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Saturday, March 14, 2009

CD Review: Yes - Symphonic Live

Yes - Symphonic Live
2009 Eagle Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.



By now, the whole rock symposium phenomenon has become sadly passe. Not to say that Metallica deserves credit for inventing the collision between sonic distortion and orchestral accompaniment, but rock and and metal hasn't been the same ever since S&M crashed the docks. Prior to this red-lit marriage which not only became an immediate cash cow for Metallica but provoked an entire movement of bands enveloping the practice of symphonic accentuation, you had Electric Light Orchestra, the most direct and addictive example. There's of course been Emerson Lake and Palmer and Pink Floyd and later on Savatage as well as Queensryche's Floydian love letter "Silent Lucidity." Celtic Frost naturally deserves mention, and while we can scour the history books for rock and metal units employing orchestral maneuvers within their music, suffice it to say one band comes sprinting to mind when thinking logistically about an endeavor between electric and traditional instruments: Yes

Despite the fact Yes' more recent bodies of work yield little of the flamboyant progression as their earlier, more reknowned masterpieces, they remain in the eyes of many the ultimate prog band. As pinpointedly narcissistic yet beautifully senses-bursting as Tales From Topographic Oceans is, admit it, you subliminally imagined a full orchestra blaring behind this album at least one time or another while spinning it.

Wish fulfillment be yours, then, as Yes corrals the European Festival Orchestra behind "Ritual" from Topographic Oceans on their frequently wondrous Symphonic Live album. A large contingency of Yes' formative lineup (remiss of only Tony Kaye and Rick Wakeman) are present for this ambitious show which leans heavily upon Yes' classic material, though they were officially in support of their 2001 album Magnification, which of course, marked the documented use of an orchestra on one of their studio albums.

Running on full steam with that conjecture, Symphonic Live may not be the grandest achievement in rock orchestration, but when it clicks, Yes sounds nearly as triumphant as their golden era. Simply having Jon Anderson's calming stability on vocals makes it worth the listen as well as Chris Squire's reliably slicing bass notes, which have historically been their own character for Yes. Steve Howe naturally is the deep-ingrained soul of Yes, really sparkling up his licks on "The Gates of Delirium" as well as during his crowd-silencing guitar solo.

The concert's watermark moment (and the point receiving the most generous accolade from the crowd) comes courtesy of the aforementioned "Gates of Delirium" from Relayer. Breathtaking and complex originally, Yes, which sometimes tends to keep the orchestra's role subordinate to their own projection (often to point of absenteeism), turns their guest performers loose here, as they do during the climactic moments of "Ritual" and "Magnification." "The Gates of Delirium" thus becomes more superficially magical as should be expected with this sort of venture.

As Yes dishes out a half hour of Close to the Edge along with "Long Distance Turnaround" and "Roundabout" from Fragile and "Starship Trooper" and "I've Seen All Good People" from The Yes Album, the core balance of Yes' original compositions are so strong the orchestra need not dial in necessarily. At times they simply provide subliminal earthy weaves that are mostly drowned out by Yes' determination to recapture the old rub, which they do admirably. Everything sounds as it should, even though the fugue organs during "Close to the Edge" provided by Tom Brislin are a bit understated, albeit this is a CD recording and we're to assume they were appropriately thundrous in the actual venue. Otherwise, Brislin does all that is required of him and Yes operates on full cylinders because of it.

On "Starship Trooper," the orchestra's involvement is slim at best, but some of the songs like this one are pinpointed with their intentions no further embellishment is needed. Honestly, there's no real reason for symphonic textures to a pop-driven post modern jive tune like "Owner of a Lonely Heart," while "Roundabout," one of the finest songs ever recorded, would lose something in translation with gross string glob melding atop Squire's busy bee bass lines.

That being said, while Symphonic Live is not exactly a hundred percent as advertised, Yes utilizes their orchestra's assets but only when appropriate. As a concert album in whole, it's as entertaining as you'd want it to be, Alan White drum solo and all. Now if Yes somehow drank the fabled elixir to write new material ala Fragile with an enamored symphony playing to them Wagner-esque, we could be able to truly say the glory days are here once again...

Rating: ****

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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