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50 Live

Review by Gary Hill

I am always upfront about the fact that I am a Yes fanatic. They've been my favorite band for more than 45 years now. In that time, I've seen a lot of live Yes gigs and listened to even more. I'm a real completist collector when it comes to Yes, so I try to get everything I can for my collection.

With all that experience of hearing the group live, I've come away with the understanding that while the band are real virtuosos, each show is unique. And when I say "show," I literally mean each concert, not each tour. You'll never hear any two performances of a song that are exactly the same.

So, each live recording has some merit for me because it captures a one-of-a-kind performance. This live album has some special points, though. First, there are a number of tunes here that have seldom been played live. Secondly, this is a unique lineup featuring Jon Davison, Steve Howe, Geoff Downes, Billy Sherwood, Alan White, Jay Schellen and appearances from both Tony Kaye and Patrick Moraz. For those reasons this has some real historical merit. The thing is, it works well from the point of view of a live album even ignoring those things. Is it their best live album? Probably not, but it has some real charms that make it shine.

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Track by Track Review
Disc One:
Close to the Edge

The familiar build up brings this cut into being. As they get into the opening musical passages the cut runs slower than I'm used to, but it's still awesome. The guitar and keyboard elements here feel fresh and new. I dig this rendition of the cut quite a bit. Sure, it sounds different than that studio version, but having heard this song live many times and even more live recordings of it, I don't think it ever sounds exactly the same twice. I particularly dig the vibe of the slower section later in the track. It takes on more of a spacey element in some ways.

Nine Voices (Longwalker)
Here is the first of a series of tunes that have not been played live frequently. That makes this a treat and one of the reasons I find this an important release to have. While a 21st Century piece, this feels very much like something from The Yes Album. The vocal arrangement on this is classy.
Sweet Dreams
Here's another I've not heard the band do frequently. This is an early tune from the group, and this live take really captures it well. I love the guitar fills on the song. The instrumental movement later is so tasty. It is both fresh and rooted in vintage Yes sound.
Another seldom heard live gem, I've always enjoyed this Tormato tune. They put in a solid, but not surprising live take on the cut.
We Can Fly from Here Pt. 1
More or less the final live rarity of the set, I really love this live take on the newer piece. Fly From Here has grown to be one of my favorite Yes albums, so this is a very special inclusion for me. There aren't a lot of surprises here, but just a strong rendition of a great tune. That said, the percussion elements seem a bit different and more developed on this. At least they are further up front.
This segment of "The Gates of Delirium" has been a frequent visitor to Yes set-lists. I really like this live telling. The bass work manages to really stand out here.
Another that has had quite a few live performances, and even live recordings, this starts well with the classic piano introduction. As I mentioned with "Close to the Edge," I don't think I've heard two performances of this that were exactly the same. This one has its own unique quirks and charms. It's played fairly faithfully, and it holds up well.
Disc Two:

This number falls sort of in-between in terms of rarity. It's not a tune that seems to get played every tour, but it's also been represented pretty well off an on over the years. It's a killer rocker that really works. I really do enjoy this live take on the tune.

Excerpt from the Ancient
Another song that qualifies as a lesser heard live track. I think it would have been interesting to hear the full piece, but this dynamic and intriguing excerpt works well. It's roughly a little more than a quarter of the full tune. It focuses on the intricate guitar and vocal section.
Yours Is No Disgrace
Now we're back into well-worn Yes live territory here. This classic tune gets a solid live performance on this disc. While there aren't any real surprises here, this rocks well.
Excerpt from Georgia's Song and Mood for a Day
Here we get Steve Howe's solo section of the set. "Mood for a Day" is one of his standard solo pieces, and I like that he augments it with a little of something else that we haven't heard as often.
Now, if you want to talk about a song that's been perhaps over-done live by the band, this would be it. I've grown tired of this one off and on over the years. Still, they put in a solid live performance of it here. On different tours they have done versions that are more truncated, like the single version and more extended like the album one. This is the latter.
Starship Trooper
Another that's seldom missing from Yes live shows, again this is a serviceable performance. There is some serious jamming later in the piece. That part manages to elevate this performance.
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