|Yes - Yesspeak (35th Anniversary)|
|Written by Jeff Fish|
|Monday, 26 January 2004|
Yesspeak is a 35th anniversary celebration DVD of what many people consider the greatest progressive rock band of all time. You would have a hard disputing that claim with all the success that they have achieved: Top 10 albums, sold-out world tours and even a hit single(!). In a time when most of their contemporaries have called it a day or travel with as many as 10 additional musicians on stage, Yes still does it with what most people consider their greatest and most classic line-up. Jon Anderson still handles what I believe are some of the most challenging vocals ever recorded in rock ‘n’ roll.
Steve Howe is a master guitar player who does more with two hands than what most other guitar players, living or dead, ever have or could. Chris Squire is a bass player’s bass player as well as a superb singer, but most importantly, I feel he’s the band’s heart and soul. He is always in the right place at the right time (musically speaking) and the only member of Yes to be on all Yes albums. Rick Wakeman pretty much represents the quintessential keyboard player from the ‘70s, surrounding himself with as many keyboards as he can use on stage. The key word there is use; they’re not just for show. And last but certainly not least is Alan White. One of the most in-demand session drummers in the early ‘70s, White plays on such landmark albums as John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band, Imagine and Live Peace in Toronto, George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass and Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen.
This DVD is a two-disc set with 10 parts to it. Part One’s title is Sacred Ground, with members of the band talking about, appropriately enough, their sacred grounds: Anderson at his home on the Central Coast of California; Squire on vacation in Spain with his very large family, ranging in ages from three to 31; Howe on his family farm in England, giving us insights into his incredible playing style; White in Seattle giving us a very informal tour of the EMP Museum (Experience Music Project, Paul Alan’s Jimi Hendrix Museum, where White’s drum set was once part of the exhibit), as well as showing his love of the open water, and Wakeman, who pretty much tours relentlessly with either Yes or with one of his solo projects. Parts Two’s title is Full Circle and this is where we get the story of how Yes started. I found this part of the DVD to be really interesting, with Anderson and Squire remembering how they met through a mutual friend at the bar where Anderson was working at the time. Anderson joined Squire’s band, which within a week turned into Yes. The original incarnation of Yes had Anderson on vocals, Squire on bass, Peter Banks on guitar, Tony Kaye on keyboards and Bill Bruford on drums. The original Yes made two albums, “Yes” and “A Time and a Word,” with some moderate success. On this DVD, there’s some old BBC footage melding together the old and the new, showing the first change that would occur in Yes: Steve Howe replacing Peter Banks.
This is where the first true success of the band is about to take place. Squire tells this wonderful story about Yes’s manager at the time, Richard Branson of Virgin Record Stores (and Mega-Store and Airline fame) in England. In the early ‘70s, the way the charts were determined was through record store managers mailing in to The Post what they had bought in the previous week to sell. With a three-week postal strike going on in England, Branson had bought a lot of “The Yes Album” and so when the postal strike was over, Yes was Number One. This line-up of Anderson, Bruford, Howe, Kaye and Squire wouldn’t make any more albums together, though. After the tour was over, Kaye would leave the band and former Strawb’s keyboard player Rick Wakeman was asked to join (the same day that David Bowie asked him to be part of The Spiders From Mars band). This version of Yes would go on to make what many consider to be the two seminal Yes albums, “Fragile” and “Close to the Edge.” But even the success of hit albums and sold-out world tours couldn’t keep this version of the band together. Bruford left to join King Crimson and Squire once again had to go out and look for a replacement, but having just seen Joe Cocker’s band at The Rainbow Theatre in London, Squire was impressed with the energy of the band and especially drummer Alan White.
I wish the documentary had spent more time on the dynamics of this version of the band and its music. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate the personal insights that all the guys had, because I do, it’s just that there’s so much of it that I feel that they could have edited the film a little tighter and saved 30 to 45 minutes of this history. Parts four through eight are spotlight pieces on the individual members and this where some of the insights are stated over and over again which, for my tastes, is a little overdone. They could have used the time to give more attention to the making of previously stated albums and albums like “Yessongs” and “Relayer”. There’s a brief discussion of “90215,” which was the album that brought Yes back to life after the punk movement pretty much wiped out the progressive rock genre. While this is not my personal favorite period of Yes, it would have been nice, again, to get some more insights on the music.
Yes has always been a band that hasn’t bowed to any particular musical movements or trendy sell-outs to move albums. They have always been a band that was first and foremost about outstanding musicians playing outstanding music. Musically speaking, they are still light years ahead of most bands, keeping fresh the progressive rock genre for another generation. Bands like Dream Theater, Spocks Beard, Marillion and Porcupine Tree owe much of their success to the groundwork that was previously laid by Yes. The best part of this DVD for me is the audio-only portion, which is on Disc Two. This is the concert where all of the concert footage was taken from in the documentary. The sound quality is absolutely great, with a large selection of the hits that made Yes the band they are today. “Siberian Khatru,” “Don’t Kill the Whale,” “South Side of the Sky,” “Heart of the Sunrise,” “Close to the Edge” and “Roundabout” are only some the selections that are on this portion of the DVD.
Great musicians playing great music, not a bad combination! Now if only the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame would realize that the progressive rock scene was just as important as the punk rock scene. Although I was not thrilled with this DVD, I did enjoy it, and would recommend this documentary for any fan of the progressive rock genre. It’s still musically as fresh as ever.