The search for the holy grail is a quest that has long occupied the imaginations of seekers of truth and enlightenment for countless generations.
Of course, what might actually constitute such an exalted artefact depends very much on who’s doing the searching; one person’s grail is another’s useless trinket. For most Yes fans the discovery, restoration and release of the bulk of the source tapes from which 1973’s sonically marred triple concert album Yessongs was assembled must surely count as a cause for celebration, right?
Well, proving the old adage that you can please some of the people some of the time, a glance at the online messages boards reveals that this momentous discovery hasn’t been met with universal acclaim (“Where are the concerts with Bruford?”). And then there’s the carping about the 14-disc box set lacking variety. Clearly, some people it seems, can have too much of a good thing. But make no mistake: this thing, housed in its specially commissioned Roger Dean covers and radiating sheer indulgence, is a very good thing indeed. It is perhaps worth noting that for those who find the prospect of seven concerts a bit too much, the two-disc compilation does give you a taste of what’s going on.
There’s a hungry assertiveness about the performances hailing from a band that are not merely well-drilled after several weeks on the road, but utterly and single mindedly committed to this music as though their very lives depended on it. They may be playing the same set on a nightly basis but there’s no complacency or coasting in evidence on any of the seven nights gathered here.
“We’re going to carry on with a new song called Close To The Edge, which is also the title of our new album…” explains a helpful Jon Anderson to one crowd of roaring punters. From today’s vantage point it feels like Yes’ fifth album has been around forever. Its status as a foundation and permanent fixture of progressive rock is so ingrained that it’s vaguely novel to remember that many in these restless crowds were hearing the piece perhaps for the first time. Certainly, it’s hard to suppress a smile when you hear them gasping as one when the mirror ball lighting effect is cued at the beginning of the number.
With all the veneer of a sonically sweetened, slightly sanitised live album scraped away, Progeny offers a vivid and intimate portrait of the band in its natural habitat, whose air of wildness contains a frisson of danger. Presented with so many concerts in close succession, the necessarily repetitive nature of the contents might be considered a drawback. Instead, it very much becomes part of the draw – an essential ingredient enabling the listener to delve deep into how this group of men still in their twenties operated as a unit.
Listening to each night in sequence becomes an immersive experience akin to being absorbed into the inner workings of the machine. Already familiar with the shape and direction of the material, the avid listener instead keenly inspects and follows the abundance of detail that’s been brought out with the restoration of the reels, and thus discovers the nuances and subtleties within the circuitry, and the way it all connects.
Certain unforced moments located within the concerts become magnified and inadvertently dramatic. Wakeman doubles on organ during the fast-moving lines of Heart Of The Sunrise prior to the first verse, with the effect of pushing the band into fifth gear. A bedeviled Steve Howe motif produces an unexpected but welcome syncopation, and Squire’s predatory attitude to melody and rhythm has him snatch passing notes at will. Anderson’s pitching wavers in the teeth of illness and the vagaries of the monitor mix, but still he clings heroically to the mast of the good ship Yes. Perhaps the greatest beneficiary of this treasure trove is Alan White. His drumming is consistently authoritative on every night; you’re hard pressed to remember the guy he replaced.
Cynics will inevitably moan and argue that this is yet another big box scam. Some will decry it as an overly ornate but redundant trinket. But really, don’t listen to them. The search for the holy grail is finally over, and here it is.