A series of essays wherein I explore the numerous musical identities of my favorite musician: from child prodigy to teen idol to guitar hero to singer/songwriter to award-winning in-demand film composer.
Featuring news/updates and commentary/analysis of Trevor's career and associated projects.
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Thursday, June 10, 2021

A Guide to Field Recordings: Around the World in 80 Dates (part four: Opening Night)

A series examining recordings from the Around the World in 80 Dates tour of 1991-92 in relation to the Union Live 30th Anniversary reissue.


Before discussing the first show of this tour (as well as the first show included in the Union 30 set), I wanted to touch on Jon Kirkman's recent appearance on The Prog Report podcast. I cannot help but think this was in response to fandom commentary on social media regarding the nature of the boxset contents, as well as - perhaps - direct inquiries to the distributor since the release had been announced. This is not the first time, by a long shot, that Kirkman has served in a promotional capacity for Gonzo Multimedia and its' associated enterprises. But Kirkman did do something he did not do when attempting to engage with fandom ten years ago, which was explain why there is very little professionally-produced media in either of the Union Live boxsets. Context which should have been provided at the outset, but perhaps was now necessary in the wake of pushback from consumers. Appearing in a friendly/sympathetic environment was no doubt the ultimate motivator for this action. And as it turns out, I was correct about the rights to live recordings belonging to Larry Magid. More interesting, perhaps, is the caveat that despite retaining the rights, Magid did not have the right to commercially release any of the material without a full consensus from all other involved parties: band, management, record label, production companies. This likely explains why there was never a worldwide release of live material in the 1990s. As well, Kirkman stated that if any of the professionally-produced media was used in any form, whatever was unused had to be destroyed. From this I suppose one could assume that whatever material was originally produced is no longer extant save for that which ended up either in an associated release or fandom circulation. I find this a very strange detail for a contract, but he appears to infer that such arrangements were standard in that era. However, we saw a few years back the upload to YouTube of b-roll footage from the rehearsals in Pensacola (filmed for the YesYears: A Retrospective documentary by A*Vision Entertainment, which is a subsidiary of Atlantic Records) indicating that there might still be material available in private collections if not artist and/or corporate archives.

Despite what Kirkman states about the boxset being spearheaded by Larry Magid, I believe I have discovered who is really driving both this project and the recent ARW storefront, and that is Rick Wakeman. One might rightfully point out this is not a surprise, given how Rick has been involved in the promotional efforts, but Rick is one of the actual individuals behind these projects because they are both administered by RRAW Enterprises Ltd. which is a company wholly owned by Rob Ayling and Rick Wakeman. I'm assuming that is meant to provide at least a sliver of legitimacy re: the Union Eight but I would assert that in fact there doesn't need to be a consensus because the material itself is not actually official, though Kirkman states that the organization(s) gave the okay. The sticky wicket in this case might be the inclusion of the Denver and Mountain View shows which were professionally-produced, but as both were originally licensed for broadcast/distribution, it may be a circumstance which is ultimately allowable in this era (especially since both shows are likely sourced from existing bootlegs rather than the original media). There's something inherently humorous/ridiculous about the rights holder having to give permission for a third party to sell bootlegs of recordings of which he (allegedly) does not possess original sources.

I can certainly understand the desire to monetize certain elements of the legacy which - due to various circumstances - have lain dormant and are perhaps being taken advantage of by others in regards to turning a profit. However, I would assert that economic logic dictates you need to offer something better than what fans can already obtain in the greater marketplace. The idea of reselling things which might have already been sold and/or traded, or offering merchandise which isn't actually any more attractive than what was previously available is a business model which I find extremely lacking. Despite whatever motivation is driving such efforts, it's not enough to sustain the scheme in the long run. I would state that if you cannot afford to offer anything better because you're running a shoestring operation, then you don't deserve to attempt to profit yourself despite whatever legal right or permission you may possess to do so.


Note: I will be discussing each show in chronological order (which may not be how it is sequenced in the boxset).

April 9th, 1991
Pensacola Civic Center, Pensacola, FL, USA

Firebird Suite (intro)/Yours Is No Disgrace/Rhythm of Love/City Of Love/Heart of the Sunrise/Leaves Of Green/Concerto in D-Clap/Make It Easy-Owner of a Lonely Heart/And You And I/Drum Duet/Hold On/Shock to the System/Solly's Beard/Changes/Take The Water to the Mountain-Soon/Long Distance Runaround-Whitefish-Amazing Grace/Lift Me Up/Excerpts from The Six Wives of Henry VIII/Awaken

Encore: Roundabout, Starship Trooper

There's definitely something of the typical fan VOIO in First Union, but because this is a video created by The TooleMan it means there's also a definite professional aura about the way in which it was shot and edited and mixed, using a two-camera setup and upgraded to surround audio when it reappeared in trading circles in 2010. Originally filmed in 8mm and then transferred to VHS, what we have now is the VHS transfer to DVD (as the original source was lost in 2005), so there is some degradation of quality but overall this version is quite good for an artifact from 30 years ago.

If there's no credit to the source in the packaging, shame on them, but give copious thanks to TooleManTV, which has provided a number of quality Yes bootlegs over the years. And I don't think it's okay to appropriate his work in this fashion, but that's a whole other rant so I'll comment no further on this point, except to say that I don't believe there's been any attempt to profit from this recording by anyone other than those involved in the Union Live boxsets.

One detail of this video which I find both amusing and morbidly fascinating is that it reveals there's a cemetery directly next door to the Pensacola Civic Center, and I wonder if those who have gone on to their final rest are entertained or disturbed by all the goings-on of their neighborhood entertainment venue.

A gentlemen's agreement...getting ready to hit the stage in Pensacola.

