Review Summary: A thoroughly enjoyable listen for any Yes fan who doesn't out-and-out loath the Rabin era.
This year is the 50th Anniversary for Yes, but for longtime fans, it's a little like being the child of an ugly divorce. For the second time in their history, Yes has split itself into two competing versions of the band. And unfortunately, there seems to be some bad blood between them, which has caused some fans to feel they have to choose one or the other.
The Steve Howe version, which simply calls itself "Yes", is a continuation of the band that Chris Squire left behind when he passed. It includes Howe on guitar, Alan White on drums (in a limited role, due to health reasons), Geoff Downes on keyboards, Squire protege Billy Sherwood on bass, and Jon Davison on vocals. They put out a pretty good live album in 2017, Topographic Drama - Live Across America
, which mostly focused on a pair of albums from Yes' back catalog, Tales of Topographic Oceans
The second version of the band consists of original Yes lead singer Jon Anderson on vocals, Trevor Rabin on guitar and Rick Wakeman on keyboards. It bills itself as "Yes featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin, Rick Wakeman", which doesn't exactly flow effortlessly off of the tongue. Prior to Squire's death, they were calling themselves "Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman", or" ARW", which is a lot easier to say, but doesn't contain the golden "Yes" name. (I'm going to give these guys the benefit of the doubt and assume the name change was more about pride and feeling they have a legitimate claim to the "Yes" name than it is about money.) Live at the Apollo
is their new release, a live double album recorded from a March 2017 performance in Manchester, England. They've also released a DVD of the concert under the same name.
Live at the Apollo
has two major things going for it. The first is the proficiency and energy level of the band. At the time this show was recorded, ARW had been touring for nine months, so all of the kinks were worked out, and the band was firing on all cylinders. This is a high-energy performance where it feels as though the band is really having fun.
The second major plus is the choice of material. Many of the band's most popular songs are here, so you'll get to hear this lineup's takes on such classics as "And You and I", "Roundabout", "Owner of a Lonely Heart", "Heart of the Sunrise" and "I've Seen All Good People". What makes the album special for me, though, is the inclusion of live versions of some Yes material you don't always get to hear. So they've included "Hold On" and "Changes" from 90125
, "Rhythm of Love" from Big Generator
, and a particularly nice version of "Lift Me Up" from Union
This isn't the perfect
Yes live album. They're translating a lot of the material in their own way, and while the changes aren't drastic, odds are you'll appreciate some of the musical choices more than others. And like a lot of Yes fans, happy as I am to hear Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman again, I'm just not that big a fan of Trevor Rabin. I give him his due -- he was a driving force for the 90125
album, which completely revitalized Yes' career. Without his contributions, there might not be any version of Yes still active today. But as proficient a guitarist as he is, Rabin isn't Steve Howe. I find him to be a much more conventional musician. Nevertheless, while the Trevor Rabin years weren't my favorite era of the band's existence, I still found a lot of the music they put out at that time enjoyable.
So which of the two Yes lineups put out the better live album in 2017-2018？ I'm not going to choose. I don't really see a reason to. I enjoyed both LPs for different reasons. The main thing to know is that Live at the Apollo
will be a thoroughly pleasurable listen for any Yes fan who appreciates the positives of the Rabin era. And if you really have to choose which lineup is better, I'll let you choose for yourself.