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Live at Montreux 2003

Review by Gary Hill

Yes is a band that has no shortage of live albums. For this reason, the next statement I’m going to make is all the more profound. This may well be the best live CD they have ever released. Recorded at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 2003, this features what most consider to be the classic lineup (Jon Anderson, Chris Squire, Steve Howe, Rick Wakeman and Alan White – the one variation that some might offer is Bill Bruford in place of White). In any event, this is at least as good in terms of sound quality as any of the other recordings, and better than most. The performance is top-notch, the band seemingly at the top of their game. We get a number of seldom performed classics and many magical moments. For this reason I’d say if you are a Yes fan, you need this no matter how many live albums you already have from them – get the DVD, too. If you are someone looking for a sample of live Yes for this first time, you can’t go wrong with this one. It’s one of the best live progressive rock albums ever released. Unlike some of their other live recordings, this also has the bonus of presenting the entire concert, beginning to end. All of these things make this a “must have” release.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 5 at

Track by Track Review
Disc 1
Siberian Khatru
The quintessential Yes opener is delivered in fine fashion here. I’ve reviewed this song in a number of live releases and the studio recording, so let’s just suffice it to say that you don’t get a lot better in Yes music than this track. The performance here is inspired and on fire.
The title track from the Magnification album, in contrast to some of the other material here, has not been released repeatedly in live performance videos and CD’s. It is therefore a treat to get it here on this disc. The Magnification disc was recorded with no keyboards, but rather a symphony orchestra taking the place of the keys. Rick Wakeman provides a great alternative to the orchestral arrangement through his clever usage of his instrumentation. I’d have to say that, as much as I enjoy the studio album, I prefer this rendition over that one. All the moods, modes and magic are here, but it’s got a lot more rock band treatment. This is a “keeper.”
Don't Kill The Whale
There aren’t that many live versions of this track, so it is nice to get one here. This song really rocks out quite well in the concert performance, leading me to wonder why they have performed it so seldom.
In the Presence Of
Here we get another track from Magnification. This one is an epic piece that starts off gently on piano. It builds in wonderful ways, and might be my favorite track from the Magnification album. It has a very uplifting lyrical message and the music works well to provide a suitable soundtrack to that spirit. Once again, the keyboards really add a lot to the mix. In fact, I’d say that the difference is even more pronounced. This one is another that makes this collection worth having, even if we were to disregard the rest of the material on the disc. It’s a wonderful, magical ride into the heavens.
South Side of the Sky
Here we have the gem among gems. This has long been my favorite Yes song and the group said for years that it was one that had never worked well live. They found a way to work out the difficulties and put this in their set a few years back. It works amazingly well and just plain rocks. This is the one “must have” track more than all else here. The extra incendiary soloing duel between Wakeman and Howe is amongst the most powerful progressive rock instrumental work you’ll find anywhere. It is one of those experiences that produces a jaw dropping response pretty much each and every time you hear it. It just doesn’t get any better than this. The two men are purely on fire.
And You And I
Another classic Yes song, this one is presented in a great fashion that’s quite faithful to the original. It’s one of their best numbers, but it has been perhaps a little over-represented in terms of live performances.
To Be Over
A live performance that’s a less common occurrence in the Yes repertoire, “To Be Over” is presented here as an acoustic guitar solo. This makes it a great inclusion, but I would have liked to have heard Anderson singing on it.
Probably one of two best known Steve Howe guitar solos (the other being "Mood For a Day," this one is good, and a lot of fun, but a little overdone in terms of live recordings.
Disc 2
Show Me
Here we get a previously unreleased piece of music in the form of a duet between Steve Howe and Jon Anderson. It’s a pretty, balladic number that is quite uplifting. Wakeman joins them in a supporting role late in the track.
Rick Wakeman Solo Medley: Catherine of Aragon / Catherine Howard / Montreux Jig/ Jane Seymour
What can you say about Rick Wakeman’s keyboard prowess that hasn’t already been said? While this solo has some of the same material that was in his solo segment as far back as Yessongs, there is some fresh stuff here, too. All in all, it’s a fun and impressive romp that is just plain cool.
Heart of the Sunrise
This is another classic Yes track. The only issue here, as with some of the other stuff, is that if you already own the other live discs (and videos) from the group you have quite a few versions of this track. Still, it is a strong one and performed extremely well here.
Long Distance Runaround
Here we have another oft-performed number, making it another redundancy in the world of Yes live albums. Still, this might be the best live version of the track ever captured on CD. There’s no debating the classic nature of this piece of music, nor can you argue with the power of it. Just let it wash over you and enjoy!
The Fish
Chris Squire’s bass solo segment comes (as it should) out of “Long Distance Runaround.” While you might find another live recording or two of this, it is a piece that has continued to grow and change over the years. So, it’s good to get this recording of the most recent incarnation of the number. In recent years, Squire has added a bit of Drama’s “Tempus Fugit” into the mix and this performance is no exception. This time we also get a snippet of Tormato’s “On The Silent Wings of Freedom,” a great addition in my book. The interplay between Squire and White on this solo has always worked quite well – these two guys working together are a machine. Wakeman enters at the end to complete the picture.
Another classic from Yes’ immense catalog, this epic hasn’t been included on as many live albums as some of this other stuff. I’d also have to say that of all the versions of the number I’ve heard, this might be my favorite. This is a powerful piece of music that manages to do what Yes does so well, combine dark and light, soft and loud passages into one complete, organic piece of wonderment. This might well be their greatest epic of all times (although, I’d be hard pressed to pick a winner between this and “Close to the Edge”) and they put in an exceptional telling of it here. The magic just keeps on going with this one.
I've Seen All Good People
I’m not so sure we need another live version of this one, but it was included in the concert. Besides, I did say that if you only want to own one live Yes album (bad call, by the way), make it this one – so I think you probably need this tune. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great song, just a little overdone by this point in their career. Ask Deep Purple about “Smoke on the Water.”
If there is one Yes song I could live without ever hearing again, this is it. Mind you, “Roundabout” is an awesome piece of music, but (between hearing it on the radio year after year, their performance of it every time I’ve seen them live, and countless live versions, not to mention playing it in a couple cover bands I was in) I’ve heard this track so many times I find it just plain boring. Mind you, they did a great acoustic bluesy rendition the last time I saw them live – that brought new life to this old chestnut. In any event, I suppose for an accurate representation of the Yes live experience this needs to be included, but I’ve personally had my fill. It’s the “Smoke on the Water” thing all over again.
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