As showmen, the members of Yes were good musicians. Even during the peak of elaborate rock concerts, Yes never bothered with the showboating of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, the make-up and outfits of Genesis, or the elaborate special effects and light shows of Pink Floyd. Not that it would matter to its fans, because when Yes was at its peak, the band proved that they were among the best live musicians in progressive rock. One listen to the breathtaking Yessongs, a great live album that practically doubles as a greatest hits album, will prove all naysayers wrong. In the age of DVD, the first sensible format for filmed live performances, the question remains whether if anything would be added to their music if the housebound fan could actually see the band performing. House of Yes: Live from the House of Blues, a document of a rejuvenated Yes at the crux of a new millennium, answers this with a firm: “no”.
To be frank, the band, at times, looks ridiculous. Jon Anderson, still looking positively elfin after 30 years in the industry, tries to illustrate his songs with the kind of goofy hand gestures one would expect from a 10-year-old gawking at himself in the mirror while singing along to his favorite song. Worse yet, Chris Squire takes the stage wearing an absurd Tom Wolfe-goes-to-the-beach look, with a long white coat impossibly combined with a pair of bright white shorts. The young guest guitarist Billy Sherwood looks somewhat embarrassed to be up there for the full first half of the show. The only concession to theatricality comes when they shower the audience with confetti half-way through the DVD. This Rip Taylor homage is so silly and low rent that it is almost refreshing. Where progressive rock bands tend to be labeled “pretentious”, it seems clear from House of Yes that any band who is willing to continue rocking while stray pieces of confetti remain stuck in their hair surely does not take itself too seriously.
House of Yes: Live from the House of Blues [DVD]
US DVD: 30 Nov 2004
UK DVD: Available as import
If it is not exactly a great spectacle, the concert itself is pretty thrilling. Yes have the luxury of having a fanbase that does not expect them to come in playing their greatest hits. Yes does not just play Fragile in its entirety, top it off with “Owner of a Lonely Heart”, and go home with a big paycheck. The Yes audience expects improvisation, long suites, and unexpected song selections. So, there’s no “Long Distance Runaround” or “Starship Trooper” here, and when the band does launch into “Owner of a Lonely Heart” for its encore, it seems comically out of place. The Yes audience even enjoys the new material, which is not difficult considering that at the time Yes were touring in support of The Ladder, one of their best post-Close to the Edge albums. “Lightning Strikes” and “Face to Face” feel right at home next to classics like “Perpetual Change” and “Your Move/I’ve Seen All Good People”.
The band is surprisingly full of energy, perhaps drawing it from the surprisingly youthful House of Blues audience, which makes even the epic songs seem to go by in a flash. Of course, Yes’s strength is its ability to balance its epic ambitions with a strong sense of pop sensibility. Their long songs seem more like medleys of catchy pop songs linked by tight instrumentals rather than the bloated jams of the band’s peers in the ‘70s. Opening with “Yours Is No Disgrace”, which goes well over the 10-minute mark, would be a cocky move for most bands, but the song is a perfect introduction to the Yes live experience: the band’s long songs are more like journeys and less like opportunities to go get a quick bathroom break.
If the audio portion of the DVD has one weak point, it’s that the band peaks too early. “And You and I”, one of Yes’s undeniable masterpieces, should have been the closer to the full set, not placed right in the middle. This, in fact, may be the definitive live performance of the song, even surpassing the version on Yessongs. Instead, the band keeps performing, and practically kills any momentum with an uninspired run-through of one of their more mediocre epics. “Awaken” is a fifteen minute snoozer only highlighted by a beautiful harp and piano passage that clearly delights the more, ahem, “relaxed” members of the audience. By the time of the encore of “Owner of a Lonely Heart” and “Runaround”, even Yes’s faithful audience seems exhausted, despite Anderson’s “sing along” pleas.
Overall, however, House of Yes is a great Yes performance, and it should be heard by all Yes fans. The question remains whether or not this DVD is worth getting over the double CD. The visuals, after all, add little to the experience, and the extras are nothing more than publicity material for The Ladder. The problem is that the sound quality of the DVD is so great that this is the definitive way to hear the band perform. My suggestion is simple. Pop the DVD into your laptop, minimize the visuals, and maybe put on some Visualizations. You’ll get to hear the performance without having to suffer through the image of Chris Squire in his shorts.