JOIN THE YES UNION

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?

 

16 comments

  1. Jeff Greger · · Reply

    As with most albums, this one’s available in multiple formats at Discogs.com. Pricey.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I got it a couple of months back on the Big A for under $40AUS, which I thought pretty reasonable.

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  2. I saw the “Union” tour which was a whole lot better than that studio album. But this live set sounds great though of course I will pass on the 30-CD edition!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nice one, Rick. Yes, the tour was a much more energetic and creative proposition than the album. Though I do quite like the studio release.
      I flirted with the flight case 30 CD set but it was *very* pricey. And, on reflection, this is enough. I imagine the DVD would bring back nice memories for you!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. pinklightsabre · · Reply

    A 30 CD version of the tour, of course. Makes me think Phish took a cue from Yes in more ways than one. I can see them doing the same, 30 Cd tour packages. Love the mechanical budgie line. Hearing that guitar hook now in my head, timeless.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aw, it’s totally absurd, Bill. But each set is in an individually sprayed mini-flight case box. Get thee behind me, Satan!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. As I’ve mentioned on other occasions, prog rock and I never quite became friends, but there are some exceptions, and Yes are one of them. While I cannot claim to be thoroughly familiar with their catalog, I like much of what I’ve heard, especially from “The Yes Album”, “Fragile” and “Closer to the Edge.”

    I also enjoy “90125”. In fact, I got the record on vinyl when it came out, and it was what got the band on my radar screen. I haven’t heard “Union 30 Live.” It looks like the entire album is on YouTube, and based on what I heard thus far, it sounds great! These guys were incredible musicians!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They were incredible, Christian. That’s part of what makes the Union tour special – everyone was putting in (and wanting to avoid appearing the weak link!). The newer material holds up surprisingly well.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Since you evidently dig Yes and know them well, do you have a favorite album?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I’d probably jiggle around the lower half, but the top five is pretty stable over time. ☺️

          10 ALBUMS TO SAY YES TO

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Thanks. Well, at least I can claim some familiarity with 4 of your top 5 picks. I don’t recall having listened to “Relayer.”

            Also, “Close to the Edge”: “Key tracks: The complete album.” – I guess this says it all! 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Off and running, Christian!
              Relayer is intense. Probably the most dense Yes album. If I was reviewing the order today, I’d probably swap ‘The Yes Album’ and ‘Tales From Topographic Oceans’. The much maligned double LP really is a wonderful trip and probably the album I’ve played most frequently over the past five years.

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  5. In the prog book I read, Rabin said that he hated the album and that accountants made it, but the tour was great.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, there isn’t a lot of love for the album. Pity. It’s not so bad. But the tour certainly seems to have brought out the best in them all.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. chris delprete · · Reply

    The latter day Yes are like a lot of bands from their era who continue on in various permutations to this day. Whilst the artistry and virtuosity remain the edge is missing. As young guns seeking fame and fortune they were hungry and their music had an edginess to it that its current mutations lack. The latter day produced from about the late 80s on often verged on muzak. They still had the chops but the creativity waned and they became a band I would still listen to but rarely purchase any product. They certainly still had their moments, but no longer album length more minutes within songs. They are certainly not alone in this, many bands should have themselves (and us) a favour and split while on top of their game.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s not easy staying hungry, is it? I think Robert Fripp has given it a staunch try, but most progressive artists eventually drift towards comfortable, well-sanded material. I do have most of the Yes output, and you’re right. Little is exciting and little gets played. But this Union tour really was fun.

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