..

YES:  KEYS TO ASCENSION

Review by Michael Jacobson

Featuring:  Jon 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
Features:  None
Length:  147 Minutes
Release Date:  January 2, 2001

Concert ***
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 possible.

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.

Video **1/2

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.

Audio ***

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)

Nothing.

Summary:

Keys to Ascension is a good looking and sounding concert DVD that delivers the music that Yes fans want, along with a ridiculously lame video presentation that they didn’t.  The music alone is reason to check out the disc…try to focus on that and not the amateurish editing that detracts from the band’s live performance.