Due to the in-the-round setup of the stage, the band has to come out from the backstage area and walk through the crowd to the stage, which I think actually adds to the "drama" one might say, of the event, their entrance announced - as is tradition - by the strains of Stravinsky's The Firebird suite. We see a bit of this in the video for "Lift Me Up' though it's not clear to me where it was filmed. It is an incredibly thrilling introduction, having experienced my own version of it I can attest to that. We get a good shot of how the "wedding cake" stage (as Bill Bruford described it) was set up, not wholly dissimilar to the last time Yes toured in-the-round in 1978. Jon is at the top of the construction and the rest of the band ring the circumference with Alan and Bill across from each other, Chris next to Alan, then Rick, then Steve, and on the other side of Bill is Tony and then Trevor. So even with the inclusive staging there is still a delineation between Classic Yes and YesWest. However, everyone with a stringed instrument could move about as they pleased. The stage itself rotated slowly throughout the show so that the audience perspective would eventually encompass all involved participants.

They opened the show with "Yours Is No Disgrace" which was a warhorse of both lineups in performance and therefore the easiest route to (seeming) harmony. But immediately battle lines are drawn in fandom with the direct contrast between the solo spots, as Steve and Trevor had each performed the section according to their own style (and Steve sticking primarily to the way he had played it for the original recording) and that difference was glaringly apparent. Personally I think it was quite interesting that they did this for both YIND and "Starship Trooper" and while Trevor's brashness in the arena rock setting was perceived to be disrespectful, I think maybe some Classic fans forget that Yes was an arena rock band, and therefore required to be entertaining on some level. Did he want to piss all over Steve's carpet (in a manner of speaking)? I don't believe so, Trevor is a well-mannered individual overall. I think he desired - rightfully, logically - to be Trevor Rabin and despite what some fans thought of that, it wasn't a crime.

And the reaction to his pyrotechnics was always a loud roar of approval, according to all the bootlegs I've watched/listened to.

Opening night jitters manifest themselves in a flub Jon then makes, but this is such a spectacle I imagine no one is particularly disappointed. Nearly the first twenty minutes have passed in a blink of an eye, and Steve was a lot more energetic than I remember him being.

After this the setlist is constructed such that we take a breather between epics, with shorter songs and instrumental interludes spaced between the beloved behemoths. "Rhythm of Love" remains in the tour but "City Of Love" was dropped after this performance and as much as I enjoyed it during the 9012Live tour, I can certainly understand why it wasn't a good fit for the Union Eight, although it was likely considered simply because it hadn't been performed since that time. It is certainly fortuitous that the stage had revolved to a spot so Trevor could be zoomed in on for his big solo in RoL. Hearing the song again in this context reminded me of ARW's version, especially Rick's solo. But playing "City" so early in the set is not quite the vibe it should be. "Shock To The System" was moved up after "City" was cut, and that was a good decision overall to keep the energy flowing. Part of the reason "City" comes off rather stiff is because we don't get the Bromance choreography which we're used to. But they do keep it like the record, which reminds me of Trevor's rant in Access All Areas, but that doesn't really work, in my opinion, because the glorious ridiculous excess of those performances was the point of having such a song in the set.

At this point I can comment that the sound is pretty average for this kind of arena-based audience recording, and I would say the value of this kind of VOIO is more about witnessing the show. It appears to me that all ROIO versions of this concert are also taken from First Union in one form or another unless there were other audience-sourced recordings, but it's not clearly documented if that is the case. To get a better sense of how the band sounded you would have to listen to other shows, as Yes is notorious for not being well-rehearsed in any case, hence the first week of shows tends to be rather fast-and-loose.

It's onto the next epic, and Jon yields the floor to Chris for his signature bass vamp in "Heart of the Sunrise." There's a bit of interaction with Steve and Trevor centerstage, it's all feeling very friendly. 

I appreciate that even though the zooms are a little shaky the person filming this part of the show knows when to zoom in for the most part. So it's a fairly nice combination of close-ups and medium shots from what I would presume to be mid-level upper deck, perhaps even loge or mezzanine-level. Given the layout of the stage I feel this presents a better overall view.

A quiet interlude follows, with Jon, Steve and Rick spotlighted on the "Leaves of Green" section of "The Ancient (Giants Under the Sun)" from Tales from Topographic Oceans, and as we know ARW also performed this on their opening night, also in Florida, as a duet with Jon and Rick. Strangely this song never seems to make it past the first night in any era which involves YesWest, which is a shame because I think it's quite beautiful. We then go into the first of the solo sections, featuring Steve having a moment with a bit of Vivaldi and his own acoustic alchemy. You can see Trevor clapping for him as Steve comes back up to centerstage to take a bow. Again, friendly diplomacy is the mood of the evening. Bill and Steve then take a break as the band moves into "Take It Easy/Owner of a Lonely Heart" and Rick solos on this one as well, then Bill comes back after Trevor's solo. It could be considered that Tony was quite generous with assenting to Rick having a few more turns even on YesWest material, but I suspect that wasn't a decision for him to make but rather an indicator of how well Trevor and Rick were getting on, an almost instantaneous chemistry.

Time for another epic!  "And You And I" is another warhorse for both sides, but deservedly so.  And both lineups were by that point renowned for their respective versions, however different their interpretations.  But an interesting aspect of watching this is to consider that the stage is set up so that nearly everyone is performing with their back to everyone else (save the four points of the compass - so to speak - on drums and keyboards), because Steve chooses to face the center of the stage for the introduction rather than the crowd.  I imagine any number of people thought it was great to hear the Moog again, I will always be in favor of a version of AYAI featuring Rick.  But of course what makes any version of the song transcendent is that "Eclipse" transition at the end of "The Preacher, The Teacher" leading into "Apocalypse" which on a good night can levitate the roof right off the venue.  I think the combination of Steve on pedal steel and Trevor on his Strat works really well in those sections, building tones together to create that expressive gravitas.  And just as they did once more in ARW, Rick and Trevor provide a nice dramatic moment playing off of each other in the climax.

