A sad life truth is that, for far too many people, massive success changes everything. Despite making more money than would last the average family many lifetimes, they go through it like water; they gradually begin to believe all the positive press and massive sales, becoming legends in their own mind; and, perhaps worst of all, they lose the very edge and innovation that garnered them their success in the first place. Sadly, too, these things often don't bother fans: as long as their heroes continue to tour and play the music that meant so much to them in their youths, the majority of audiences are perfectly happy to accept artists who, by resting heavily on their laurels, have lost everything that made them great in the first place.
This is, of course, not always the case, but listening to Yes' archival box set Progeny: Seven Shows from Seventy-Two
, it only serves to demonstrate just how far a group that helped define progressive rockat its best and
its worsthas fallen in the ensuing decades, as internal conflict, egos and a loss of the fire and creativity that made its early days so enduring have turned the group into a pale shadow of its former self, releasing new material that's a far cry from the greatness of its glory days and largely touring on the shoulders of its classic era from 1971 to 1977, when the band released such groundbreaking records as The Yes Album
(Atlantic, 1971), Close to the Edge
(Atlantic, 1972) and Relayer
And groundbreaking records they most certainly were, along with other albums including Fragile
(Atlantic, 1971)which garnered the group its first major hit in "Roundabout"the controversial two-LP concept album Tales from Topographic Oceans
(Atlantic, 1973) and Going for the One
(Atlantic, 1977), the final album in what is considered the group's "classic" period...and by which time problems were already beginning to surface.
Still, these were all albums that, each in their own way, helped change the musical landscape of the early-to-mid-'70s and beyonda time when it seemed like anything was possible, and that both the music industry and fans were open to such possibilities. Yes albums sold hundreds of thousands of copiesin some cases, millions
and the group packed increasingly large venues, putting on shows that were filled with complex compositions, mind-boggling virtuosity and unrelenting creativity. It's not hard to imagine why such success would go to the heads of many of the group's members, but the shame is that, as time went on after these glory days, there would only be the occasional reminder of Yes' past innovations, counterbalanced with far more material that might be considered good from bands of lesser stature, but from Yes?
Sadly, pedestrian...even, at times, banal. A far cry from albums like Close to the Edge
, for example, which was recently voted the #1 progressive rock album of all time by Prog Magazine
a significant accomplishment, given the competition, both past and present, of groups like King Crimson
, Pink Floyd
, Van der Graaf Generator
, Dream Theater, Spock's Beard and Haken, that filled the 100 album-long list.
When Yes hit the road in support of Close to the Edge
in 1972, it had to deal with the crushing blow of losing one of its founding members, drummer Bill Bruford
, who left the band on the cusp of its biggest success (and a major tour) to join a new lineup of King Crimson
that would release three studio albums, each with slightly altered lineups but all including the power trio of the group's only remaining original member, guitarist Robert Fripp
, along with bassist/vocalist John Wetton and Bruford. While it might not have been a big deal to replace some drummers, Bruford had already distinguished himself with both a unique sound (in particular his snare drum and the overall way he tuned his kit) and mathematically precise way of playing. And so, while Alan White was no stranger to the big timehaving already racked up major gigs on albums by ex-Beatles John Lennon and George Harrison, along with those of rising stars Joe Cocker and soon-to-be-ex-Spooky Tooth keyboardist Gary Wrighthe had some might big boots to fill.
White was certainly no slouch back in the day. Though his kit sound was more conventional, causing some Yes fans to bemoan to loss of Bruford (some, still, to this day), his ability to learn Yes' compositionally challenging music in just three days before hitting the road with the group remains a feat of Herculean proportions. Close to the Edge
, after all, was an album with just three tracks: the side-long title epic (created by splicing together a number of separately recorded movements), along with two tracks on the LP's other side that both hovered on or near the ten-minute mark.
And that was just three tunes in a live set that also included two songs from The Yes Album
(the alternately folky and rock-and-rolling "I've Seen All Good People" and an extended encore of the album's instantly attention-grabbing opener, "Your is No Disgrace"), along with two from Fragile
(the particularly complicated and episodic "Heart of the Sunrise" and, of course, the group's hit "Roundabout"). As well, the sets were fleshed out with solo features for both guitarist Steve Howewho, replacing original guitarist Peter Banks on The Yes Album
, helped signal a new direction for the bandand keyboardist Rick Wakeman, who replaced founding keyboardist Tony Kaye and completed the puzzle that became Yes' classic lineup by being capable of matching Howe's remarkable stylistic breadth and outrageous virtuosity light-speed note for light-speed note.
