Andy Hall has reviewed the double disc set of Yesspeak, a behind-the-scenes and personal look at prog rock band Yes on tour in their 35th year. A mammoth set which will be of great interest to dedicated fans, but far less to anyone else, and ultimately let down by a poor sound mix.
…And they said it wouldn’t last. It would be highly doubtful if anyone – fans, band members, record company executives – would ever have predicted that progressive rock band Yes would have lasted ten years, let alone thirty-five. They’ve survived countless personnel changes, the over-indulgent concept album, the punk years which was supposed to have sunk them, an eighties “pop-rock” re-invention, a “practically everyone who has ever been in the band” reunion tour, and yet they are still here, and going strong. After all the personnel changes, the current membership represents one of the two classic line-ups from the bands heyday in the seventies, in Jon Anderson on vocals, Steve Howe guitars, Chris Squire bass, Rick Wakeman keyboards and Alan White drums.
This mammoth 190 minute double disc set visits the band on their last European tour. However, rather than just being a live set, it’s presented as a documentary, chatting to all the current band members about life in the band now and over its long history. Interviews with all band members are interwoven with a voice-over by The Who’s Roger Daltrey which is unfortunately one of the problems with this film. It’s frankly a little disappointing, as Daltrey’s delivery is unbalanced; he delivers many sentences like they are the wrapping up and concluding part of the voice-over. It makes the presentation strangely unsettling and difficult to listen to.
The video itself is broken up into many sections, opening with personal chats from each of the band members on how they unwind (and where they retreat to) after a tour is finished. This sets the tone for a very down-to-earth and un-starry look at the band. These now “veteran” rockers have been in the business too long to have too many star pretensions now. There are plenty of anecdotes about the history of the band, with Rick Wakeman being unsurprisingly the most amusing raconteur of stories from the old Yes days, although there are plenty of contributions from all five members.
A large amount of the film is dedicated to talking individually to the band members, as everyone gets their own section in the film. We certainly see the diversity of the various members, as Chris Squire is the showman, Steve Howe the perfectionist, Rick Wakeman the comic, Alan White the frustrated keyboard player, and then of course Jon Anderson, who’s every bit the trippy hippy you would expect him to be. Other sections round off the whole Yes family, with a look at the work of artist Roger Dean, whose album covers gave the band its defining visual style, and even the road crew get plenty of screen time.
Even though there is plenty of live performance footage, this is not a concert film. Don’t expect a biographical history of the band either, this film pretty much expects the viewer to know what album came out in what year, and who left and joined the band over time. Instead it is more of a “fill-in-the-gaps” with little pieces of information about the band that even the most dedicated of fans wouldn’t know. And that’s exactly who will get the most out of this set; its personal look at the band will be probably of little interest to anyone else. It’s very much Yes on tour, not just a look at a rock band on tour, so the casual viewer will probably find little to hold their attention. For the Yes fan though, well worth investigating.
It’s frequently difficult to judge the video quality of music titles, and here is no exception. Black and white sequences, deliberately grainy segments, dropped frames, all the trademarks of music video are here. Coupled with the “home video” feel of many of the interviews it leaves no clear way of really determining whether the picture quality is uniformly good or not. However, judging by the in-concert sections, which in themselves are nicely clear, crisp and colourful, the picture quality can be regarded as decent, and certainly good enough for this presentation.
If the sound quality was purely being judged on the musical presentations then both the Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 tracks would both score highly. Unfortunately as this is a documentary with performances included rather than a pure live disc it is here where the problems start. The music is very often simply too far forward in the mix, meaning that a lot of the voice-over and interview dialogue is almost completely drowned out by the music. As it becomes a major struggle to hear what is being said it therefore ruins the enjoyment of the disc. If you are an English speaker you cannot even resort to the subtitles, as they are available in four languages, but none of them are English. If the balancing had been done right this could have got full marks, as it is it has to be rated as a disappointment.
There is only on extra on the disc set, but it is quite expansive. An audio only live set features the entire concert presented in either Dolby Digital 5.1 or Dolby Stereo 2.0. This does present an opportunity to listen to the concert without interruptions and as such is a welcome addition to the disc.
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If you are a Yes fan then there is plenty here of interest for you, as it delves a little deeper into the band’s life and unearths a few things even the most dedicated fan probably wouldn’t know. Feel free to add a couple of marks out of ten to the film’s score. If you aren’t a fan, then there will be little here for you, and it’s highly unlikely to make you a convert. Take at least a couple of marks off. The two-disc package certainly gives plenty for the money, but unfortunately it is all spoiled by a poor sound mix which will ultimately spoil the enjoyment of the set.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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