The band then takes a well-deserved set break...it's amazing to think there used to be three-hour shows, back when we all possessed more stamina.

The second half of the show opens with Bill and Alan's "duet" (with Tony on supporting keyboards) which is a lot of fun, unfortunately the recording does cut in after it's already begun so we don't get much of it.  This segues right into "Hold On" but boy, that vamp goes on forever!  I assume that's because Trevor was late making it back to the stage, as we see him hurrying to plug in after Alan has already started his intro.  There's two things which I wonder about:
-a- Is it just my imagination, or is this the fastest version of "Hold On" ever?
-b- Steve on acoustic is...kinda weird?  Especially that little flourish during the last instrumental section.  I certainly respect the spirit of (apparent) cooperation going on, but there are a few spots in the show where it does seem like people are just doing things to do things.

During this song the filmer captures one of the other cameramen, in support of my assertion that the entire show was pro-shot.  In stage blacks and trying to be as unobtrusive as possible, of course.

There's a cut-out where I'm assuming a tape change took place and "Shock To The System" is already underway when we come back. Jon is really hitting it like he's a hair metal frontman, which is totally adorkable.  I think one of the reasons "Shock" sounds better live is because it's not so stiff and attempting to appropriate a style it doesn't quite manage.  It's played by an actual rock band and they are rocking the eff out!  It makes the studio version sound odd by comparison.  "Shock" contains my favorite Epic Bromance moment and if Trevor is not enjoying himself, he certainly had me fooled.

But now The Cheese stands alone...just kidding.  It's time for my favorite part of the show!  I wrote an entire essay about the evolution of "Solly's Beard" in performance - it had already begun to mutate during Trevor's club tour in 1989, and now with 80 Dates it was going to progress further into numerous stylistic quotations in order that he should make his mark upon the Eight-Headed Monster.  Moving into the center with his stool and his white Yairi, it begins much as any previous version.  Trevor then segues into "Etoile Noir" but that's the only detour he takes in this first outing.  Within a month, however, it would be quite a different beast.

This small part of the show belongs to Trevor, as "Solly's Beard" and "Changes" continue to be paired in the setlist, at least in the first North American run.  During the TPR episode I was previously discussing, Geoff Bailie asks Jon Kirkman about The Game, and as we know from Rick Wakeman's comments in the ARW profile in PROG back in 2017, it actually began during the 80 Dates tour, and the song had to be either "Changes" or "Lift Me Up" because those were the only ones featuring Trevor on co-lead vocals.  The intro seems rather extended, but I like it that way.  Jon and Trevor switch places, which I find a bit shocking, but also appropriate.  And Trevor holds that money note for a good eight seconds, which is very good for him.  But it doesn't appear he's playing the game, although there is a flub in the latter half of the song when Jon and Chris are singing two different refrains.

Time for a new song, and it's Union's closer - "Take The Water to the Mountain" - which I actually like somewhat.  In this tour opener they played three songs from the album they were ostensibly promoting, and while it would seem strange for that time, we're already well aware of why the setlist was always going to be skewed towards the weight of Yesstory as opposed to current concerns.  But I will say that like a lot of Union, this song doesn't sound any more Yes-sy than what people say about "Lift Me Up," for example.  It really sounds like a leftover from one of Jon's solo projects.  This is one of the other causalities of Opening Night; a few dates later they add in "I've Seen All Good People" a little earlier in the set, but they don't include anything else from Union for the rest of the initial dates.  "Saving My Heart" isn't added until the Summer run of shows.  But it does make a nice transition for "Soon" which was then and still remains Jon's signature solo piece, a moment of emotive beauty.  Trevor returns to play acoustic along with Steve's pedal steel, again a lovely combination of textures.

After a bit of a corny intro by Jon, Classic Yes convenes to perform "Long Distance Runaround." Seeing this beloved lineup play together once more is as much a pleasure as is the scheme entire, I would say.  The YesWest contingent returns to the stage as "The Fish" begins, which eventually leads into Chris' extended solo spot, featuring the "Whitefish" duet with Alan and his rendition of "Amazing Grace."  It's always fun observing Chris' outsize stage persona become the life of the party.

(There's a fade which occurs at this point which might indicate an edit to another camera position.)

"Lift Me Up" is a highlight of the show overall, I'd say, and while that is inherent bias it's also a shot of energy which I think is necessary to keep this enterprise afloat in their three-hour tour (See what I did there?).  I really wish Bill's vamp on his Simmons pads could have gone on a bit longer, it's a real groove.  Unfortunately at this angle we can't really see Trevor, but - again - we do see one of the cameramen over by Steve.  There are many shows yet to watch/listen to in this series, but I do wonder if this is the only time Trevor got the lyrics right!  I mean, you all know I love him but...bless his heart.  And the original live ending, which has the quieter section with the refrain and then the instrumental climax - that is the way to play "Lift Me Up" and you all know I'm right.

Next is Rick's solo spot, which normally consisted of him playing various pieces from his 1973 album The Six Wives of Henry VIII.  I enjoy watching Rick solo, I always will, even as some may find his "I have nine keyboards up here and I'm going to play them ALL" routine to be rather cheesy.  Trevor then appears for a bit of who can play the fastest fun, and again, their performance chemistry was instantaneous from Opening Night.  Again I spy a cameraman capturing it all (but thanks to this cameraman the view of Trevor's jeans in this section is *chef's kiss*).

