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YES:  SYMPHONIC LIVE

Review by Michael Jacobson

Band:  Jon Anderson, Chris Squire, Steve Howe, Alan White, Tom Brislin
Director:  Aubrey Powell
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital Stereo
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.77:1
Studio:  Eagle Eye
Features:  Animations, Bonus CD
Length:  157 Minutes
Release Date:  November 25, 2003

“Don’t take love for granted…”

Concert ***1/2

Yes has been a favorite band of mine for forever…seemingly for as along as I’ve been able to say the name.  And I’ve been pleased to see them enjoying some resurgence in recent years.  After it seemed like their best work was behind rather than ahead of them, they released The Ladder, possibly the most joyful album in the group’s 30 plus year history.  Then in 2001, they followed up with the bold Magnification, bringing a symphonic element to their already legendary progressive sound.

A tour with a symphonic orchestra followed, and Yes: Symphonic Live preserved a piece of that history for all times.  Four core members in Jon Anderson, Chris Squire, Steve Howe and Alan White were joined by the young keyboard phenom Tom Brislin for an evening of classic and new rock made even bigger through orchestration.

I’d rank this amongst the best Yes concert videos I’ve seen (and I’ve seen pretty much all of them).  The backing orchestra, conducted by Wilhelm Keitel, helped to expand and elevate the songs, leading them into new territories without costing them any of their familiarity.  The song selection is good, too, with three of their epic album side length tracks included (“Close to the Edge”, “Gates of Delirium” and “Ritual”).  Though “Edge” is taken just a tad slower than we remember, “Gates” is an all out sonic assault of power and melody.  It alone is worth the price of the disc.

Singer Jon Anderson never seems to age to me, though guitarist Steve Howe (a long time inspiration to me), looks a bit grandfatherly with his glasses and astute approach to his instrument.  Bassist Chris Squire still bounds around like a 20 year old, and drummer Alan White still pounds the skins with ferocity.  Newcomer Tom Brislin is a perfect fit with his acrobatic work on the keys.

Classics like “I’ve Seen All Good People”, “Long Distance Runaround”, “Starship Trooper” and “And You and I” are always a joy to hear, and the newer tunes such as “Don’t Go” and “In the Presence Of” prove the band still has their vital creative juices flowing.  All of these songs get the benefit of orchestral support, and the results are crowd pleasing.  Though Yes tried the symphonic route once before, all the way back on their second album Time and a Word, this time they were ready, with stronger tunes and a bigger sound than they had in the early days.

The finale of “Roundabout” is a smile-inducing piece of closure…the many attractive women in the orchestra join the band out front and dance as Yes fires through their classic song!

This is simply a great old band showing signs of re-invigoration through a new and terrific musical idea.  Recording and touring with an orchestra was a solid idea, and Yes: Symphonic Live will serve as a testament to this experiment phase in the group’s history.

Video **1/2

The concert was recorded on video, so there are some natural limitations apparent.  You don’t get the sharpness and clarity of film, nor the full integrity of colors, but overall, this is still a very decent presentation.  My favorite viewing aspect is that you can turn off the ridiculous animations that seem to disrupt almost every Yes performance video.  Call me kooky, but when I watch a concert, I want to see singers singing and musicians playing…bravo, therefore, to a good use of the DVD medium in presenting that choice.

Audio ***1/2

With both Dolby Digital and DTS surround tracks, your living room will sound like a concert hall.  The audio is strong and wonderfully dynamic, with plenty of room for you to hear the rock and symphonic instruments in force.  Surprisingly, despite having one of the greatest rock bassists ever, the .1 channel isn’t harnessed much, leaving the satellite speakers to carry most of the low end.  Still, with concert hall ambience and the sound of a live audience with you, this is a nice reproduction.

Features *

The previous issue of this title included a studio documentary and a video; these are now gone.  All we have here is the option to turn the animation on and off and a bonus CD of some of the concert highlights.

Summary:

I’ve been a fan for twenty years or more, and Yes is still one band I can’t say no to.  Yes: Symphonic Live is a solid concert experience showcasing a great band playing classic tunes and proving that you can teach an old rocker new tricks.  Fans should love this one.