Life shouldn’t be about the Drama

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Yes: Topographic Drama – Live Across America

Now does the world really need another Yes album? The past few years have seen the current incarnation of the band tour, bringing to life full album shows, and the albums that have been played in their entirety have been Fragile, Close to the Edge, The Yes Album, Going for the One and on their latest jaunt Drama and excerpts from Tales from Topographic Oceans, and with the shows have come several double disc sets Likie it is Bristol Colston hall & Like it is at the Meza Arts Centre.

I have to admit some bias here, as I saw this incarnation of Yes (The Howe, White, Downes, Davison, Sherwood) at Colston Hall on their UK leg, where they played Drama in it’s entirety on stage and thoroughly enjoyed it.

So, before I get into the nitty gritty and I certainly don’t want to stir up a hornets nest but…..I will broker no arguments as to whether or not this is Yes, it says Yes on the tin, it has Steve Howe and Alan White who have been mainstays longer than they haven’t, Geoff Downes credentials are beyond reproach, and Billy Sherwood and Yes have had intertwining careers for over 20 years, and he was handpicked by Chris Squire to stand in (and sadly replace) him in Yes, with Jon Davison fitting in perfectly, this to me is Yes in spirit, and even though there’s no original members left, does that matter? No, no it doesn’t. I am sure some people miss Jon Anderson, but as he’s concurrently touring with Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman, then brilliant news. Two bands playing Yes music, fantastic for the fans and it means different songs get an airing.

The music is spiritually uplifting and moving, (and Yes have a special place in my heart being the first prog band I really got into) and so I don’t really think that we should sully the music and the memories by getting into petty discussions as to whether a band is a band or not. This is Yes, and that’s my final word on that subject.

Now this album is a game of two halves for me, containing as it does my favourite Yes album, and one of my least favourite of the 70’s Yes albums.

Drama, is the definitive Yes album for me, it is so sharp, so crisp, everything is so right about this record, that hearing it live is a dream come true for a Yes fan.

From the opening Machine Messiah, the brilliant Man in a White Car, the pounding Does it Really Happen with the thundering bass of Billy Sherwood more than deftly stepping into the great mans shows, and with Into the Lens and the stunning Tempur Fugit, this line up Yes (3/5ths of the band that made Drama BTW) have picked up where it left off and given it the rebirth and reinvigoration it needs. Geoff Downes is all over those keyboard sounds, whilst Steve Howe plays like a man half his age, Alan White is still the mainstay on the drums. Drama is like a neglected jewel in the attic, and this line up have polished it and brought it back to where it should be, at the heart of the bands set.

Topographic Oceans meanwhile, left me under whelmed when I first heard it, and sadly nothing has changed, the band do their best, and there is nothing at all wrong with the bands performance and again Billy Sherwood comes in for huge praise as to how he steps into the band, his bass rumbling and thundering, you get distracted and listen and think it’s the great man himself. (Having seen him live Billy really does own the stage, and seems genuinely overwhelmed by the positive reaction his performance gets).

I enjoyed it enough to listen to once, but then, that’s why there are skip buttons on the CD player.

The additional tracks from other albums including a rousing Heart of the Sunrise, a brilliant Roundabout and then, the old warhorse itself Starship Trooper, dusted off and brought out for its umpteenth live release.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the song, I think this version is as good as any of the other live ones, I just think maybe they could throw something into the mix from albums like The Ladder, Fly From Here or Subway Walls from Heaven and Earth to truly reflect the bands history. I especially think anything from Fly From Here would be perfect due to its close relationship with the Drama material.

In other words, to answer my original question, does the world need another Yes live album? As it’s got Drama on, performed in it’s entirety, or course it does, you’d be mad not to want to listen to Drama live.

 

Celebrate YES: Finally Inducted

In this world, the gods have lost their way.

A huge, ginormous progarchy congratulations to YES for *finally* making into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!!!

Over our five years of existence, we’ve been huge YES fans.  Here are just a few selections of the many thousands of words we’ve written on YES over nearly half a decade.