Can we just talk about how this was such A LOOK?!

And now the rest of the evening is devoted to the quintessential Yes pursuit: the epic.

Many fans find the 80 Dates take on "Awaken" to be one of the best, adhering to tradition but also containing a bit of something new.  Steve is again full of energy, hopping about, and Jon is in fine voice, even given the inherent limitations of the recording.  The instrumental section spotlighting Jon, Rick and Trevor seems very much like foreshadowing now, given recent history.  I love the way it builds in the traditional way, it does feel very magical in the moment.  Even as it's not one of my favorite epics, "Awaken" does embody the ethereal grace which represents Yes at its' very best, and it is entirely fitting to conclude the show.

Hugs all around...well what do you know?  They actually pulled it off!

Another fade out/in as the band returns to the stage for the encore.  The image quality is the best in this section of the VOIO, I find it looks much more first-generation than the rest of the transfer.

What's nice about the eight-man band performing "Roundabout" is that Steve can concentrate on his acoustic flourishes which, to me, are essential for the song.  And a touch of whimsy to see Broof grooving as he bangs a tambourine at several points in the song.  It retains both the classic feel and the arena rock intensity with its' rendering.  

And then...my favorite, and it's thrilling to me to see them play "Starship Trooper" as it represents the most Yes that Yes has ever Yes-ed, no matter which lineup plays it.  But it doesn't appear at first that they planned to play it (and dropped it the next night), and I can understand why - the entire show is a marathon and even in their prime it must have been difficult to maintain the stamina to get through it all.  Interestingly, Trevor uses his Pantera on this song, whereas previously he had always played it on his Strat.  He actually comes over to Steve's side of the stage during "W├╝rm" and though I know it's wholly performative it still makes me smile.  As I noted before, both Steve and Trevor play solos during this part and I love it, Steve is actually being rather Guitar Hero at this point (although his devotees will swear he's always tasteful) and I wish this could go on for, like, an hour.  Trevor has travelled all over the stage by the time they get to the speeded-up part and then a truly climatic finish.

Despite all the baggage of this scheme, that is what made it transcendent.


As I've noted above, I spied a cameraman/cameramen throughout the show, so I believe my assertion about the entire Pensacola show being pro-shot is correct.  And I suppose we're now supposed to believe that this footage no longer exists, having been destroyed after excerpts were used in YesYears: A Retrospective and (possibly) the video for "Lift Me Up."  If that is true, what a damn shame.  Pensacola is special in terms of the setlist but also for being the first of the tour and a unique moment in time.  I believe, ten years ago same as now, as this recording - which I would assert doesn't belong to anyone save the people involved in creating it, much less Larry Magid - was and is being sold to people who absolutely do not need to buy it and we should have been given an explanation as to why we would be expected to buy a bootleg instead of the actual professionally-shot and recorded performance.

It's definitely a decent bootleg for what it is and an enjoyable experience in terms of getting to view that unique moment in time for a variety of reasons.  I've had a copy ever since it was originally re-seeded for DVD but I've never really studied it as I've done for this review, and it does hold up to repeat viewing, I think, in that the quality is good given the inherent limitations of the source.

But you still absolutely do not need to buy it, because we were never meant to in the first place.

As for considerations of the artists receiving their perceived financial compensation, think of this: were it not the existence of audience recordings used in this manner, the band would have never seen any money from live recordings because there weren't any to be sold, save for the Japan-only release which was a contractual obligation to the promoters in Japan.  So in terms of the "we might as well profit from this too" attitude, I wonder how much they think bootleggers are making from having sold copies of the Mountain View show, for example.  Certainly not as much as the band got paid to perform it in the first place.  I think it's rather disingenuous to make it appear as if Yes is being financially slighted for this when they wouldn't have stood to profit at all originally.  If, on the other hand, a taper had presented someone with a recording which had never been circulated and had the agreement of Magid to sell it, that would have been a legitimate reason to put together a lavish collectible to tempt the fans.

It's just unfortunate that for those professional sources we do have the benefit of enjoying via bootlegs, we (in the rest of the world) never received an actual consumer-grade release which would have been worth paying for.  I think it speaks not only to those who would prey upon fans' loyalty, but also an organization who would agree that it's better to take the easy way out and sell bootlegs to fans who can obtain the exact same material online for free rather than try to search out something better and unique means that they have ceased caring about the goodwill of that loyal fanbase at all.

Monday, June 7, 2021

Sighting in the wild

Spotted on Instagram: Trevor and Shelley attended a disco-themed birthday party this past weekend and thanks to some postings via another attendee, promoter Karen Mamont, it's nice to see them again!  As I've said before, I can't embed social media posts any longer but here's some links.



(This one is a video clip, you can see Trevor very briefly.)


Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Interesting things which might have been

Found a very interesting tidbit courtesy of an article on The South African website regarding the latest release from South African singer/songwriter/guitarist Steve Louw, whose latest album Headlight Dreams was produced by fellow countryman and acclaimed producer Kevin Shirley.

First, as context let's recall this mention from the 2020 PROG interview/profile with Malcolm Dome:

There's every chance that Trevor will have at least two opportunities to work live with orchestras in the next year or so.  Although nothing is yet confirmed, these possibilities clearly excite him.

"One performance would concentrate on my own work, while the other would give me the chance to get involved with a very big name from the rock world.  I can't say more about either concert right now.  However, I feel confident both will happen, with at least one in London."

As my readers are already aware, Lee Pomeroy commented on one of these opportunities in an interview he gave to Yes Music Podcast that same year, and Trevor elaborated on it to me when I interviewed him in July; it involved appearing with an orchestra to perform what would presumably be a variety of his scoring compositions and perhaps some other songs as well.