That's nine songs in shows ranging from 95 to 103 minutes, with White playing on seven of them alongside, in addition to Howe and Wakeman, group co-founder/bassist Chris Squirewhose bright but thundering Rickenbacker bass tone and ability to be both anchor and contrapuntal partner became a touchstone for generations of bassists to comeand fellow co-founder/singer Jon Anderson, whose soaring, high-pitched (but never shrill...always beautiful) vocals combined with Howe and Squire to create what some compared to the similarly sweet harmonies of America's Crosby, Stills & Nash.
There have been, in the history of rock music, groups for whom listening to multiple shows from the same tour could yield significantly different (and magical) results, in particular prescient jam bands bands like the Grateful Dead
and the Allman Brothers Band
, but also groups more closely affiliated with Yes like King Crimsonwhich, with Bruford in tow, made spontaneous improvisational forays such a big part of its shows that recent mega-box sets including Larks Tongues in Aspic (40th Anniversary Series Box)
(Panegyric, 2012), Starless
(Panegyric, 2014) and The Road to Red
(Panegyric, 2013), which collectively presented over 30 shows recorded across a twenty-month period, sold in the thousands
at at time when most artists are struggling to achieve similar numbers with less expensive single-disc releases.
But given Yes' less improv-heavy disposition and greater tendency to detailed compositional constructs, is there really value in hearing seven shows recorded between October 31 and November 20, 1972sets that were almost identical, with the exception of Howe occasionally flipping his solo medley of the countrified "Clap" and more classically oriented "Mood for a Day," and one show where, for technical reasons, that medley was placed between "I've Seen All Good People" and "Heart of the Sunrise" rather than between "Heart of the Sunrise" and "And You And I"?
The answer, surprising though it may be, is an absolute, unequivocaland, with no pun intendedyes
. The group's arrangements may not have changed from night to night, but beyond the more obvious differences in Howe's and Wakeman's solos from one show to the next, it was how the entire band interpreted
the material that makes Progeny
such a vital and important addition to the Yes catalog.
Yes, there was a live album at the timethe triple-LP set Yessongs
(Atlantic, 1973)which, in addition to documenting this tour by collecting what were considered some of Yes' best performances, also included a couple of tunes from Bruford'a final tour with the group. But, as superb as the performances are on that live album (since reissued as a two-CD set), it was sadly marred by muddy sound and a mix that did not replicate the positioning of the band members across the soundstage and, consequently, didn't serve the individual players' work as well as it should have.
What a treat, then, to discover that while Progeny
may lack show-stopping tracks from The Yes Album
like "Starship Trooper" and "Perpetual Change," or Fragile
's medley of "Long Distance Runaround" and "The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus)"the latter a feature for Squire that positioned him as creative and virtuosic a partner as Howe and Wakemanthe seven shows presented here are orders of magnitude better, sonically speaking. And by mixing the band as it was on stagewith Howe to the far left, Anderson next followed by White, Squire and, on the far right, Wakemanthe delineation between the musicians is much greater, making Howe and Wakeman's parts, in particular, that much clearer than they were on Yessongs
, revealing so much more about the chances they took each night and making every performance different and worth hearing,
This was a time when the group was still young and hungry. Just looking at the photos in the box set booklet, which includes liners by Syd Schwartz and co-producer Brian Kehew, it's clear that this was a band that was happy and having fun
...a far cry from today's Yes where, at least for some members, it looks like a stage on which they'd rather be anywhere but
Even Anderson's introductions to the songs arerather than the new-agey, "love is everything" pablum he fed audiences in later years before he was kicked to the curb by the group when a respiratory issue prevented him from touring (and so they replaced him...first with a singer from a Québécois Yes tribute band but then, when he
took ill, was replaced by the group's current vocalist, Glass Hammer alum Jon Davison)more spontaneous, paradoxically a bit nervous but also more relaxed and, as the tour progresses, more confident, even joking with and about his band mates. When either Howe or Squire comment, late in the Ottawa showimproperly attributed to taking place at the National Arts Centre English Theatre on the CD sleeve but properly credited to its real location, the Ottawa Civic Centre arena, on the outside of the box and in the booklethow he remembered Ottawa, the last time they'd played there, as the first place where the group had experienced fans holding up matches and lighters, Anderson is quick to come back with "You should hear what he says in Los Angeles." That referenced earlier show, by the way, was during Yes' first North American tour with Howe, where it performed a brief but absolutely dazzling 45-minute set, at the bottom of a triple bill with Black Sabbath and Alice Cooper.
