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Yes

In the Present: Live from Lyon

Review by Gary Hill

While any Yes album is better than the music of a lot of other bands, this is probably the group’s weakest live album. Sure, pointing to Benoit David as the problem is the easy route, and honestly not all that accurate. His vocal tone doesn’t fit right at points, at other times he has different issues, but overall he sounds pretty good on this set. Mind you, his presence is still one of the reasons this is the weakest live album Yes have produced.

The title itself, “In The Present” is questionable. The disc was recorded a few years back and since it includes Oliver Wakeman instead of Geoff Downes, it doesn’t even feature the current lineup. So, one might question releasing this now and giving it this title. Additionally, most of the songs are played a lot slower than on any other Yes album. I’m not sure why they did that, but in places it’s actually annoying, feeling like the tune is dragging. The other problem is that a lot of this feels like it had parts punched in after the fact, in the studio. I know, live performance technology is changing rapidly, and perhaps it is all live, but I’d be willing to bet there was a lot of work done on the original recording.

There’s a bonus DVD with some bits of live footage and some interview clips. Overall, this is a good album. It’s not a great Yes album, though. Yes completists will certainly want it. It’s recommended to anyone who saw this tour and enjoyed it. As I said, any Yes album is better than albums from a lot of artists and pretty darned good. Comparing to the rest of the Yes catalog, though, or to just the other official live Yes albums shows the weaknesses. As a longtime Yes fanatic, it really pains me to say that, but the truth will set you free, they say.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2012  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Disc 1
Siberian Khatru

The familiar sounds of “Siberian Khatru” open the album. The wheels fall off a bit as the vocals enter. At times it feels a bit busy and there are a few rough spots in the vocal delivery. Still, at other points Beniot David sounds a lot like Jon Anderson. An example of the problem with his performance comes at the end of the line, “River run all over my head,” where he seems to struggle to stay on key. That’s just one example. Yes, the bulk of the performance is on key, but examples of going off key are frequent. Purists could point to Oliver Wakeman’s soloing on the song and say that it doesn’t sound like his dad’s performances. On this piece, I don’t find that to be a problem because they stay true enough to be recognizable, but have enough of the younger Wakeman’s musical identity to make it his. Another flaw here, though is that there seems to be a bit of a problem pulling out of one of the mellow sections later, too. The multi-layered vocal section doesn’t gel as well as some of the other live versions I’ve heard and David lets out a very shrill screech as they fire out of it. All these things combine to make this a decent live rendition, but the weakest I’ve ever heard from the group.

I've Seen All Good People
The early sections of this tune are very vocal driven. That means that the change in the band in terms of lead singers is quite obvious. David stays on key here, though and his tone is different than Anderson’s, but still good. There are some musical changes in terms of tone and flavor, but this one is much more effective than the opener was. It seems other voices in the group (most notably Chris Squire’s) are more prominent in this live telling than on other renditions I’ve heard. The jam section later feels a bit slow, though.
Tempus Fugit
This is one of the things that makes this disc a “must have” for Yes fans. One of two Drama songs presented here, it’s good to have a live version of this piece. I’ve always loved Squire’s bass line on this and while Wakeman’s keyboard sounds quite different than the parts Geoff Downes played, I like it. This has less of a dated sound than the studio version did. Honestly, a lot of that sound came from the effects on the bass on that whole album (a similar sound was heard on Tormato) and the cut works better with a more straight bass sound.
Onward
This Tormato ballad feels a bit out of sorts at times. Still, it’s been like that in other live renditions. Frankly, it tends to be a part of a Yes show that drags when they perform it. It’s not a bad cut, but just a little overlong for so little change in song structure and composition. Wakeman’s keyboards feel a bit flat in terms of voicing on the later parts of the piece.
Astral Traveller
An early Yes tune, it’s kind of weird to think that when this song was originally recorded only one person in this lineup (Squire) was in the band. Still, this is song the group hasn’t often performed live. So, it’s good to have this version. It gels fairly well, but the vocal arrangement feels a bit over the top at points (in terms of the mix). They also slow the piece down quite a bit and it seems to drag a little because of it. I do like Steve Howe’s guitar soloing later quite a bit. Alan White gets a drum solo in the middle of this piece, too.
Yours Is No Disgrace
As this opens it’s obvious that it’s slower than normal, almost to the point of feeling like it’s catching somewhere and being pulled back. Some of the instrumental segments on this are quite interesting with some minor changes in flavor. Vocally it’s one of the stronger showings, too.
And You And I
The first problem with this number is that it’s again almost painfully slow. The vocals seem a bit weird in terms of pronunciation, but part of that is probably from the slow tempo, causing the words to be stretched out. Squire’s vocals are much more prominent on this live version than on any other I’ve heard. While there are some cool moments here, other parts seem to have odd tones and the urge to scream “faster!” overpowers me a lot of the time. I’ve always like the renditions of this tune that include Chris Squire on harmonica, so this gets bonus points for that.
Corkscrew (Acoustic Solo)
Here we have a Steve Howe acoustic guitar solo. At least it’s a different solo than he typically does, but I find that solo pieces like this kind of take away from the group experience, at least in my opinion. Still, this is another reason to own the disc.
Disc 2
Owner Of A Lonely Heart
This is the biggest hit Yes ever had. This live version includes a rather strange sounding guitar solo and there are a couple rough moments in terms of the vocal performance. Still, it’s not bad.
Southside Of The Sky
Probably my favorite Yes song, they slow it down on this performance, too. Of course, I remember reading at one time that they used to have trouble doing this one live because it just didn’t feel right. When they’ve done it on other tours in the last decade it’s been slowed down, too. So, perhaps that’s the secret to making it work live. This rendition is pretty good, and it’s a tune that’s not over-represented in the live Yes catalog. Somehow the instrumental section later feels to have less precision than one expects from Yes, seeming more like a jam band kind of tune.
Machine Messiah
The epic piece from the Drama album, this is another song that makes this a “must have” for Yes fans. They never did this song live until recently, so this is one where there are no official live versions floating around. The cut works reasonably well, but again feels too slow. There are points here where it really feels less live and more like Howe’s guitar parts were punched in after the fact.
Heart Of The Sunrise
This is also played in slow mode. The vocals seem glaringly different in tone in a lot of places. The trouble here is, there are so many live versions of this, that it gets compared to all of those and seems to pale in that way.
Roundabout
And, I always ask, do we need another live version of this song? Frankly, it’s a great song, but I have so many live recordings of it because it’s pretty much on every live album, and there are live versions on various compilations, too. Chris Squire definitely seems to take a lot more of the vocal duties here than on other versions I’ve heard. This is not a bad rendition, it just seems sort of unnecessary. Although, I suppose the idea of releasing a live Yes album without “Roundabout” is ludicrous. There are some bits here that feel like they had some studio work done.
Starship Trooper
This live rendition isn’t bad. The instrumental soloing on it is among the best here, although, again, it resembles a jam band at times, more than prog rock proficiency. Still, it’s one of the better live performances here.
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