Back to the aforementioned article, it appears that this is the other project which was planned while the world was still in the pre-pandemic state of things.  Having completed work with Shirley on his latest album in Nashville, Louw and his producer then go their separate ways:

I flew to New York on the 3rd of March, en route back to South Africa, and Kevin headed to LA to film with Trevor Rabin who was scoring Joe Bonamassa songs with a full orchestra for a live concert film they were going to film last August at Red Rock in Colorado.

Hence the "very big name from the rock world" descriptor.  I'm assuming the filming referred to had to do with creating bonus material for what would likely have been a home video/streaming release of the proposed show.  Alas, the best laid plans of...well, everybody, at that point.

Besides being fellow expats, Kevin and Trevor do have a long acquaintance, and it's very easy to imagine Kevin turning to Trevor when this particular opportunity presented itself in regards to one of his long-running clients, Shirley having produced or co-produced all of Bonamassa's albums since 2006.

Hopefully, as our live music landscape here in the US begins to slowly but surely return to normal, this project will be revived for a potential late 2021 or '22 release.

Monday, May 3, 2021

update: Union 30 Live contents

With thanks as always to Henry Potts and his website Where Are They Now? - Yes for providing updates to this release, as those who are on the mailing list have also been just recently informed, there have been significant changes made to the final contents of the Union 30 Live CD/DVD boxset.  Most importantly, the Denver show is now included.

This is important to me because it changes the trajectory of my new series, so I'm glad to have this information myself.  As well, it might change the minds of a few potential purchasers.

Revised Contents (arranged in chronological order)

CDx3+DVD: Pensacola Civic Centre 9th April 1991
CDx3: Worcester Centrum, Worcester, MA 17th April 1991
CDx2+DVD: Nassau Colosseum 20th April 1991
CDx2+DVD: McNichols Sports Arena, Denver, CO 9th May 1991
CDx3: Hanns-Martin-Schleyer-Halle, Stuttgart, Germany 31st May 1991 (FM Broadcast)
CDx2: Wembley Arena, UK  29th June 1991 (FM Broadcast)
CDx2+DVD: Madison Square Garden, NYC 15th July 1991
CDx2: Alpine Valley Music Theatre, Wisconsin 26th July 1991
CDx2+DVD: Shoreline Amphitheatre (Remastered) 8th August 1991
CDx2: Yokohama Bunka Taiikukan 4th March 1992
CDx4: Bonus Tracks (Live, Soundchecks, Radio Shows, and Rehearsals)

One interesting thing to note (for me, anyway) is that with the vinyl box set you also receive a copy of the Mountain View show on DVD, which, well...if you don't already have it that's probably a nice bonus.

The release date had been changed to May 17th, though the update provided status that the sets are being delivered from manufacturing in China and so the merchandising arm is "due to start shipping out the sets by the end of May" which I'm assuming means that most should have their purchase by mid-June.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Real ones know

In a recent interview Megadeth co-founder and bassist David Ellefson gave to Premiere Guitar, he was asked about who might be considered an unlikely influence on him...

Which guitar hero of yours might shock your fans?

"I would say Trevor Rabin of Yes. When the 90125 record came out, I was living in LA at the time, in 1984, and that record came out it was just a game-changer! Like the first [self-titled] Boston record in a way - the clarity of production...

"I remember when we were mixing Killing is My Business record at Crystal Soundlabs in Hollywood - I remember Dave, Chris Poland, and I went into another room where it was, and the guy was showing us, he was hitting these orchestral stabs and things, just like on the Yes record. It could sample an entire orchestra in one key on the instrument!

"It would mimic the whole orchestra, or whatever you wanted it to sample at the time. Sampling was a brand new concept. So that record is just one of my favorites, in fact, that one can go to the desert island with me, I'm really glad that Trevor got that gig and let us hear his song.

"They are still to this day amazing, timeless songs. When I travel, I always have them on my phone. His guitar playing - I think his playing is incredible. He is one for sure that when I hear something of his, I listen to it and pay attention."

Wednesday, April 28, 2021


Spotted on Twitter: composer Lasse Enersen tweeted today that he and Trevor share credit on the score for the upcoming Renny Harlin action film The Misfits, to be released on June 11th.  This will be the fifth of Trevor's collaborations with Harlin, with a ten-year gap between this film and 5 Days of War.

Unfortunately I can't embed social media posts any longer on this platform, but here's the link which includes the trailer for the film:


Wednesday, April 21, 2021

A Guide to Field Recordings: Around the World in 80 Dates (part three: The institution of Yes)

 A series examining recordings from the Around the World in 80 Dates tour of 1991-92 in relation to the Union Live 30th Anniversary reissue.

I know I keep saying I'm going to get to the recordings in question, but I feel like the context of Around the World in 80 Dates requires further examination before doing so, because it ties into the cognitive dissonance of why such a great tour (from an audience perspective) has such a lousy legacy.  As I mentioned in the previous essay, the release of Union is not the reason why the 80 Dates tour exists.  Rather, the tour is the reason why the album exists.  So to place the tour in a historical and (especially) congratulatory context, all of the accompanying promotion is really slanted towards the examination of Yes as an institution.  A few years past their porcelain anniversary (which is quite fitting when you really think about it), it was time to fully and officially ruminate on the history of the band - and this was the first time, as the quasi-official bio Close To The Edge was still more than a decade away from being published - and therefore as part of the eight-man band juggernaut the vehicle of their collective whitewash was created to accompany the retrospective boxset release YesYears.

