Revisiting Yes’ Tantalizingly Incomplete ‘9012Live: The Solos’
9012Live: The Solos opens with a driving drumbeat, the kind that instinctively perks your ears up and makes you feel like a big entrance is coming, followed by "On drums ... Mr. Alan White ... it's great to be with you tonight!" courtesy of Yes frontman Jon Anderson speaking in his unmistakable, high-pitched voice. On cue, the whole band then launches into a rousing rendition of "Hold On," a track from 90125, the 1983 album which the title of this most perplexing live EP references.
Released on Nov. 7, 1985 -- two years to the day after 90125 -- 9012Live was an obvious attempt by the band's then-label (Atlantic subsidiary Atco) to capitalize on its recent wave of success with the No. 1 hit, "Owner of a Lonely Heart." Strangely, though, the EP consists of only two actual songs and a smattering of solo performances by each member. "Owner of a Lonely Heart" is noticeably absent, as is most of the set list that's included on the companion 9012Live video, which was recorded at a different location than the EP and directed by Steven Soderbergh. Given how muscular the live rendition of "Hold On" is compared to the studio version, the logic behind excluding most of the video's songs on the audio version of 9012Live is simply baffling. (The expanded edition that was eventually released on CD in the U.S. includes two additional songs, "It Can Happen" and "Leave It.")
Nevertheless, even if 9012Live: The Solos falls into "completists only" territory, it's not without its charms. For starters, it's not as indulgent as one might expect given the title. These "solos" are actually more like interludes where one instrument is featured but accompanied by at least one other member. Which means that sitting and listening to the whole thing from start to finish encompasses much more than just hearing five guys taking turns at noodling. In fact, 9012Live flows way more coherently than it should when you look at its contents on paper. And as a definite selling point for the band's hardcore fans, Anderson's "solo" (titled "Soon") is actually a reprised section from "The Gates of Delirium," an epic-to-end-all-epics from Yes' 1974 prog classic Relayer. Meanwhile, bassist Chris Squire does indeed strive for beauty and grace with his four-string turn at the traditional hymn "Amazing Grace."
Arguably more of a curio than a must-have title from Yes' voluminous body of work, 9012Live perhaps works best when taken alongside the accompanying footage from the video. On its own, however, the EP still manages to document the Trevor Rabin / Tony Kaye / Jon Anderson / Chris Squire / Alan White era of the band, when Yes were at their most commercially successful and in the midst of a career rebirth. At the very least, 9012Live: The Solos whets the appetite with evidence that Yes continued to be an invigorating live act even after re-inventing themselves as '80s-styled synth-pop.