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From our good friends at PROG magazine

Continue reading “Celebrate YES: Finally Inducted”

Relayer: A Brief Retrospective

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A visually stunning album cover. Profound and thought-provoking lyrics. Epic instrumentation and vocals. I could be describing almost any progressive rock album of note, but I am specifically referring to the underrated Yes album Relayer in this case. I say underrated because this album, featuring only three songs, all of which are worthy of the designation “progressive,” ended up wedged in between the controversial Tales from Topographic Oceans and the (relatively) lackluster Yes albums of the late 1970s/early 1980s.

First a brief comment on the sleeve design. Roger Dean is an integral part of Yes’ image, and his design for Relayer only bolsters the importance of his role. Inspired by images of war and the Knights Templar, Dean draws the viewer in to a world of fantastical images and drama, as the knights on horseback arrive to do battle with the twin snakes. Before one even listens to the album, he can already grasp its focus and themes: war and peace, victory and hope. Dean can capture in an image what Anderson, Squire, and Howe can capture in music.templar

The three songs are not only well-written, but they are also well-performed. This may seem like an understatement in regards to Yes, but this cannot be said about every song they released. The epic opener Gates of Delirium, inspired by Tolstoy’s even longer epic War and Peace, and featuring superb work on keys and synths from Patrick Moraz on his only Yes album, was best described by Jon Anderson: it is a “war song,” but not one that seeks to explain or denounce war, but rather a song that explores war’s aspects: there is a “prelude, a charge, a victory tune, and peace at the end, with hope for the future.” Sound Chaser, a frenetically paced tune featuring a true guitar solo from Steve Howe, solid drumming courtesy of Alan White, and a sizzling performance on bass guitar from the late, great Chris Squire, allows Yes to explore their jazzier side. The final tune, To Be Over, moves at a more relaxed pace, anchored by Howe’s electric sitar. It is a beautifully straightforward song, and it provides the perfect final touch on a visually and acoustically stunning album.

In sum, Relayer may not be the most renowned album in Yes’ extensive catalogue, but in this reviewer’s humble opinion, it is one of their finest works overall, and one that deserves more attention and respect.

YesYears: Twenty-Five Years Later

Remember YesYears?  It was one of the first really nice box sets to come out, back in the day when the only nice box set was that Bruce Springsteen one that had come out in the late 1980s?

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YesYears–a Nice Fiction that Every Member of Yes Loved One Another, Beginning to Present

YesYears came out on August 6, 1991.  Union had come out at the very end of April that same year.  Unless you were really connected to the internet (not that easy in 1991), Yes fans just had to guess as to what was going on that summer with the band.  Was Yes really an eight-person band?  And, how long would that last?  YesYears seemed to present the eight as living in harmony with one another.  After all, while the four discs did not include anything from Anderson Bruford Wakeman and Howe, it did list them as a part of the really nice fold-out sleeve, tracing every aspect of Yes history from “The Warriors” to Yes incarnation #9.

Whether real or not, the packaging of YesYears certainly makes a coherent narrative of the band and everyone of its members from Alpha to. . . well, certainly not Omega!  Yes was alive!  Or, so it seemed.

At the time that YesYears came out, I was very poor (a second-year graduate student) and still listening to cassette tapes.  Despite the expense of the YesYears box set, I purchased the four-cassette package.  And, yes, it made a deep cut in my savings account.  Those were years when I would skimp on lunch (usually not even eating one) to spend the money on music or books.

Yes+Yes+Years+350639bAnd as far as I remember, I never regretted having bought that box set.  Sadly, though, the cassettes that came with it were not of the best quality, and I wore my copies out rather quickly.

Jump forward two decades.  Today, in the mail, all the way from an Ebay seller in New Jersey, arrived a mint condition 4-cd box set of YesYears.

Wow, it is a thing of beauty.

I know that many of the songs that had not been readily available in 1991–such as Abilene, Vevey, Run with the Fox–are now very easily available.  Still, the 1991 box set is really, really gorgeous.  I actually paid less for this mint condition version (including postage) than I did for the cassette version 25 years ago.

Just as in 1991, I have no regrets.  The sun is out, my kids are laughing somewhere in the house, and I’m listening to disk three of YesYears.

Still amazingly beautiful. . . even a full quarter century later.