YesYears: A Retrospective definitely benefits from being professionally produced and featuring most members past and present.  Is it an accurate history of the band?  Not exactly.  But does it look and sound good with the benefit of interviews and archival footage?  Absolutely.  It's more entertaining, overall, than the other documentary (Classic Artists: Yes, released in 2007).  It does have its' detractors - note this reaction from critic James Griffiths when the documentary was reissued on DVD in 2003:

This DVD rockumentary is, on first glance, a rather ghastly affair, full of wrinkled men with mullet haircuts and transatlantic English accents. But as it lumbers along, you find yourself warming to them and their story, and perhaps even joining them in hankering after those halcyon days of the early 1970s.

I find this a salient point just in terms of the doc's overall mission - by the end of it you'll understand that Yes is something more than just a band, it's an idea which can be proffered by various people at different times in different configurations.  And part of that idea has to do with ambition and vision.

The tour had to be deemed important not merely because of its' status as an event, but because Yes needed to be perceived as inhabiting a continuing relevancy - and there's no better way to assert this notion than to produce a documentary which attempts to prove just that.  And part of that relevancy has to do with the persistence of an idea over time.  Why does a band continue to exist for 20 years?  Because it's a good idea?  Well sure, although there are other motivations involved as well.  But the institution of Yes continued to exist because there was something compelling about what they did and how they did it.  Yes evolved to the point of becoming not only a brand name, but also a meaning beyond the prosaic notion of a progressive rock band.  It's also worth noting that another facet of the Union promotional cycle involved featuring Yes in MTV's continuing Rockumentary series (that portmanteau was fittingly coined by the film This Is Spinal Tap), though The Story Thus Far is condensed for the contemporary audience to half an hour.

For those who wonder if I am interrogating this document from a purely cynical perspective...well, yes and no.  Yes because what else can you say about a documentary which opens with an observation from one of the two keyboard players about the seeming impossibility of such an enterprise as the 80 Dates tour?  But equally no because I love this documentary.  I own a copy and it has brought me hours of viewing pleasure over the years.  They're all relatively young and beautiful and it engenders a nostalgia which is equal parts joy and wistful ache.  But affection does not preclude critical discernment, or at least not in my case.


To return to the notion of Yes being...whatever it is...let's consult with Wakey once more.

"Yes is...it really is music."  

Or perhaps Music, even.  And I do not disagree with him in the slightest, but this is evidence towards my overarching theory regarding YesYears framing Yes as an institution.  Because a documentary is always an opportunity for its' members to define the character of the ensemble.

I want to pause for a moment to observe that in the opening montage we see the proof that the first show in Pensacola was professionally filmed.  Perhaps not the entire show, but I think we see enough excerpts that I would assert the entire show was filmed.  And I think we deserve to know what happened to that footage and why is it that an audience video is instead being resold to fans who would be willing to pay good money for something far better.

Also to note: the institution of Yes would mean that although this was the first time Trevor and Steve shared a stage, it would be far from the last...regardless of their actual feelings about the situation.  But Yes is bigger than either of them, despite whatever opinions some may hold.

Joining forces: Pensacola, 4/9/91

Part of the inherent value of this documentary are things like that, tantalizing high-quality glimpses of footage we wish we could have.  Another example of this is the live footage included in the video for "Lift Me Up" - which might have been from more than one show.

Speaking of the aforementioned anthem, again, the video portrays the eight-man band as if they all had a hand in it somehow.  As we know, although Trevor's original demo of the song is augmented in various ways and with the assistance of producer Eddy Offord, at best it represents three or four-fifths of YesWest and that's it.  But for promotional material it's as much convincing us of an actual union as it is a visual interpretation of the song.

Returning to our subject...the history of Yes unfolds in anecdotal style, with 4/5ths of the original lineup recollecting the origins in a rather broad overview, tiptoeing diplomatically through the minefield, as it were.  Interestingly, Chris notes that the band did not start out with any kind of idea, rather continually moved forward under the force of their own ambition to be working, to be noticed.  Bill is, in his position as The Acerbic One, baldly blunt when discussing how they constructed their early oeuvre, blithely borrowing from whatever they thought was interesting.  Slowly but surely, the ideation of the institution creeps in once more, as Jon notes that with each album, "somebody got off the bus," meaning their evolution was in part defined by who was willing to continue the journey towards a more complex artistic ambition.

Another interesting element - in my estimation - is to note that every time Yes has changed guitar players (which is technically twice but three times chronologically) then the purpose of the band is remade, in a sense, and from that perspective I would assert that both Steve and Trevor are equally important to the legacy of Yes and thus entirely fitting that they were both inducted to the R&RHoF.  However, the doc is slanted a bit towards presenting Steve as the embodiment of traditional Yes values.

It's around this point that the interviews are sort of interspersed between those which were conducted during one of the photo shoots, and those conducted during rehearsal in Pensacola.  Portions of those interviews are also used in the Greatest Video Hits anthology, which was released in 1992.  It remains a mystery to me why ATCO did not license "Lift Me Up" from Arista to include in the package.

Back to the narrative, the evolution of Yes takes an autonomous turn with Steve's integration, their creativity compelling enough to grant them some (necessary) commercial success, but more importantly sets the stage for those recordings which would forever place them in prog rock history as a singular ensemble and deservedly so.  The golden era of people making music and distributing music for the sake of Music itself.  It wasn't quite that idyllic, but near enough from the perspective of the increasingly antagonistic 1990s, wherein Our Heroes recall their salad days.  But to illustrate how reductive this recounting is, we go through two line-ups in the first 20 minutes, with little commentary granted to Peter Banks, and Tony Kaye being rather cavalier regarding his first tenure.  Their first two albums are glossed over, and the third receives a little more coverage but not as much as it deserves.

But we have to make room for what most fans consider the Classic Era, which comprises three line-ups (one of which is repeated) and six albums over a period of seven years.  It is in this part of the narrative where Yes can make the best case for insisting upon the status of Institutional Excellence.  Although it could be said that there's a case for giving the arguments of Serious Endeavor and Beloved Among the Masses equal weight vis a vis historical consideration.

