I remember back in late 2007 or early 2008 when I figured out Yes was reuniting for their 40th anniversary. I was stunned and probably more excited for a tour than I had ever been. Yes was (and still is) my favorite group, so immediately bought tickets to the show scheduled to be played at the Pier 6 Pavilion in Baltimore (the nearest place to my location where they were playing). I was so pumped and ready to go.
But then, Jon Anderson got sick and nearly died. Doctors advised him to stay on bed rest for 6-12 months, thus sidelining the summer 2008 40th anniversary tour. Chris Squire, Steve Howe, Alan White, and Oliver Wakeman, the remaining band members, were unwilling to wait and hit the Internet (namely YouTube) and found Canadian singer Benoit David, of the Yes cover band Close to the Edge and of Montreal progressive rock group Mystery. By October 2008, the tour was back on. Yes was carrying on without Jon Anderson. It was hard to believe, and many believed it was temporary, but it was still happening.
Well, here we are in late December 2011, about to enter 2012, and Benoit David is still the frontman of Yes. Oliver Wakeman departed earlier in the year, replaced by former Yes-man Geoff Downes (of the 'Drama' era lineup from 1980-1981). 2011 has been quite a busy year for the reformed Yes, including the release of this live album, 'In the Present: Live from Lyon.' The show was recorded back in 2009, early on in the reunion.
When evaluating this record fairly, one must open their mind completely. I did. This is not the same band that it was with Jon Anderson or any other keyboardist (including Kaye and Moraz) that had participated in prior lineups. This was the new Yes with three familiar faces. I bought this record at a local record store, took it home, and listened to it. To do this review the right way, I figure I need to break it down into two areas: the good and the bad.
- This is a great setlist. 'Astral Traveller' was recorded in 1970 before Steve Howe joined the group. That means, from the current "In the Present" lineup, only Chris Squire was a member of Yes when this track was recorded. 'Onward,' from the 1978 'Tormato' record was also a surprise here. This track was included on the 1996 live album 'Keys to Ascension 1,' and it seems to be the only track from this record that the group acknowledges.
- The sound quality is actually fairly decent. Frontiers Records, while it is owned by EMI, is not a major label yet, and so it is not fair to expect the same level of quality from them as it would be from Atlantic Records, Yes' home from 1968-1990 or Arista Records, Yes' home from 1991-1992. The band can be heard quite clearly and the sound is not at all compressed, which is rare for a live album these days. It's not incredible, but the sound here is actually better than the sound on 'Fly from Here,' the 2011 studio album also released on Frontiers and produced by the legendary Trevor Horn (also a vocalist in Yes during the 'Drama' era, but that's another review).
- The Roger Dean artwork is amazing. One has to wonder though, if Yes were truly trying to move forward "in the present" why they keep revisiting the past and using Roger Dean's artwork. Ah well, no objections that they did. It looks great. Roger Dean paintings have always seemed to have enhanced Yes albums for some reason.
- 'Corkscrew' is a great Steve Howe solo. It's always great to listen to Howe show his skills on the acoustic guitar.
- Two words: Benoit David. On several tracks (namely 'Owner of a Lonely Heart' and 'Roundabout'), David is desperate to sound like Jon Anderson. And on others ('Machine Messiah') he tries to sound like Trevor Horn. Like I stated in my 'Fly from Here' review, Benoit is a fine singer, but he has very little or no personality of his own. He is always trying to imitate Anderson or Horn, instead of providing original interpretations. It has always bothered me when bands try to replace their vocalists with a soundalike; that's why the 'Drama' lineup of Yes worked and Queen + Paul Rodgers worked. Trevor Horn didn't try to sound like Jon Anderson, and Paul Rodgers didn't try to sound like Freddie Mercury. Benoit David tries to sound exactly like Trevor Horn and Jon Anderson. This gets quite irritating after the second or third track.
- There is nothing on this record that is particularly memorable. The playing is average to mediocre, something quite shocking for Yes, and there is nothing here that one would remember really without repeated listenings. It is cool seeing 'Machine Messiah' on a live album, but the version here is simply not up to par. It is unfortunately the case for most of these songs.
- While there aren't any noticeable notes or passages played wrong, judging from how the band sounds here, it certainly sounds as though they could use a bit more rehearsing. The songs just sort of chug along without much energy or life. That is a crucial part of any good live album, and 'In the Present' just lacks it. The crowd energy is not great at all. Also noticeable is that the songs are played considerably slower. This is probably to be expected, as Yes certainly aren't spring chickens anymore, but I certainly have to think that Yes is capable of picking up the pace a little more than what you hear on this record.
I saw Yes at the Tower Theater in Philadelphia in June 2010. Peter Frampton was the opening act at the show. I did get to meet Yes backstage (which was an honor), but I have to say, the band sounded better while I was there than they did in actuality. I saw clips of my show on YouTube, and I was amazed at how sluggish the show really did sound. Frampton absolutely blew them away that night. Whereas Frampton's show was full of energy and sounded just incredible, Yes just seemed to be going through the motions.
It pains me to write this. It really does. I love Yes, and I always will. But when I look back on Yes, odds are, I will ignore the "In the Present" era of Yes, which started in 2008 and is still going on today. Jon Anderson & Rick Wakeman, two former members of Yes, are touring together and have a live album due out early next month. My advice to the fan who has not bought this record yet but is seriously considering it: skip this and wait for that one. In hindsight, I wish I had.
While it's not fair to expect another 'Yessongs,' or even another 'Keys to Ascension,' it is fair to say that this performance is not what it could have been. If this is the most inspired performance from the last three years that Yes has in their vaults, than that is a bit concerning to me. I know this group can do better than what has been presented to us here.
Marginally better than 'Fly from Here,' but that isn't saying very much unfortunately. Two-and-a-half stars is more than fair for this live album.