In many ways, the extravagance of this package equates the profligacy of the prog rock combo themselves. After all, how else but on a triple-LP collection could one hope to re-create (and/or contain) an adequate sampling of Yes' live presentation? Especially since their tunes typically clocked in in excess of ten minutes. Although they had turned in five studio long-players, the vast majority of Yessongs (1973) is drawn from their three most recent endeavors The Yes Album (1970), Fragile (1971), and Close to the Edge (1972). There are two exceptions, the first being the "Opening (Excerpt from "Firebird Suite")" -- which comes from the 1969 Boston Symphony Orchestra's recording, conducted by Seiji Ozawa. The other is Rick Wakeman's keyboard solo "Excerpts from 'The Six Wives Of Henry VIII'." Yes had just undergone a personnel change shortly after concluding work on Close to the Edge as Bill Bruford (percussion) left to join King Crimson in July of 1972. Bruford can be heard on "Perpetual Change," as well as the medley of "Long Distance Runaround" and "The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus)." Enthusiasts keen on various and arguably irrelevant minutia should note the spelling of "praimaturus" as credited on Yessongs. It is slightly different from Fragile, which is denoted as "praematurus." That bit of trivia aside, the new lineup finds Alan White (drums), quite ably filling Bruford's shoes, alongside Jon Anderson (vocals), Steve Howe (guitars), Chris Squire (bass/vocals), and Rick Wakeman (keyboards).
One of their trademarks has always been an ability to re-create their often densely layered sound in concert. They effortlessly pull off the tricky chord progressions and changes in time signatures of "Siberian Khatru" and a sublime "Heart of the Sunrise," which unquestionably bests the dexterity of its carefully crafted studio counterpart. Both Howe and Squire's respective solos during "The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus)" are highlights as they give the entire unit an opportunity to show off their capacity for dramatic dynamics. The remainder of Yessongs is similarly strong, particularly the note-perfect "Close to the Edge," and the inspired concluding instrumental jam during "Starship Trooper." However, one criticism that can be leveled at the entire Yessongs release is the less than optimal audio quality throughout. The sound is generally muddy with no real fidelity to speak of and an even less precise stereoscape. But until someone goes back to the multi-tracks and remixes them for 21st century ears, this is as good as it gets when documenting Yes during this seminal transition period. ~ Lindsay Planer