL INFO
Record Label: Rhino
Formats: 4 Vinyl | 2 CD | Digital
Date of Release: 2nd August 2019

DISCOGRAPHY
– Yes 50 Live (2019)
– Fly From Here Return Trip (2018)
– Topographic Drama – Live Across America (2017)
– Like It Is: Yes at the Mesa Arts Center (2015)
– Progeny: Seven Shows from Seventy-Two (2015)
– Like It Is: Yes at the Bristol Hippodrome (2014)
– Heaven and Earth (2014
– Yes Acoustic DVD (2013)
– In The Present – Live From Lyon (2011)
– Fly From Here (2011)
– Live at Montreux 2003 (2007)
– 9012LIVE DVD (2006)
– The Word Is Live (2005)
– Songs From Tsongas DVD (2005)
– The Ultimate Yes – 35th Anniversary Collection (2004)
– In A Word: Yes (1969- ) (2002)
– Symphonic Live DVD (2002)
– Magnification (2001)
– Keystudio (2001)
– House of Yes – Live From The House of Blues (2000)
– The Ladder (1999)
– Open Your Eyes (1997)
– Keys To Ascension 2 (1997)
– Keys To Ascension (1996)
– Talk (1994)
– Highlights – The Very Best Of Yes (1993)
– Yesstory (1993)
– Yesyears (1991)
– Union (1991)
– Big Generator (1987)
– 9012Live: The Solos (1985)
– 90125 (1983)
– Classic Yes (1981)
– Yesshows (1980)
– Drama (1980)
– Tormato (1978)
– Going For The One (1977)
– Yesterdays (1974)
– Relayer (1974)
– Tales From Topographic Oceans (1973)
– Yessongs (1973)
– Close To The Edge (1972)
– Fragile (1972)
– The Yes Album (1971)
– Time And A Word (1970)
– Yes (1969)

LINKS
Yes – Website | Facebook | Twitter

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