(All Album Reviews by I.M. Weasel)
Well, I gave in to the peer pressure, and checked the bank account to find a bit more money in there than I expected, so I plunked down the $40 at Tower Records (gah, I've been going there a lot lately!) and picked this up. My initial thoughts..
Definitely a keeper for us hard-core Yes fans. Yeah there are a lot of minor quibbles, but we have been clamoring for live material from the 70s besides Yessongs and Yesshows for quite a long time, and this fills the need big time. What I liked the most initially is what everyone else seems to be raving about, and that’s the '71 Crystal Palace live cuts. There isn't that much live stuff with this lineup, in fact there’s just about none, and its great to hear what this incarnation of the band sounded like. And the fact that you get an entire disc with Bruford playing live with Yes is definitely worth it. I also really like the stuff from '76 with Moraz, and the '78-'79 with the "classic" lineup (as any good Yes fan should, heh heh). Lots of energy here too-- some of the performances easily compare, if not surpass in some places to the vaunted Yessongs, as well as Yesshows (and definitely Keys to Ascension, House of Yes, or anything else they've put out recently).
The biggest issue is of course the overall sound quality. As you might expect, the later stuff sounds sounds the best (except for the Drama tracks) and the older stuff sounds the worst. And because the songs were pulled from different sources and from different shows, you get some dramatic transitions. But unfortunately in many places, it isn't much better than the countless live bootlegs that have been making the rounds for years. Then again, this certainly isn't the first time a band has officially released bootleg quality live material (Earthbound anyone? Fortunately, nothing here even approaches that quality...).
As far as the track lineup, I personally am pleased with it, and I can't think of anything I would have gotten rid of. I understand the reasons for not including anything too recent on the box, but regardless, something from the Union tour would have been cool to hear. I just don't know what from that tour would have been appropriate to insert given the track list that’s already there; I certainly wouldn’t have substituted the performances already on the box for another tune from that lineup.
But we get a fair mix of "the hits"; of course the obligatory “Roundabout”, “All Good People”, and “Owner”, as well as “Siberian Khatru”, “Awaken”, and “Rhythm of Love”, and some stuff never rarely heard before, like live versions of “Astral Traveller”, “America”, The Rascals “It's Love”, “Go Through This”, “Tempus Fugit”, and “Shoot High Aim Low”. But like I mentioned, the most electric performances are found on disc one. By the time we get to disc two, the band had already evolved into a full force arena powerhouse.
And lastly, about the packaging; I really liked the fact that its book-sized, so it can more easily fit on a shelf compared to the standard CD box set long box. Its fairly well done, and while the cover is only standard Roger Dean fare, the photos inside are really nice, and the inclusion of the fan-written essays was a great personal touch (if anyone remembers, Yesworld had a contest to write in 150 words or less your favorite experience of Yes. It looks like all of those essays were included). The issue of the discs overlapping on the front cover doesn’t really seem like an issue to me at all, because the discs don't touch, and there’s no way you could scratch them.
What I do take issue with is that with the heaviness of the front and rear covers, it seems as though the book binding is really weak. Had I designed this set, I would have instead made little slipcases, like the inside booklet of Pink Floyd's Pulse set. And lastly, the book really smells bad--it has this acidy, glue smell that’s really unpleasing to my nose. If that seems like a strange comment, that’s because it is.
Overall I'd give the set a thumbs up, but while the word may be live, it also may be "fanatic", as this box set may only appeal to real hard core fans of Yes. This box only furthers the truth the Yes was a fantastic live band, no matter who's at the helm. But Yes has gotten a lot of my money lately, and after this box, I'm just about Yessed-out. It will probably be a while before I get anything of theirs again.