The orchestral strains of Stravinsky’s Firebird ease into a smooth wash of synthesiser chords as the musicians take their places. A caped Rick Wakeman strokes the keyboard producing those electronic strings. Bill Bruford sits at a Simmons electronic drum kit, dressed for judo. Steve Howe is wearing a silky, brightly hued shirt while Jon Anderson, clutching a tambourine, sports a strange white suit with gold epaulettes. Chris Squire’s imposing form stand centre stage. He surveys his colleagues; the classic Yes lineup. There are smiles.
Squire glances to his right and grins at a tall permed figure wearing a white cut away singlet and blue jeans. Amongst the hippy throwback stage wear it stands out like a pneumatic drill operator at a flower show. Trevor Rabin grins back and glances behind to the second drum kit where Alan White, wearing the black singlet of solidarity, sits behind a conventional kit. Original Yes keyboard player Tony Kaye is on a riser on the far right, looking perhaps the least at home in this hybrid, conglomerate Yes. I lean forward towards the TV screen and tweak the volume a little higher as the DVD introduces the 1991 Union tour and the band launch into a thrilling version of “Yours is no disgrace”. I grin too. Sometimes you take a punt and it pays off. Handsomely.
For Yes fans, and your correspondent has been one for half a century, the Union album was polarising. When I included it in a survey of my favourite Yes albums, 10 ALBUMS TO SAY YES TO, its inclusion drew some heat. Still, I stand by what I said then.
Arising from cautious détente between Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe and the Chris Squire / Trevor Rabin / Allan White / Tony Kaye putsch, Union was a compilation of songs from two camps unionised by Jon Anderson’s vocals. Still, there is some good songwriting, spiffing production and remarkably few low points.
But what is both exciting and thoroughly enjoyable about this live concert (2 CDs and a DVD) is hearing material from across the eras and styles of the venerable progressive band. Steve Howe joins in on the hard-riffing “Rhythm of love”; he and Rabin duel and dance on “Heart of the sunrise”; “Owner of a lonely heart” pecks at your brain like a mechanical budgie. Of course “Roundabout” is the finale.
This being the final concert of the tour, the band is tight as a drum and out to enjoy this strange yet satisfying configuration of musicians and music. Jon’s farewell reveals uncertainty about what would happen next in the Yes saga. (He was right to be vague. The next studio album was 1994’s underwhelming Talk). Still, I read somewhere that Rick Wakeman described this tour as the one he enjoyed most in his entire history with the band. Certainly there is a strong sense of hatchets buried and a rich and varied catalogue of music being celebrated.
Both DVD and audio sound are crisp, clear, and well mixed. No liner notes, which is a pity, but I guess Yes fans know what’s going on without need for explication. Apparently there is a 30 CD version of this tour in a replica flight case and a swag of memorabilia. Wonder if it’s still available?