A Brief Remembrance of 90125

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One of the most important reboots ever.  November 7, 1983.

Funny how certain moments leave profound impressions.  The winter months always make me think of Yes’s 90125.  I very well remember purchasing the album on its release, November 7, 1983.  For months, every night, I listened to it on my headphones, after dinner and in the dark, sometimes two or three times.

I’d been a good Yes fan since first hearing Yessongs in 1973.  As I’ve mentioned before on progarchy, I fell in love with every aspect of Yessongs–the art and music.

Of course, I knew 90125 represented a huge break with the past, but it seemed like a rather brilliant break.

I’ve never stopped loving 90125.  It’s pretty much been in constant rotation since I first heard it at the age of 16.

I wish I had something profound to write about it at the moment.  I don’t.  Except, thank you Trevor, Chris, Trevor, Alan, Tony, Eddie, and Jon.

Progarchy’s Exclusive interview with Alan White of Yes

PROGARCHY EXCLUSIVE

An Interview with Yes’ Alan White (August 3, 2015)

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Prog Rock’s quintessential super group, Yes, will be heading out on an American tour again this summer/fall, including the third annual Cruise to the Edge in mid-November.  The most notable change in the line-up, of course, will be the absence of Chris Squire on bass—the first time ever for a Yes tour.

PROGARCHY’s Kevin McCormick recently spoke for with Yes drummer extraordinaire, Alan White, as he prepared for rehearsals for the upcoming tour.

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PROGARCHY Thank you so much for taking time to talk with us.  I think I speak for all of the members of Progarchy.com in offering our condolences after the recent and sudden death of your colleague and friend, Chris Squire.  Obviously he was such an essential part of Yes, founding member and the only person to appear on every Yes album.  Are there plans to honor his memory in some way on the upcoming tour?

Alan White  Well, we’re going to start rehearsals on Monday and we’re going to put our heads together.  We’ve got numerous ideas and we’ve got to work out something to honor Chris.  Just how we’re going to do it, we haven’t really decided.

Chris Squire

PROGARCHY On your website, you wrote a touching note in his memory.  As a musician, I know how unique the musical relationship between the drummer and bassist is and how crucial it is to forming a solid foundation for the band’s sound.  Can you put your finger on what made your collaboration with Chris work so beautifully seamlessly?

AW Well yeah, it’s a question of similarity with each other.  And over the years it became a more brotherly kind of relationship.  Chris was almost part of my family.    We shared a lot of experiences together and we played together for 43 years.  So when you play together with someone for that long you get to know all of the facets of their playing and visa versa, him with myself.  So it made it easy for us to work out some kind of flow in the rhythm section in what Yes was creating.  And it was a special relationship.  It probably never will be the same.  All the same, he did ask that we keep this going, and that I keep it going.  He said just do whatever you can do.  And that’s a good insight, to just keep things very much forward.

PROGARCHY I imagine it must have been difficult to choose to continue with the planned tour.  Was there a deciding factor for you?  

AW That was what Chris wanted. He didn’t want everything to come to a halt just because he was ill.  And while he was ill he had a very positive outlook to the future.  He said, “Well, I’ll go into hospital for four to six weeks, I’ll get rid of this and I’ll be back on tour next spring.”

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PROGARCHY Well, the fans will certainly miss him and I know the band will too.  Any hints on the set list for the upcoming shows or will that be decided at the rehearsals?

AW Well we’ve put a set list together, but we’ve not rehearsed. We’ve got a few things to try out and see if they’ll work out or not.  That will determine how we approach the set list.  It’s not confirmed yet, but we have a good idea the type of set we want to do, because we’re touring with Toto who are probably going to do a lot of their [popular tracks].  We’re not going to play whole albums like we’ve done in the past few years.  We’re just going to do a great selection of Yes music that people love to hear in concert.

PROGARCHY At first glance, Yes and Toto doesn’t seem like the most obvious double-bill.  How did it come about?

AW Well it sounded pretty good to me.  Maybe … because we know the guys in the band so well.  Steve Porcaro and all the them, I’ve known those guys for years.  They’re all super-nice guys and we get along really well.

