Of the three great pillars of prog rock – Yes, Genesis and Pink Floyd – Yes were the real pointy-heads, the proggers’ prog rock band, the band whose excesses in the studio and the concert hall were most often cited by advocates of punk as the kind of elitist, musicianly outpourings that they had arrived to eradicate.
Fast forward three decades and here is a lavishly packaged four-CD and DVD set of many of Yes’s grandest, proggiest moments. Their music has endured, and will continue to do so, and the reason is obvious. They are the best at what they do. That is their riposte to critical unfashionability, to all of the jibes and the jokes and the opprobrium in the press.
It’s important to divide the band and the music at this point. While the music is ever-present, Yes’s famously internecene conflicts have meant that its players are more transitory. Sixteen men have passed through the band, many of them several times. Keys To Ascension is the reissue of live and studio recordings made by a reunion of the Anderson-Howe-Squire-Wakeman-White line-up in California in 1995, a formidable combo of originals giving the music its due and full weight. They had travelled to San Luis Obispo, Jon Anderson’s home, to record a handful of studio tracks and play some shows at the Fremont Theatre. The gigs covered most of their vast and forbidding catalogue and provided enough material for two live sets, released a year apart and augmented by those new tunes. Along with a concert film transferred from video, they are collected here for the first time.
They remain a delight for devotees, and just as impenetrable as ever for outsiders. A lengthy and reflective take on Siberian Khatru begins proceedings, followed quickly by a mere 20 minutes of The Revealing Science Of God from Yes’s most divisive album, Tales From Topographic Oceans. It’s a one-two that sorts the men from the boys, and it’s quickly followed by Going For The One’s centrepiece Awaken, perhaps Yes’s finest moment, and wonderfully rendered here. The second live disc offers a crowd-pleasing I’ve Seen All Good People and a majestic Closer To The Edge, in which all the odd glory of this band is apparent.
The studio songs would have made a more than acceptable album; they are sharp, edgy and demanding. The line-up split almost immediately, of course. ’Twas ever thus.