Blu-ray Review: Yessongs

During the early ’80s, Prog rock bands of the early ’70s had a revival. Whether it be the Moody Blues, Genesis, Jethro Tull, King Crimson or Asia (which featured members of U.K., Yes, and Emerson Lake and Palmer); the bands that punk supposedly killed in the mid-70s were back. And they weren’t just back in a nostalgic way. They had new songs that were radio hits that didn’t completely harken back to their early days. They were no longer filling an entire album side with one song. It was an amazing rebirth. One to the big bands to get this second life was Yes. They reformed and struck gold with “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” If you were a teenager during this time of the re-emergence, you found yourself digging through the used albums at the Record Hole finding the past lives of all these bands. Yes had the easiest way to get into their prime catalog with Yessong. The three record set captured them on tour playing the best tracks off their best three albums. There was artwork from Roger Dean about floating lands that James Cameron would rip off for Avatar. You could put the album on your three-in-one record player, sit back in your bed and imagine taking in the majesty of Yes at the Greensboro Coliseum in 1972. And you’d flip through the booklet with photos of the band on stage and wonder what they really looked like in motion. And because there was no internet or mention on the cover, you’d be shocked a few years later when you are told there’s a concert film. Back in the day of VHS rental shops, you couldn’t just show up at Blockbuster and find everything. You had to hunt all over the various mom and pop stores. You’d get a lot of blank stares across the counter when you’d ask if they’d order a copy for the store. Back then it was close to $100 for a VHS cassette. And you’d get the talk that “sure you want to rent it, but will another 40 people rent the concert film?” With any luck you’ll find one place that wants to attract cool renters and there the box of Yessongs sits on a shelf with the VHS cassette in a plastic case behind it. And now you’re ready to rock once you get home and call that gang, which can take time since nobody in the mid-80s had a cellphone or an answering machine. Around midnight, all had assembled to take in the glory of Yes. Now it’s all simpler because you can order Yessongs on Blu-ray via the internet for about the price of your late fee.

Yes was on top of its game in 1972 with the release of Close to the Edge. This record along with The Yes Album and Fragile cemented their reputation as leaders of the English prog rock movement. And then things went weird when drummer Bill Bruford decided to split for the legendary King Crimson on the verge of a massive tour. In a matter of days, Alan White arrived and learned the songs and they hit the road to rock the world.

Yessongs captures the band toward the middle of that tour when they returned to London for two dates at the Rainbow Theater (which is now a Pentecostal church). The performance is only 70 minutes so it’s less than the live record. The tracks include “I’ve Seen All Good People,” “Your Move,” “All Good People,” “Clap,” “And You and I,” “”Close to the Edge,” “Excerpts from The Six Wives of Henry VIII,” “Roundabout” and “Yours Is No Disgrace.” During the credits we get the “Würm” section from “Starship Trooper.” “Mood For A Day,” “Siberian Khatru” and “Heart of the Sunrise” appear to have been left off the film.

The performances are like you imagine from staring at the booklet from inside the album sleeve. Rick Wakeman is wearing a silvery cape and finding odd spaces on top of his keyboards to stash a beer or two. He is a wizard twiddling knobs and finding time to play keys. Steve Howe’s fingers are all over the place as he goes acoustic for “Clap.” Chris Squire is has wings draping off his outfit while hitting nasty bass notes that will make you fear a sinkhole is opening up beneath your woofer. You’d never guess that Alan White is a last minute replacement who stuck around for over 40 years. Jon Anderson is ethereal. He’s able to hold together the mystical touches of the songs with the intense rock elements.

Yessongs is also unique for a concert film of its time since it just sticks to the stage performances. There’s no candid off stage action to get us know the band members better. There’s no fake narrative to tie it all together or introduce us to the music. It’s just the show. This isn’t quite what you’d see from the audience since they do get tight on fingers playing. Yessongs gets you deeper into the live album so you get a sense of what it was like if you were there.

The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The concert film has been remastered and it shows. The details jump out even under the stage lighting. Nothing will top the dazzle of Wakeman’s cape. The audio is 5.1 DTS-HD MA and the original Mono track. The mono is fine although the bass can get overwhelming at times. Having seen Yes during the mid-80s, Squire had the ability to punch you in the gut during a bass solo.

Yessongs 40 Years On (58:05) features guitarist Steve Howe and the late bassist Chris Squire discussing how the film came along. Howe mentions how the band only received 1/10th of the money promised in the advance on the film. Roger Dean talks about his artwork and semi-animating the album cover work for the opening of the film. He discusses how he decided to get into record covers in order to build an audience that would be into his furniture design.

Beginnings (12:32) is a promotional film for Steve Howe’s first solo record. There’s him playing as a one man string band. Patrick Moraz (keyboardist on Yes’ Relayer) pops up for a duet. During one song, Howe is walking across a bridge looking out of it like the main guy in the “Owner of a Lonely Heart” video. This was made in 1975 when there was no MTV.

Trailer (2:40) wants you to know this is a concert film about Yes.

MVD Visual presents Yessongs: 40th Anniversary Special Edition. Directed by Peter Neal. Starring: Jon Anderson, Chris Squire, Steve Howe, Rick Wakeman and Alan White. Rated: Unrated. Running Time: 72 minutes. Released: October 26, 2018.

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