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Topographic Drama: Live Across America

Review by Gary Hill

This brand new live album from Yes is cool stuff. For one thing, it's great to get live recordings of all the Drama songs. There are also two epics from Tales from Topographic Oceans and the "Leaves of Green" part from "The Ancient" on that album. They round the section out with a few other Yes classics. The live sound is great.

I've seen Yes close to twenty times (more times than I've seen any other band), and I can tell you that despite the technicality of their music and instrumental prowess, no two Yes shows are the same. That's true even when you see them on multiple nights in a row. Each performance is a little different because the music tends to take on a life of its own in live gigs. So, don't expect to hear the studio versions exactly covered here. For one thing, the line-up is different. For another thing, I don't think I've ever heard a live Yes song sound exactly like the studio version. I mean, why would you want that? You can listen to the studio version any time. I think these renditions are very faithful, and bring a new life to the songs at times. I highly recommend this, especially for those (like myself) who really love Drama.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2018  Volume 1 at

Track by Track Review
Disc 1
Machine Messiah

I've always been a big fan of this song, so getting a live rendition is a great thing. They work this with style, but there are some flavor differences on this live take from the studio. That's particularly true of some of the sounds on the intro. Some later parts of the cut almost feel more closely tied to the classic Yes sound than they did on the studio version. This is a great live version of an often overlooked Yes epic.

White Car
A short tune, this gets a faithful live telling. This is one that was always quite Buggles-like.
Does It Really Happen?
In my opinion this cut has some of Chris Squire's best bass work in the studio version. It's really a tribute to the talent of Billy Sherwood that really pulls it off with pure style. This live rendition is pretty faithful. The vocals feel a bit different than the studio take, though. There are some other minor differences, mainly just in the fact that a live recording will usually have a bit more of an open, airy, feeling to it than a live. The closing section really grooves.
Into The Lens
I love the arrangement on this. In some ways it's not far removed from the studio version. That said, Jon Davison's vocals really manage to elevate the cut. They definitely slowed the song down, though.
Run Through The Light
This feels a bit slow, too. I love the sound of Sherwood's bass on this cut. The tune works well here. There are some textural differences from the studio rendition, but overall this feels fairly close to that take.
Tempus Fugit
Another cut with exceptional bass work, Sherwood again nails it. This is perhaps closer to the studio version than some of the other stuff is. I've always liked this song a lot, and that holds true of this live take, as well. This concludes the Drama segment of the program.
And You And I (I. Cord Of Life, II. Eclipse, III. The Preacher The Teacher, IV. Apocalypse)
I like the take they do on the extended introduction here. Sometimes that section has felt sort of rushed through and a bit stripped on some Yes tours over the years. It's not so here.  This is actually quite a strong rendition of one of my favorite Yes songs. I've always liked the live renditions with harmonica, and that's what we get here. I actually think this is one of the best live recordings I've heard of this song.
Heart of the Sunrise
The intro to this seems to have a groove that I don't think I've ever felt with the song before. I can't put my finger on the difference, but I like it. They work to a rather faithful rendition of the cut from there. Overall there are some different sonic elements and it does feel a little slower than normal, but it captures the spirit and magic of the cut quite well.
Disc 2
The Revealing Science of God

This feels slower as it starts and gradually builds. This is a fairly faithful take on a song that hasn't been performed live all that often in the band's history. I like the way the vocals work together on this rendition. The instruments manage to find the groove of the piece a lot of the time. They make all the changes with style and make it work. I love the keyboard section around the 18 minute mark. That whole movement just really gels like crazy.

Leaves of Green
This section from "The Ancient" is a piece that has been performed live by the group quite a bit over the years. It starts with an extended acoustic guitar solo section. Jon Davison joins after a time to deliver the vocals. This is a gentle and quite pretty movement.  They play it strictly as a Steve Howe/Jon Davison duo.
Ritual (Nous sommes du soleil)
It almost seems to me that this piece has been performed live more frequently than any of the other full cuts from Tales from Topographic Oceans.  I remember seeing Yes do it on the Masterworks tour. This comes in powerful and sounding quite close to the studio recording. I really love some of the bass sound later in the track, particularly in the jam around the 13-minute mark. At times it's really easy to get lost in this extended cut and feel like you are in the midst of the studio version. The closing instrumental section and the melodic movement that precedes it are both pulled off especially well.
This classic Yes tune comes in with style. Personally, I tend to think that the track is a bit overdone live, but they are almost obligated to play it at every show. This live rendition is a solid one.
Starship Trooper (A. Life Seeker; B. Disillusion; C. Würm)
Another classic gets a live rendition here. This one hasn't been gotten played as much on the radio as "Roundabout" has. Perhaps that's part of the reason it seems to hold up better for me. This live take is nothing surprising and unexpected, but it's a solid and faithful take of the cut. I love the bass pedal section here.
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