PROGARCHY Any chances that you might join forces?  

AW I doubt it.  You know, once you get on the road you have a set list to get into and a time line you keep to.  There’s not really time to work that kind of thing out.  But I’ve played with Steve Porcaro and Billy Sherwood [on the Pink Floyd tribute album, Back Against the Wall].

Yes Tour

PROGARCHY So is it Yes with Toto or…?

AW It’s going to be Yes and Toto.  They’ll be opening for us every night, but it’s really more of a kind of double-billing.

PROGARCHY It’s amazing to me how much energy you bring to your live performances.  When I saw Yes perform in Austin in 2013, I was impressed with the power in your playing.  For you in particular, it must be extremely physically demanding.  

AW [laughing] Well it all depends on what part of the tour you go to when we’re on the road!  You know, none of us are spring chickens anymore, obviously.  And traveling is really what gets you.  If we didn’t have to travel on a daily basis we’d be in relatively good shape every evening.  But sometimes you’re just really tired when you get to the evening and the last thing you want to do is share music.  But it’s really funny how the body turns around and rises to the occasion.  I guess when you walk out on stage and see all of the people out there, the body just shrugs all that off and gets to it.

PROGARCHY Has your relationship with Yes’ music changed over time?  Are there any songs that you enjoy more now than when they were recorded?

AW Not really.  All of Yes’ music is pretty challenging to play.  Each song has got its own demands on what to play, and how to play, and the way to play it.  So you have to readjust yourself to all of that framework….I have played some of them quite a few thousand times.  So it’s about getting back into the mold and making it work.

PROGARCHY Are you surprised at all to still be playing with Yes after so many years?

AW [laughs] Well, I mean, yeah.  Eventually, when I joined the band I said, “I’ll give you guys three months and see if I enjoy it and you give me three months and see if you enjoy it as a band.”  And I’m still here forty-tree years later, so there must be something working.

PROGARCHY You had commented a while back about the current line-up of Yes is one of the best there’s been and Jon Davison’s working out well.  Are you still feeling that?

AW Jon Davison is an excellent vocalist and all-around musician.  He’s a super nice guy and very easy work to with.

PROGARCHY It’s amazing to me that Yes is still touring after 40 years.  Is there an element to progressive rock that allows it to reach across decades and generations?

AW I guess the main thing is that everybody strives to make Yes a well-respected, high-standard-of-musicianship kind of band.  When we perform, everybody gives 110 percent. If one part of the band isn’t clicking on all eight cylinders or whatever, you can tell, because it affects everybody else and their whole performance.

When we’re all firing on all cylinders, there’s no other band like it.

PROGARCHY Indeed!  Thank you so much for all of the great music over the years and good luck on the upcoming tour.

AW Alright, man.

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Led Zeppelin: A Progressive Rock Band?

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John Paul Jones would answer, “Yes.” I have contemplated this question for some time now: is Led Zeppelin worthy of being labeled a “progressive rock” band? Although best remembered for the being the premier hard rock band of the 70s, Led Zeppelin could easily fit into the category of progressive rock-at least to some extent. For a band that never released a single, never performed on “Top of the Pops” (or any other television program), and was able to get away with leaving their name off their album covers, the Zep certainly achieved a level of success unmatched by any other band during the “progressive” era. Please bear with me as I detail the history of Led Zeppelin’s gradual transition from blues-based rockers to true “progressive” artists.

The history of Led Zeppelin’s music demonstrates that they are indeed worthy of the “prog” label. Bursting on to the scene with Led Zeppelin I in 1969, the band’s early repertoire was dominated by blues-inspired songs, but early on they were showing signs of being something more than just a hard rock band. Dazed and Confused, memorable for Jimmy Page’s use of a violin bow on guitar strings to eerie effect, which demonstrated just how willing these virtuosos were willing to go to break the mold, one step at a time. Was the album truly “progressive” in the way we think of the word? Perhaps not, but it was a step in the right direction.

