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What's here is good, but much is missing

The Word Is Live
The Word Is Live
By Yes

Rhino / Atlantic Records: 2005


This review first appeared in Turbula in November 2005.

The thing about "prog rock" or art rock is that most prog rock bands were more comfortable in the studio – where variables could be eliminated, where the sound mix and acoustics could be absolutely controlled.

But Yes?

This band always defied the stereotype of prog rock as sterile studio hounds, and earned a reputation as fearless road warriors.

A new three-disc collection of live recordings is being marketed as a missing-pieces sort of career concert retrospective, providing fans with snapshots of all the band's various lineups and incarnations missing from its classic "Yessongs" double-disc live recording from the band's hit-making heyday of the mid-1970s.

And so the first disc of "The Word Is Live" traces the band from some of its earliest live performances, in 1970, before guitarist Steve Howe had even joined the band, up through the first months of the band's classic lineup of Howe, singer Jon Anderson, and bassist Chris Squire (who all still anchor the band today). Disc 2 explores some of the lesser-known songs from the band's 1970s period, with a couple of hits thrown in (again, trying not to step all over Yessongs). Disc 3 picks up in 1978, with Rick Wakeman on keyboards and Alan White drums – considered by many to be the best of the band's lineups. It then continues with the "Drama" lineup – when Anderson left the band briefly, to be replaced by former Buggles singer Trevor Horn. There are also a handful of cuts from the mid-'80s, when Howe left the band to be replaced by Trevor Rabin.

Fans of the band will love this collection, taking in as it does the band's earliest years and its under-documented 1980s period when Anderson and/or Howe weren't in the group. Few of the songs from that period make the band's current playlists, so having them here makes them available again. The packaging is gorgeous, the documentation complete. There are dozens of color photos from throughout the band's history, track-by-track band credits, and enough trivia so that even the most knowledgeable Yes fan will learn something new.

Complaints?

Why is the last track from 1988? The band continues to write new songs, to record new albums – and, most importantly, to tour. And certainly, the songs from recent albums have been every bit as memorable as those from their "classic years" in the 1970s and early '80s when Yes was a hit-making machine (even if not nearly as well-known). By most accounts, their recent years' performances have been among their best, as Howe and Squire develop an ever-closer relationship at the heart of the band. Anderson's voice remains strong and clear – the band may be at the peak of their creative powers now, yet there is nothing represented from that period here.

Given the numerous "live" Yes collections already on the market, "The Word Is Live" is noteworthy mostly for its career-spanning premise – and the inclusion of the above tracks from the "Drama" period plus the early stuff fulfills that promise. But only partially.

Here's hoping for a Part II to make this collection truly a full career overview of the band's concert performances.