Yes, ‘Songs From Tsongas’ – DVD Review
Yes has released enough concert DVDs to fill a broom closet, and most of them offer the same basic experience: classic prog-rock performed skillfully, and faithfully to the original recordings.
Spoiler alert: 'Roundabout' will make the setlist. Jon Anderson's voice will sound spacey and impossibly high, like a stoned songbird. Chris Squire will pluck out grumbled bass tones from his Rickenbacker. Steve Howe will conjure blissful tones from all varieties of guitar-like instruments, while furrowing his brow like a miffed schoolmaster. Regardless of the title or era, any Yes DVD will be worth exploring, if not necessarily re-exploring.
What distinguishes 'Songs From Tsongas' – a newly reissued CD/DVD/Blu-ray concert from the band's 35th anniversary tour – is the unique breadth of its material and presentation. The full concert, recorded in 2004 at the Tsongas Arena in Lowell, Massachusetts, spans the band's entire career – including oft-ignored early album tracks (the sugary 1970 rocker 'Sweet Dreams'), buried gems (the forgotten 1997 epic 'Mind Drive') and meandering prog pieces (the 20-minute 'Ritual' from 1973's critically reviled 'Tales From Topographic Oceans' – inserted as a bonus feature). There's even an LSD-worthy stage backdrop filled with bulbous orbs, courtesy of resident cover art guru Roger Dean, who successfully aimed to design "a world that looked exactly like something but you couldn't put your finger on."
This date was the last stop of their American jaunt, but (minus a few out-of-tune backing vocals) the sonic strain is minimal. Anderson's voice is appealingly raw, adding extra rasp to the propulsive wail on 'Going for the One.' The requisite setlist staples ('Starship Trooper,' 'And You and I') offer no revelations, but their visceral impact is multiplied here, sequenced strategically between the deep cuts.
Keyboardist Rick Wakeman, reinstated in the band once more after decades of line-up shifts, is the stand-out soloist from the show – particularly when he favors natural sounds (the warm piano on a stunning 'South Side of the Sky') instead of anachronistic ones (the comically bright chords at the climax of 'I've Seen All Good People'). But the whole quintet shines during a mid-set acoustic section – here, a sense of intimacy cuts through these stripped-down performances, showcasing the compositional nuances of 'Wondrous Stories' and a Chicago blues-styled rendering of 'Roundabout.'
The band's sense of humor also radiates in this low-key setting. "I'm sorry -- I can't remember the lyrics," Anderson notes at the start of 'This Is Time.' "Let's just do 'Roundabout.' I'll make them up as I go along." And props to Squire for dressing in all black, like a hepcat beatnik.
A second disc of the 2DVD package features the band's all-electric 2004 set in Lugano, Switzerland. It's essentially a shortened, less dynamic version of the first disc, with fewer surprises -- unless you count Squire's more-animated-than-usual goofiness during his bass showcase 'The Fish.'
A decade later, Yes is enjoying an improbable but encouraging explosion of activity – from headlining their own cruise festival to venturing on an epic, three-LP tour to releasing a new studio album with singer Jon Davison. Still, it's hard not to look back at the 2004 line-up with a nostalgic glow. 'Tsongas' presents one of progressive rock's signature bands in its most potent configuration.