Yes – Symphonic Live

Yes - Symphonic Live review

Whatever doubts I may have had about post-90125 Yes were dispelled with 2001′s Magnification. Sure, most of the 90s had been wasted on bad pop and lazy songwriting, but Magnification (and to a lesser extent, The Ladder) proved to me that Yes could still churn out a lovely album, given the proper inspiration. Although Symphonic Livewas released on CD in 2009, this live performance was recorded during the Magnification tour. A more comprehensive portrayal of their Amsterdam date at the Heineken Music Hall can be found on the Symphonic LiveDVD package. Suffice to say, even for the sake of a live album, hearing the band’s classic material played alongside a full- blooded orchestra would be many a progger’s dream come true. It’s that heavy expectation that makes Symphonic Live somewhat disappointing. I loved what Larry Groupé had done with the immersive orchestrations on Magnification, but the symphonic arrangements here feel like background ambiance in comparison. Add to that a fairly muddled mix to an otherwise inspired performance from Yes, and you have yourself a fairly live album. By all accounts it’s not a bad or even misguided attempt, but it should have been so much better.

Though, from what I’ve heard, the DVD release is apparently infinitely more impressive than this, the symphonic element feels understated to a fault. The string harmonies and bombast is audible if you listen hard enough, but it’s almost always drowned out by the band’s performance. It’s obvious the band should remain the central attraction in a symphonic experiment like this, but adding an orchestra would have only been a worthwhile investment if it added something substantial to the music. The orchestral intros are a nice showcase for the symphony, but the arrangements to the classic material add no new dimensions. Even an epic like “Close to the Edge” (which is as close to classical composition as rock music gets) doesn’t seem to take advantage of the vast potential here. What’s more problematic is that many of the songs have been slowed down accordingly, supposedly to make room for the symphonic sweeps and flourishes. As far as the CD component to Symphonic Live is concerned, it wasn’t worth it. Still, this is Yes we’re talking about, and they have some of their best material here. The performances aren’t as lively or essential as Yessongs, but you can’t go wrong with the prog-heavy setlist they chose for it. In spite of the lazier tempo, “Close to the Edge” remains an absolute titan of a track. Sessioneer Tom Brislin fills Wakeman’s shoes snugly, to the point where I could have sworn it was Rick playing those parts himself. While the pace and tone of Yes‘ performance is more leisurely than I would have preferred, Jon Anderson’s voice is bright and shows little sign of aging here.

If you remove the superfluous orchestrations, you’re left with a perfectly capable Yes album, with most of the tracks I might have liked to hear on one of their live albums. Even so, an album entitled Symphonic Live begs to be judged primarily on the merit of its orchestral contributions; in this sense, the album is a disappointment. Beyond the muddied mix (which could be forgiven- Yessongs suffered from the same thing) the orchestration suggests a sense of bombast, but lacks the determination to infuse itself into the composition. The symphony is a pompous backdrop to an otherwise strong performance from the band. It’s reasonably good, but it’s nothing that Yessongs and Keys to Ascension didn’t offer years before.


CD 1
1. Overture (2:30)
2. Close To The Edge (20:30)
3. Don’t Go (4:29)
4. In The Presence Of (11:03)
5. The Gates Of Delirium (23:30)
6. Steve Howe Guitar Solo (6:25)

CD 2
1. Starship Trooper (12:18)
2. Magnification (7:23)
3. And You And I (11:15)
4. Ritual (28:21)
5. I’ve Seen All Good People (7:20)
6. Owner Of A Lonely Heart (5:48)
7. Roundabout (6:28)


* Jon Anderson – vocals
* Steve Howe – guitars, vocals
* Chris Squire – bass, vocals
* Alan White – drums


* Tom Brislin – keyboards
* Wilhelm Keitel – orchestra conductor

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