Led Zeppelin II was not a significant departure from the first album, many of the themes remaining the same (namely, women and sex), and most of the songs still bluesy in their origins. II, however, did introduce the rock n’ roll world to Tolkien and his masterpiece The Lord of the Rings in the excellent folk-rock piece Ramble On. And so began the marriage of Tolkien and the (progressive) rock world, thanks to Robert Plant’s fascination with Middle Earth. An odd match, perhaps, but it was a wonderful union indeed, one that would inspire generations of future progressive rock artists. (Also, observe the uncanny resemblance between Robert Plant and Theoden. Coincidence? I think not).

J R R Tolkientheoden

Led Zeppelin III demonstrated yet again the willingness of the band to experiment with various styles. An eclectic album to say the least, the boys shift from metal (Immigrant Song) to blues (Since I’ve Been Loving You) to traditional folk (Gallows Pole, That’s The Way, Bron-Y-Aur Stomp) rather seamlessly. Although the decision to include more folk and traditional music was not as well received, III has grown in popularity and respect over the years. It was not until the next album, however, that Zeppelin placed themselves firmly on the mantle of progressive rock.

By 1971 Led Zeppelin had developed such a following that they neglected to put their name on the album cover: and it did not hurt them in the slightest. As a matter of fact, Led Zeppelin IV proved their most successful album, and one of the most influential albums of all time. IV may also be considered their first “pure” progressive album. Although Black Dog and Rock and Roll retain thelziv “standard” rock sound, the rest of the album is undoubtably unique in its composition. The Battle of Evermore, an explicit reference to Middle Earth, and Misty Mountain Hop pay homage to Plant’s favorite literary land. Going to California is a pleasant yet intricate folk song dedicated to Joni Mitchell, the Canadian singer who supposedly captured the hearts of both Page and Plant. Four Sticks may be the first “math rock” song ever composed, a song so complex that it was only performed by the band once in concert. When the Levee Breaks features explosive drums from John Bonham and fine harmonica work from Plant. Finally, there is the iconic Stairway to Heaven, an eight minute long epic with enigmatic lyrics that starts off slowly and builds up to a climax of one of the most impressive guitar solos in rock history. If that does not fit the “progressive” mold, then I don’t know what does.

Zeppelin’s repertoire only became more progressive after the immense success of IV. Houses of the Holy featured two more Tolkien-inspired songs: the folk-rock Over the Hills and Far Away, and the haunting No Quarter. Physical Graffiti not only featured their longest song (In My Time of Dying, eleven minutes), but also perhaps their greatest one: Kashmir, one of the finest progressive rock songs ever composed. Backed by an orchestra, Plant, Page, Bonham, and Jones unleashed in this full scale epic of travels in a far off land, a theme explored by progressive rock groups past and present. Their next album, Presence, although perhaps their weakest, nevertheless featured the powerful (and progressive) opener Achilles Last Stand, as well as the catchy rocker Nobody’s Fault But Mine. Zeppelin’s next and final album (although they did not know it at the time) remains their most progressive. In Through the Out Door is dominated by John Paul Jones’ synthesizers and keyboards, and he is more than a competent keyboardist. His work prior to this album (Trampled Under Foot, No Quarter, The Rain Song) was impressive, but he truly shines on Zeppelin’s last album. In the Evening and Fool in the Rain prove he is more than capable on the keysjpjkeys, but it is his frenetic yet dexterous playing on the lengthy and cryptic Carouselambra that established Jones’ place in the canon of great prog rock keyboardists. This claim may be a stretch to some, as most identify Jones as a bassist, but I would urge the reader to listen to these songs mentioned above before arguing otherwise.

After John Bonham’s untimely death in 1980, the band split up, each man going his own direction. Jimmy Page, one of the most versatile guitarists to ever grace the stage, actually teamed up with Chris Squire and Alan White of Yes to form XYZ (X-Yes and Zeppelin). Although the project was aborted after a short time, it nevertheless demonstrated Page’s willingness to form what could have been a truly “progressive” super-group.

I hope this piece did not drag on for too long, but I felt it necessary to delve deep into and explore the fascinating world of Led Zeppelin. Many consider this group to be among the best, if not the best, in rock n’ roll history, but to me they are more than a standard rock n’ roll band. In my book, they were also one of the finest progressive rock bands of all time.