Yes were...special.  And I don't say that in a facetious kind of way.  The guys make a convincing case as they state the primary take-away: Yes made the kind of music they made in that particular era because they were special.  And it was a time and a place in which they were valued for that quality.  But it's a bit amusing to consider that the muso discussion comes at this juncture, once the preliminaries were over.  There's an emphasis on the nature of their creative process and what it wrought.  This is the establishment of the Canon, and of the institution of Yes.

I had to laugh at the way Steve classified Classic Yes versus YesWest, that one is concerned with melody and the other with rhythm, and his implication is that one version is more nuanced than the other, and this reflects my comment about how the character of the band changes depending on who is playing guitar.  Because otherwise you've got the same rhythm section from most of that prior period, so...but this is not the debate I came here for.

Another point in favor of the canon is the discussion of the Epic, something which can be said to be a traditional Yes value and something for which they would be judged ever after.  Where are the epics?! fans would demand in later years.  And why aren't they as good now?!

The persistence of an idea over time.  But the idea changes as the players age.

Close To The Edge is positively dissected as an album, and I'm all for that as it's my favorite Classic Yes album.  But it's interesting to note the privilege it receives in discussion and review.  It's something perhaps not apprehended on the surface but something to consider in hindsight.  Establishing the way in which the albums should be viewed is what they're doing here.  You really have to appreciate Bill Bruford as a palate cleanser in this case, because his comments fall just short of lampoonery at times, but his unvarnished commentary is refreshing in the midst of the overall canonical reverence.  It's like you can actually feel the documentary slowing down at this point.  The focus shifts from history to legacy.

And then Broof departs the scene because his jazzbo soul was unfulfilled by the institution of Yes, even having ascended the first rung of serious creative achievement with them.  It's funny to consider that instead of "It's not you, it's me," his argument is "Oh it's definitely you."

Enter now the most amiable person to have ever joined Yes, and honestly, to this day I believe it's really Alan White who is keeping the whole thing together somehow.  By contrast, Rick Wakeman's first departure is seen as a mutiny owing to his dissatisfaction with Tales From Topographic Oceans.  It's an interesting distinction because in this era nobody leaves Yes because they can't keep up.  They leave because the idea no longer appeals to them.

The documentary may be the only occasion in this era, however, that Jon Anderson publicly admits to possessing a dictatorial attitude.  "What the hell, I don't care," he dryly declares nearly an hour in.  And why?  Because he got what he wanted this time as well with the eight-headed monster, so what's the harm in admitting to a certain monomaniacal tendency, right?

It takes about half an hour to transition from that golden three-album era to the true outlier in the Yes discography, with the addition of Patrick Moraz and the creation of Relayer.  Recently there's been a discussion on Yesfans regarding the work which displays the most progressive values and most participants (including myself) are apt to cite that album as the best example of Yes' willingness to experiment and travel to realms previously unknown.  We even get an actual filmic transition, which signals a significant shift in Yesstory and our apprehension of it.  The viewer is being educated, you see.  Documentaries always possess an agenda, and this one is becoming clearer.

And part of that agenda has to do with privileging the narrative of the Union Eight, as no one else is allowed to contribute (a detail which may make the Classic Artists documentary better from a historical standpoint, as it includes everyone except Trevor, who chose not to participate).  But I suppose we can amend the rule regarding transformation, for it seems obvious that Patrick wrought his own change upon the band, brief though his tenure was.  And when an ensemble is insisting upon institutional excellence, it stands to reason that the people who become involved have very distinct personalities which may or may not mesh with the whole.

One thing I appreciate about the portrayal of the Relayer era is the nod to Roger Dean (and by extension Tait Towers) for providing an embodiment of the Yes aesthetic onstage, like one of the album covers come to life (or as much as was possible back in 1975).  But it's mere minutes before we move on to the solo albums (Fish Out Of Water and Olias of Sunhillow, yay!) with 4/5ths of the ensemble recollecting their projects, and then to the subsequent tour.  And then Rick is back in the fold, which is seen as a unifying element at the time.  Going For The One was an incredibly popular album of its' time (I remember when the title track was played every hour on FM rock radio), but whether or not it's truly good is something which is still being debated by Yes fans to this day.  Alan frames it as a positive experience and the accompanying studio footage indicates they were having a good time actually playing together, which is always nice to view.  Granted, GFTO will always be in Jon's good books because it contains his favorite epic "Awaken."  So again, the narrative is privileging particular works for canon consideration.  This is followed by Rick's explanation of how he rejoined the band.

Another transition, and Jon declares that Tormato is the result of him ceding control...are we supposed to think that's a bad thing?  But I suppose the greater point he's making has to do with a particular fragmentation of direction and drive, which I can certainly agree with.  And now we're already up to 1978 and the ill-fated Paris sessions, which led to both Jon and Rick deciding to quit.  So we're covered eleven years in a little over an hour.  It's certainly an example of how a band can burn out in that amount of time, when we consider how much Yes accomplished in that decade, how many lineup changes, stylistic shifts, albums and tours, highs and lows they had experienced.  I'm exhausted just thinking about it!

Can anyone imagine Yes as a power trio?  It almost happened but for the entrance of the first Trevor Charles and his cohort Geoff Downes into the continuum of a new idea for an old band looking for a home.  This led to another album which has been contentious for fans, the aptly-named Drama.  In the 1980s, Yes took various chances with what fans would accept and most of them paid off, I would say.  But all of them caused debate and backlash to varying degrees.  The character of evolution is one of those institutional values which I think is most important overall to the band itself.  Steve and Alan throw Chris under the bus in terms of his desire to make it all work, and I can see both sides.  Yes, it was likely a nightmare for Trevor Horn to find himself thrust into this spotlight he wasn't fully prepared for, but on the other hand, the Show must go on, and Chris likely saw that as his actual job to ensure it would.  But the center could not hold...which led to Steve deciding to go off with Geoff and start a whole other band.  A band that the second Trevor Charles was also pressured to join.

