While the Montreux Jazz Festival has long been more than just a jazz festival, with both veteran groups Yes and Jethro Tull performing at the 2003 edition, that year could have been re-titled the Montreux Progressive Rock Festival. Yes' set is especially notable as being amongst the best and most inspired live recordings the four decade-old group has made. Committed fans will point to Yessongs (Atlantic, 1973) as the group's live zenith, coming as it did during the band's most creatively fruitful period. But Yessongs was marred by almost inexcusable poor recording quality. Live at Montreux 2003 may not be quite up to Yessong' performance standard; but it's certainly a very close second.
It's also notable as Yes' only live record to feature its classic album Fragile (Atlantic, 1972) in near- entirety. Not only are concert staples "Heart of the Sunrise," "Roundabout," "Long Distance Runaround" and "The Fish" included, but the less often heard "We Have Heaven," and, more importantly, the epic/episodic rocker "South Side of the Sky" are included on record for the first time.
There are the obligatory solo pieces that flesh out the performance to nearly 130 minutes, but are brief enough to avoid the kind of bloated excesses for which Yes has often been justifiably accused. Guitarist Steve Howe's acoustic medley of an instrumental "To Be Over" and perennial favorite "The Clap" show he's lost none of his inestimable chops, while keyboardist Rick Wakeman's instrumental medley, largely from his classic Six Wives of Henry VIII (A&M, 1973), demonstrates the same, albeit with a little more bombast. Singer Jon Anderson's "Show Me" is innocuous enough, while "The Fish," a feature for bassist Chris Squire and drummer Alan White, is the closest thing to jamband Yes has ever been, despite it working from a clear roadmap.
While the emphasis is on classic material from the 1970s, the more recent "Magnification" and "In the Presence Of" prove to be just as compelling. Pared down from the "with orchestra" versions on Magnification (Beyond, 2001), they are, if not quite classic, engaging enough. The only real misstep is "Don't Kill the Whale," from Tormato (Atlantic, 1978), which was insipid then and remains insipid now. That said, at just over four minutes, it's easy enough to dismiss.
But with the Fragile material supplemented by the symphonic "And You and I" and spirited "Siberian Khatru," from Close to the Edge (Atlantic, 1972); a rocky "I've Seen All Good People," from The Yes Album (Atlantic, 1971); and an especially vivid version of the epic "Awaken," from Going for the One (Atlantic, 1977), the few excesses and saccharine sentimentalities can easily be forgiven. In fact, if there was room for Close to the Edge's transcendent title track this set might well replace Yessongs as the quintessential Yes live album. As it stands, with far better sonics and the inclusion of "South Side of the Sky," Live at Montreux 2003 comes pretty darn close.
Track Listing: CD1: Siberian Khatru; Magnification; Don�t Kill the Whale; In the Presence Of; We
Have Heaven; South Side of the Sky; And You and I; To Be Over; The Clap. CD2: Show
Me; Rick Wakeman Solo Medley: Catherine of Aragon, Catherine Howard, Montreux
Jig, Jane Seymour; Heart of the Sunrise; Long Distance Runaround; The Fish; Awaken;
I�ve Seen All Good People; Roundabout.
Personnel: Jon Anderson: vocals, acoustic guitar; Steve Howe: guitars, vocals; Rick Wakeman:
keyboards; Chris Squire: bass, vocals, harmonica; Alan White: drums, percussion.