YES: KEYS TO ASCENSION
Review by Michael Jacobson
Anderson, Steve Howe, Chris Squire, Rick Wakeman, Alan White
Director: Steve Mitchell
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Stereo
Video: Standard 1.33:1
Studio: Image Entertainment
Length: 147 Minutes
Release Date: January 2, 2001
Video Production *
Yes has always been my
favorite group, so I was pleased to learn I would be reviewing their 1996
concert video, Keys to Ascension, which was the last film to feature
their lineup with Rick Wakeman on keyboards.
It was a concert, though, to be honest, that came at a time in the
band’s history where I was convinced, even as a fan, that their best work was
behind rather than ahead of them. Of
course, a few years later, they would emerge with a new lineup and one of the
best, most freshest sounding albums of their career, The Ladder.
It rejuvenated the aging band in ways even I didn’t think was
Yet Keys exists,
and emerges now looking like a document to the end of an era, but with a happy
ending, because we now know it meant the beginning of a new one.
I own many of their concert videos, and music-wise, this is as good or
better than any of them: their
execution is flawless as always, the sound is big and balanced, and the
musicianship is watertight. This
disc also boasts live performances of many lesser known songs that I had never
actually seen the band perform before, which was a real treat.
In addition to the favorites like “Close to the Edge”, “And You and
I” and “Roundabout”, there was a gorgeous rendition of “Time and a
Word”, the title track from their second album, “The Revealing Science of
God”, the twenty minute opus that opened their Tales From Topographic
Oceans double album, “Turn of the Century”, one of their most beautiful
and overlooked tunes, the rousing “Onward” and many others.
This disc clocks in at nearly two and a half hours of terrific music,
which is a real treat for fans like myself!
The group shows its age,
however, in its stage presence. “Close
to the Edge”, though perfectly executed, is played just a bit slower than
normal, and the band members look a bit lethargic while performing it.
Front man Jon Anderson stays still through most of the concert, Rick
Wakeman looks as though he’d rather be anywhere else, and guitarist Steve Howe
remains mostly expressionless (particularly when compared to films of older
concerts). Bassist Chris Squire
still shows a bit of spunk as he plays and sings, but he, Anderson and Wakeman
are all sporting a little extra weight and look their ages.
In the more recent House of Yes disc, the members all look younger
and more energetic than here.
Still, the concert is a
good one, at least as far as the music and the song choices go.
Where the film fails miserably, however, is in the video production.
Blame director Steve Mitchell, who tarnished the live footage with camera
tricks (stop motion filming, for example), lots of meaningless excess footage of
clouds, water, and cheesy space animation footage sometimes superimposed over
the group, sometimes taking the PLACE of the group.
In some split shots of the band, you can tell that the one of the pieces
of footage is NOT of them playing the song that’s currently running.
This is an amateurish hack job of a presentation that looks like it was
made by a film school reject. It is
distracting and infuriating for a fan of the group to be forced to watch
everything except the group playing, and then, when they are on screen, to have
cheap video effects mar the image. Dreadful.
Considering this was
their last concert film with Rick Wakeman (at least for now), I really wish the
presentation had been done better. Even
one stationary camera, front and center, with the entire group in the view
finder, would have been an improvement.
If you like Yes’
music, you will definitely enjoy that aspect of this film. And nothing more.
This concert was shot on video instead of film, and shows
some of the typical videotape limitations.
It looks as though the images were sharpened up a bit for this disc
presentation, which mostly looks good, but tends to exhibit a bit more grain in
the darker segments as a trade off. The
colors are remarkable: bright and
natural looking with no bleeding, and edges are generally very crisply rendered.
Overall, a good, but not perfect, DVD presentation.
This isn’t one of the best 5.1 audio tracks I’ve heard
on a concert DVD, but its still pretty good.
It doesn’t quite lend itself to the illusion of actually being there,
as the rear stage seems mainly to carry similar information to the front one.
However, the sound is crystal clear, with no noise or distortion, and
pretty dynamic, to boot. It’s a good listen.
Features (zero stars)