Yes - Classic Artists: Yes
2008 Image Entertainment
Ray Van Horn, Jr.
Leave it to Yes to cough up a three-hour-plus documentary on their rise and fall history in the rock world. Somehow, such a gratuitous marathon of storytelling is befitting a band that has defined prog evolution through whirlwind epics like "Heart of the Sunrise" and "Roundabout" from Fragile, "Yours Is No Disgrace" from The Yes Album or "The Ancient Giants Under the Sun" off of Tales From Topographic Oceans.
Though you will be utterly exhausted after watching the story of Yes unravel in full detail including testimonials from the majority of the rotating band members, the trip is unforgettable. Yeah, it takes almost three-and-a-half hours to tell, but the prevailing impression is that you will have seen a band historically considered to be metahuman as rock's most gifted progressive artists humanized and humbled through their experiences that features more confusion and disorder than their mid-to-late seventies work. Certainly the in-out-in-out capacity of Yes' band members including Rick Wakeman, Steve Howe and even Jon Anderson for a flash of time has produced a dividing line more amongst the fans than even within Yes itself, which is considerable.
Arguments of prog purism is the dominant topic amongst rock fans and critics, which finds many of them stopping at Relayer in terms of acceptance of what constitutes the true Yes sound. Though many of these fans have largely dismissed Yes' more recent efforts including the two Keys to Ascension albums, The Ladder and Magnification, the true debate and dismissal comes around the Trevor Rabin era that coughed up the rescue mission 90125 album, which to this writer's ears is a perfectly wonderful album, albeit a strangely reinvented and reconfigured Yes record. Regardless of 90125's greatness, it was the holy smokes dullness of Big Generator and the inexcusable sham of Union that even some of the band members admit to being a piece of junk. Steve Howe himself notes in the documentary that he threw the tape out of his car window he was that upset by Union.
In their heyday, Yes broke countless barriers and--for better and worse--unlocked the door to an alter dimension of sound and visual presentation through their larger-than-life synth-splashed psychedelia and otherworldly stage sets that would quietly usher in the era of the big arena bands of the eighties. It was Yes' stage designs, even in their early club days that paved the way for lighting spectacles of later years. It was also a period in which Jon Anderson notes that having seen King Crimson play while Yes was polishing their chops made him and the band practice that much harder and dig deeper into their progressive tendencies. As Yes grew in strength alongside Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Nektar and Pink Floyd, the channels were revealed for future greats like Rush and Genesis and now many years later, the underground is teeming with prog disciples who take the best of what Yes and King Crimson had to offer and strain it with lower tunings and tempo-crazed dallying to make it their own.
Had Yes not had to fight Led Zeppelin for in-house label attention from Atlantic Records, who's to say how much higher Yes could've risen? Certainly sales for The Yes Album, Fragile and Close to the Edge quantifies Yes as a megaband, but the documentary reveals an overlaying pressure in the band to get that much better than the album before, yet do it on their terms, which did cause internal combustion, be it the layoff of original guitarist Peter Banks after two solid performances on Yes and Time and a Word, or Rick Wakeman's flat-out disapproval of the illucid madness that was Tales From Topographic Oceans. The theme would continue so much that Jon Anderson himself briefly took flight after no one in sight got what Tormato was about (revealed on the DVD to be a cheeky shot at themselves, using touring and thrown tomatoes at the band as the butt joke theme of the album), prompting Yes to recruit The Buggles' Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes, which is where many Yes fans began to say no.
Though Drama is a better album than most give it credit for, including the punk-laced, brackish "Tempus Fugit," the legacy of Yes took a twist that would eventually include the addition of Trevor Rabin, whom many fans look upon as an infiltrator. Rabin's musical prowess is so great he single-handedly saved Yes from demise on 90125, but it's at this point where the internal back-stabbing and departures and arrivals splinters and destabilizes Yes, revealed in gory detail in the documentary. Amazing that they could recruit Steve Howe, who had departed to form the improbably successful Asia during the eighties, then also lure Rick Wakeman back from exodus, only to dump them out and eventually invite them back again in repeat cycles. What are core principals of the band are turned into virtual scab players, which is positively shameful as you watch it unfold. Still, the core five of Chris Squire (who handles most of the narrative of the documentary), Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Rick Wakeman and Alan White keep making a play for it every now and then, and despite the hurt feelings and the mucky abuse, the final word of the story is that they're hovering within arms' reach of each other for one possible last hurrah when the moment is right.
The DVD also includes some nifty rehearsal footage of the core team in 1996 as they rediscover their magic on standards like "Roundabout" and "I've Seen All Good People." As if you haven't heard enough interview footage in the main documentary, there's plenty more on the second disc in a looser format, plus three videos including "Tempus Fugit" and "Owner of a Lonely Heart." If there's only one detriment to Classic Artists: Yes, it's the sleight of background music in the first hour of the documentary that is the mark of any good rock retrospective. Yes, you get a slew of lost photos and yes, the story of the band is compelling enough you're glued to it, but it takes until the eighties era of Yes before we start hearing a continuous thread of background music and that's a little shabby, sorry to say. It's Yes, for crying out loud...
Though classic rock stations have kept the legacy of Yes alive through repeat plays of "Roundabout," "Sweetness," "I've Seen All Good People" and "Owner of a Lonely Heart," these few choice moments when Yes opted to write a straightforward rock song isn't quite wholly telling of the legacy they've left behind. The bitter sourness of their late eighties destruction and no-one-cares nineties revival attempt has made many critics, judges and fans overlook the contributions of Yes, although a younger generation of progressive-minded musicians has taken the flame and lit their own mantles with the embers Yes has poked and prodded to a scant spark. Still, put your stylus down on The Yes Album or at least spin it in your CD console and all you need to know about Yes' deserving place as rock icons will zip into your face and ears like a triggered memory...
Thursday, January 31, 2008
Yes - Classic Artists: Yes