Yessongs: 40th Anniversary Special Edition Blu-ray Review: For Fans Only

An enjoyable Yes concert but the audio comes close to the edge of unacceptability.
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Originally released on Blu-ray in the UK for the actual 40th anniversary in 2012, Yessongs, also the name of a live album with a larger selection of songs, is now available for the rest of us.  The film presents the band playing at the Rainbow Theatre in London during their Close to the Edge Tour on December 15, 1972.  The members are vocalist Jon Anderson,  bassist Chris Squire, guitarist Steve Howe, keyboardist Rick Wakeman and drummer Alan White, replacement for Bill Bruford who quit eleven days before the tour was set to commence.  

After a brief "Overture" of some sort, the concert begins with "I've Seen All Good People". During the opening of "Your Move" where it's just the vocals, a consistent hiss is apparent as is occasional crackle. There's distortion when the voices get too loud. When the bass drum kicks in, it booms on the track, nearly overwhelming the vocals and acoustic guitar. The bass guitar increases the bottom-end dominance. Then the keyboards kick in, adding to the commotion, and when they segue into "I've Seen All Good People", the music borders on a cacophony.

Howe shines in the spotlight with the instrumental “Clap” dedicated to his son Dylan who inspired it upon his birth. Although played on a lone acoustic guitar, the recording is still too loud and distorted. The band, augmented by Howe's pedal steel guitar, make it tough for Anderson's vocals to rise above during “And You and I”, which is unfortunate because he is such a unique lyricist.

During the 18-minute "Close to the Edge", the filmmakers provide for the partaking prog-rock fan by intercutting a variety of science footage, some of which has had the color altered, that includes material from a microscope, under water, and time lapse of Venus Flytraps. This might be a nod to the environmental sounds that appear on the studio version. This song and "Würm", an excerpt from "Starship Trooper" that plays during the closing credits, are the same performances from the Yessongs album.

“Excerpts from The Six Wives of Henry VIII” comes from Wakeman's second solo album where everyone but Anderson made contributions.  With the holidays approaching, he has some fun and slips in "Jingle Bells" and "Hallelujah Chorus" from Messiah. The band then returns for a rollicking version of "Roundabout" greeted by applause from Howe's opening notes. I am not sure if Anderson's vocal is better balanced in the mix or if its my familiarity with the lyrics, but I understand him better here.

After a brief respite off stage, they come back to encore with "Yours Is No Disgrace", at first grooving with a slight honky tonk vibe as Wakeman plays piano, then the band soars. White, especially on cymbals, and Wakeman provide a place for the vocals to hover, then the band resuming to transport the listener. Squire is next to hold a place while the vocals continue. The band then resumes its flight with Howe delivering some great runs. The director plays with double exposure during this portion creating interesting effects.

The video is a restored definition digital transfer from 16mm original negatives displayed at an aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The concert was neither lit nor staged for film, so the band mostly plays under colored lights. The focus is soft, especially the camera from the balcony. White and black specks appear as do scratches, particularly during “Close to the Edge” where the single shots of Wakeman exhibit what look like claw marks.

The audio is available in DTS HD 5.1 and many issues have been referred to above. The vocals and music, which sound a bit muddled, are heard in all channels like they are all playing the original mono. The mix is too loud and not balanced well.  The high notes sound restricted and don't hit their full potential. 

Bonus material includes “Yessongs - 40 Years On” (59 min) - In separate interviews, Howe, Squire, and artist Roger Dean, who has created four new art cards for this release, talk about the film, Dean's working with the band in creating album covers, and their creative processes. Fans will enjoy it, but it's a shame the other members didn't take part. In addition to talking about Yessongs, Howe also talks about the short film Beginnings (HD, 12 min), which is also available here. It features “Ram,” “Break Away from It All,” and “Beginnings” from his solo album of the same name.  The clarity of the instruments is much better than the main feature and future Yes member Patrick Moraz plays harpsichord and former Yes member Bill Bruford is on drums.

As a fan of Yes, I am appreciative to have anything from this tour/line-up to experience and think other fans will feel the same way. The video is good enough to show the band in action, although White's time on screen is limited. The audio is disappointing and I wonder if its condition will hamper the appreciation of anyone new to the band. As much as I enjoy the songs here, this film is not how I would introduce anyone to Yes. Not sure if a restoration of the source is possible, but one is needed to better showcase the talents of the band members.

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