Yes – Live at Montreux 2003

Yes - Live at Montreux 2003

Live albums have fallen out of favour in the past generation, and I think it’s for the reason that a recording of a live performance is accepted as never being able to capture the scope and spontaneity as if it were happening in real time. Just as importantly, most bands fail to add something fresh to the music in a live album; as a result, it ends up sounding like their studio work with the added strain of weaker mixing and hazy crowd ambiance.

I do wonder whether Yes really needed another live album. Nonetheless, it’s something of a checkpoint for longstanding rock bands to record a performance at the legendary Montreux jazz festival. While Yes made a habit of looking outlandish in their classic live shows, Montreux was known for its stripped down, no-frills stage set. While Live at Montreux 2003 offers little visual indication as to whether Yes toned down their image accordingly, the album largely unfolds almost exactly as you would imagine for a Yes live album. Therein lies the problem of it; whereas Symphonic Live at least had the orchestral angle to differentiate it from albums past, Live at Montreux 2003 has come too late to the party to offer much worthy of excitement or surprise. It’s a two hour-plus (!) performance of most of their best- loved songs. A lot of the set mirrors Yessongs and Yesshows too much to feel fresh at this point, but in this case, the music- as well as a hardy performance from Yes themselves- hold their own.

Although Live at Montreux is probably most notable for its twenty minute rendition of the immortal “Awaken”, the spotlight is often fixed on their Fragile material. Barring a few of its solo pieces, Fragile is scattered throughout the set. Even the rare Jon Anderson song “Show Me” (written during the Fragile sessions) is included. “Heart of the Sunrise” and “Roundabout” are given straight-laced treatments here, not unlike the manner they were approached on Yessongs. Although Yes had been using “The Fish” as a way to sneak a bit of “Tempus Fugit” into their set since the ’80s (Jon Anderson wouldn’t sing anything from Drama), the only other live album of theirs that shows this gem is 9012 Live. Suffice to say, you’re far better off hearing it here.

After “And You and I” (which benefits from some surprising harmonica during “The Preacher and the Teacher”) the floor is given to Steve Howe, who delivers a gorgeous acoustic renditions of “To Be Over” and “The Clap”. While “The Clap” stays true to form (it’s a bloody classic of fingerpicking in any case), “To Be Over” is one of the coolest parts of this album; it shows Yes reinventing their music in a new and inviting way. Most of the other songs in Live at Montreux‘s favour are largely so because they weren’t included on live albums past. “Awaken” is the real gem here (sounding as strong live as it does in the studio), and “In The Presence Of” off the latter-era masterpiece Magnification stands as being one of the best epics they’ve ever done.

There are surprises and fresh encounters on Live at Montreux; the setlist and performances are great, and the re-appearance of Rick Wakeman makes it special for Yes. Did we need another live album with “Siberian Khatru”, “And You And I”, “Heart of the Sunrise”, “Long Distance Runaround”, “Roundabout” or “I’ve Seen All Good People” on it? Probably not. As it stands, Live at Montreux is a fine live album, but I can’t see any reason to recommend it over Yessongs. If you’ve already heard Yessongs however, and want more of the same, Live at Montreux stands as the second best among their live releases.


1. Siberian Khatru (10:12)
2. Magnification (6:53)
3. Don’t Kill the Whale (4:29)
4. In the Presence of (11:05)
5. We Have Heaven (1:34)
6. South Side of the Sky (9:35)
7. And You and I (11:23)
8. To Be Over (4:21)
9. Clap (3:49)

1. Show Me (3:45)
2. Rick Wakeman Solo Medley: Catherine of Aragon/Catherine Howard/Montreux Jig/Jane Seymour (4:43)
3. Heart of the Sunrise (11:17)
4. Long Distance Runaround (3:46)
5. The Fish (8:53)
6. Awaken (19:20)
7. I’ve Seen All Good People (7:10)
8. Roundabout (6:44)


* Jon Anderson – vocals, guitar
* Steve Howe – guitars, backing vocals
* Chris Squire – bass, backing vocals
* Rick Wakeman – keyboards
* Alan White – drums, percussion, backing vocals

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