Album review: YES – Songs From Tsongas

Yes - Songs From Tsongas

Eagle Rock [Release date 22.09.14] 3-CD

It comes to something when we get an anniversary release of an anniversary release!  Following Rick Wakeman’s return to the band in 2002, the classic Yes line up of Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Chris Squire, Rick Wakeman and Alan White embarked a 35th anniversary tour in 2004.

It trawled the full range of the band’s back catalogue including a rare dip into the band’s 1969 debut and the first performance of ‘Mind Drive’ from Keys to Ascension (1996).  Naturally, it was documented on DVD – capturing the gig at the Tsongas Arena, Massachusetts on May 15, 2004.

10 years on, and just in time for Santa to order in a few extra copies, there’s a Special Edition release on DVD, Blu-ray, plus a 3 CD set.  The video footage is supplemented by an additional 70 minutes of a rather wet, stripped back, outdoor gig in Lugano, Switzerland Jazz Festival on 8 July 2004 on the European leg of the tour.

The original release received mixed reviews.  The main bones of contention being the set list (with a back catalogue like Yes, you’re never going to please everyone) and a general feeling they were a little slow out of the blocks (come on, they’re no youngsters).  But there was almost universal agreement that the extensive acoustic section including ‘Long Distance Runaround’, a rather jaunty ‘Roundabout’ and ‘Owner Of A Lonely Heart’ is something special.

And as someone who’s only recently (and inexplicably) discovered the joys of Close To The Edge I was a little disappointed to find the omission of the title track, but it is ably represented by the inclusion of ‘And You And I’.

But, there are several ‘buts’, firstly the sound quality is – given the band’s pristine studio output – a little ‘dodgy’.  The mix is poor at times, there’s too much audience noise picked up on the mics (inappropriately timed wolf whistles, off beat clapping, and worst of all mid song ‘solo’ applause).

At times Anderson’s vocals are a little ‘muddy’ and both he and Wakeman seem to have been mixed up at the expense of just about everyone else.  Plus for a 2014 release the volume levels are oddly muted compared to other releases (live or otherwise).  It perhaps explains why a CD set wasn’t part of the original release 10 years ago.

As for the DVD, well visually it has to be said it’s a fairly static performance, and the Roger Dean stage set aside, it’s completely lacking in atmosphere.  But then what do you expect from an arena gig?  And the damp Lugano gig fares little better in that respect.  But then if they’d gone over the top they’d be criticised for being over indulgent proggers, so it’s a case of damned if you don’t and damned if you do.

The Tsongas acoustic set is, indeed, a highlight, but for the casual ‘fan’ the package is perhaps more ‘of interest’, than an essential purchase.  ***

Review by Pete Whalley

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