Judge Bill Gibron thinks too many strings spoil the prog.
Our reviews of Yes (published November 8th, 2005), Yes: Keys To Ascension (published December 24th, 2009), Yes: Yesspeak (published February 19th, 2004), Yes: The New Director's Cut (published September 17th, 2008), and Yes: Yesspeak (published June 11th, 2011) are also available.
Bigger Band Does Not Necessarily Mean a Better Band.
What do you do when your best days are decades behind you? What can you do when audiences thrive on nostalgia and yet can't seem to recall what you're best remembered for? If you are Yes, the proto-prog band that gave the musical genre both its heft and his hopeless stereotypes, you strip back the circumstance and up the pomp with a long planned "symphonic" album. Finally realizing their goal in 2001 with Magnification, the group then embarked on an European tour, complete with full orchestra—and just to keep the fanbase happy, they rearranged some of their classic hits as well. With original members Jon Anderson (vocals), Chris Squire (bass), Steve Howe (guitars) and Alan White (drums) in tow (with some help from keyboardist Tom Brislin), the shows would be significant for several reasons. First, they would showcase an aging dinosaur doing interesting things outside their comfort zone and, second, it would be the last time that Anderson would record with the band.
Indeed, one can sense the growing issues that would cause the singer to leave the group in 2004. Health problems, including a chronic respiratory condition, would sideline the elfin frontman, leading to a Journey/Styx like change and a new version of the combo. As part of Symphonic Live, Anderson is solid, if not spectacular. He is unable to really nail the high notes and seems oddly fixated with the various percussive instruments he has in his stage set-up. While Squire and Howe are still amazing on their instruments, everything else comes across as plain and pedestrian. Even the use of a full blown orchestra adds little. Unlike, say, XTC, which catered to the concert hall ideal when they made their amazing Apple Venus, Vol. 1, Magnification is nothing more than standard Yes with acoustic instead of digital support. Then, to make matters even more disconcerting, age old standards like "Starship Trooper," "And You and I," "Long Distance Runaround," and "Roundabout" are given an unnecessary update that adds little to their previous power.
Like Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Yes are such a product of their time that, unless you are dealing with the MTV friendly format from the '80s, there's really nothing contemporary about them. Unlike today's talentless pop idols, they are true musicians (just watch Howe amaze the crowd during his combination classical/rock revival solo). But the problems come after the fact. When you are in your '60s and struggling to breath, wowing a crowd is the last thing on your mind. Similarly, there is an inherent bloat to what prog was promising that continues to stand in the way of pure entertainment. Newer material like "Don't Go" and "In the Presence of" have a sheer sonic value, but unless you are a true fan, they will feel like filler. Similarly, the addition of "Owner of a Lonely Heart" (sans its sole creator, Trevor Rabin) appears like nothing more than a calculated commercial appeasement. There's never anything wrong with realizing your artistic ambitions. Yes can be praised for finally getting Magnification to market. However, the concert collected here is just too laid back to legitimize the brazen ballyhoo.
As for the technical aspects of the release, Eagle Rock outdoes itself again. Granted, the 1.78:1/1080i/MPEG-4 AVC encode has a few issues, but they are easily overlooked. Aside from the occasional background noise, the concert (shot in high definition) is loaded with color and crystal clear details. As for the sound situation, things are even better. This disc boasts a brilliant DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that combines all elements of the show—orchestra, rock band, and voice—with deliberate ease. We feel the size of the venue and the audience ambience in the aural aspects of this release. Granted, you could jump back to the original 5.1 or the rather good PCM Stereo, but stick with the high end offering. It's worth it. Finally, the Blu-ray contains a "documentary" which is actually a behind the scenes look at the creation of the show and the influence of Magnification on the older material. Along with a music video for "Don't Go" it's a decent if non-definitive collection of bonuses.
As long as there are aging advocates desperate to see the seminal bands of their youth, there will be versions of aging artifacts like Yes. One imagines that Chris Squire would have to call it quits in order for the group to finally hang up its shield. Seeing them from a decade back can be a bit bewildering, however. Yes: Symphonic Live is an arresting experience, but it's definitely not one that will define their career…or their legacy.
Not Guilty, but just barely. Like a long winded lecture on rock 'n roll.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
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