Assessing each performance individually is pointless; every show has much to recommend. Howe's electric tone is thicker and more visceral than his current sound, and benefits greatly from it; his impromptu fills and equally spontaneous solosretaining the signatures that made them so good on the studio recordings while opening them up far more in concerta treat to finally hear in a fidelity they deserve. His solo medley of "Clap" and "Mood for a Day" makes clear that this is more than "just" a rock guitarist; this is a guitar student
whoas familiar with Chet Atkins and Andrés Segovia as he was Chuck Berrywas, at the time, absorbing influences like a sponge to evolve a voice that was absolutely unique. Few guitarists could understand what he was doing harmonically during the frenetic opening minutes of "Close to the Edge," and his ability to extend and expand upon the studio performance only serves to demonstrate now sophisticated he truly was.
Squire's tone is finally captured as it was live; massive at the bottom end and crystal clear at the top, he proves himself adept at taking fixed arrangements and breathing new life into them, night after night. Considering that early in the tour the bassist had to perform such difficult music while, at the same time (with his back to the audience) helping to guide White through these knotty compositions only serves to demonstrate how well he had internalized this music, and it's that kind of internalization that allowed himand the rest of the groupto take the music out of its glass box and turn it into a living, breathing thing.
Anderson's voice is almost pitch perfect, as he hits high notes with ease, largely sticking to script but, at the same time, making small spontaneous adjustments that, again, made these performances more than the perfect replication that was, largely from inception, the objective of fellow progressive rockers Genesis
Wakeman is positively a revelation, heard so clearly for the first time. With his arsenal of keyboardsranging from piano and electric piano to Minimoog and Mellotron(s)beyond his clear virtuosity is what he adds to each song...lines that spontaneously and emotionally either mirror or act contrapuntally to Howe. And in his own solo spot, "Excerpts from Six Wives of Henry VIII
"culled from his 1973 A&M solo album debut that literally sold in the millionshe demonstrates that he may be a serious player, but he's got a sense of humor, too.
And what of White? He joined Yes with mighty big shoes to fill and, while his kit tone isn't as distinctive, on these performances he plays with a fire and commitment that more than makes up for it. By the time of these seven shows, White had become completely familiar with the material, affording him the same opportunity to extemporize while, at the same time, hitting every cue with laser-like precision. Beyond his work on Relayer
, in fact, his playing on Progeny
may well be his finest recorded moments with the group. Ever.
That the performances on Progeny
are so stellar doesn't meant there aren't a few warts. Howe loses himself at one point during that frenetic introductory segment of "Close to the Edge" in Greensboro, NC, and it's a bit of a tough slog to find his way back...but find his way back he does. Wakeman was plagued with technical problems throughout the tour, in particular somehow managing to turn his keyboard arsenal into a radio receiver so that, in the Toronto, Canada show it comes through loud and clear during his solo segment. During another show, Anderson's voice cuts out and at yet another, during Howe's solo feature, his acoustic guitar suddenly becomes much brighter and more strongly positioned on the far left of the soundstage. And while the three-part harmonies are, for the most part impeccable, there are a few clams to be found, here and there.
But overall, this is a collection of Yes at its transcendent, majestic, grandiose...and, yes, hard-rocking
best. For the more casual fan there's Progeny: Highlights from Seventy-Two
, a two-CD set that cherry picks from the seven performances to create a "best of" replication of every evening's set list, as well as a three-LP version of the same compilation. But for those who are committed Yes fans, Progeny: Seven Shows from Seventy-Two
is an essential document of Yes when it was young, with a powerful fire in its belly and innovation oozing from every pore. It's an essential addition to the group's sizeable discographycapturing, as it does, the band before it began to implode from within with personnel problems and artistic differences; and before it became a bloated but pale shadow of its former self, during a period of peak creativity when Yes was one of but a few groups who ruled the prog world...and beyond.
Jon Anderson: vocals, percussion; Steve Howe: guitars, vocals; Chris Squire: bass,
vocals; Rick Wakeman: keyboards; Alan White: drums.