(It's just kind of weird, isn't it?  All these coincidences...)

Speaking of Our Trev, it's now time for the birth of YesWest and not a moment too soon!  I know any number of Rabinites have fast-forwarded to his appearance in this panoply.  There are various versions regarding how it happened, and I'm not fussed about it - it depends on who, what, where and when - but then Chris attempts to frame Tony's return as a redressed slight and...I always laugh at that explanation, I can't help it.  Those of you who have listened to my appearance on Have You SEEN This? know what I mean by this because Chris' choice of Tony was entirely political and strategical.  And then we get to Jon's return and it's all an equivocated condensed sequence of events.  Just like with the current situation, we're supposed to think it was just all Meant To Be and that is a load of horseshit.  But let's not have the truth get in the way of Yesstory, right?  Considering how 90125 is such a landmark, again, it's all a bit glossed-over, although there's some interesting comments from Trevor about his process and how it changed over time due to collaborating with Chris specifically.  The difficulties of recording Big Generator are also discussed by Trevor, Chris and Alan, and Trevor's hesitancy in expressing his point is rather telling.

It's really interesting that at the time of filming the doc, Trevor admits he and Jon were also fighting during recording.  When I discussed the making of the album with Trevor last year, he said the real problem was the fighting between Jon and Chris.  And I've always wondered why, when Jon was so unhappy and alienated he had to go off and form another version of Yes, would he then seek out Trevor as his savior for the follow-up to ABWH?

Because he wouldn't...unless he had been told that there was greater success to be had if he was the one who united the warring factions into a band for the ages.  And how to do it?  To start with, by admitting that the Whiz Kid knew he was doing all along.  Whether Jon actually believed it or not.

Back to the (then) present, with discussion of Can't Look Away and one of the true values of this document - excerpts from the video for STHOT.  Again, it's interesting to me that he frames the club tour as a battle between the interests of management and the desires of the record company - who naturally would want their product promoted in the traditional manner.  As I've noted previously I think it would have been more strategic for Trevor to appear on an arena tour with another artist, but I imagine he wouldn't have stood for not being the headliner, thus the club tour.  So it would seem to me that perhaps Tony D. and Alex weren't objecting to the notion of touring, but rather the specific circumstances of touring that Trevor was insisting upon because it didn't make sense to them from a business perspective.  He notes they lost money on the tour and I would say it was due to the overhead of hauling all that equipment around for such a short period of time.  But it sounded great, and that's what matters...or one supposes, anyway.

Jon's departure and ABWH are not included in this narrative, and it concludes at almost the 90-minute mark so we can enjoy the fun and wacky behind-the-scenes hijinks section.  I mean, Jon had a solo career too as well as putting together his other Yes and, well, you're not gonna hear about it here.  Because to attempt to explain it rather than fob it off as just another side project - which is essentially what Alan does in his last interview section - is to avoid acknowledging what a schism it caused from both a business and personal perspective.  We have to believe they are happy to be doing this, because the tour has to succeed, everything is connected to this event writ worldwide.  And it's charming, I won't deny it, I enjoy it even as it's mostly posturing.  Everyone with the exception of Bill is disingenuous to some degree.  As with most institutions, there's a disconnect between how they wish to be apprehended by the public and how they actually function on a day-to-day level.  But for an extended period of time we are viewing the personalities/personas and putting human faces on the monolith which makes us care about it that much more, as well as instilling an appreciation for the sheer scale and effort behind the tour.

(And as always: point a camera at Trevor and he will not fail to be entertaining.)

To underscore the glory of the idea we are treated to an excerpt from Denver of the band performing "Awaken."  Specifically the "master of images" section which is quite transcendent, and I say that as someone who's not much of a fan of that particular epic.  Then, fade-out and back into a section where everyone muses on their formative years, crafted from a montage of interview, rehearsal, and performance footage.  For me, this is one of the most interesting sections in that it comes off less pandering even as we're meant to understand that Yes will always be inhabited by people who possessed a sheer passion for music seemingly from birth.  But I like knowing how music has shaped a musician's life, what their motivations were, and are, for following this particular path.

The last ten minutes or so is devoted to more behind-the-scenes footage and a quote from Jon that, again, makes me laugh.

"I've always felt that it would be a good idea, you know, you get about eight people who are really talented playing together, you can finish it with a very stylized idea.  And I think it's like the evolution of a band, if it does it properly and there's a spirit within the band to want to do it, and it's done for the main reason, which is music."

(See how that dovetails nicely with what Rick said at the beginning?)

This is followed by Trevor:

"And we can have a great time doing it, you know, have a good time and at the end of it see what we wanna do, if anything.  I think that's the way to approach it.  I think it's dishonest to say 'Yeah in five years we'll still be going strong!' (shrugs) Who knows."

...and that, to me, parallels what both would be saying a year later at the end of the tour.  The optimism of The Big Idea versus the pragmatism of Sometimes People In Yes Remember That They're Actually In Yes.

But I can see where many fans, having watched this documentary, wanted to believe in the future Jon was attempting to create.  Couldn't help but believe it because that's what was sold to all of us.  We then see the band assembling to make that first grand entrance in Pensacola as the audience gathers eagerly and expectantly...look, we made it happen.  And if we made this happen, just think about what else we could do.

It ends with more footage from Denver, specifically the best version of "Shock To The System" (no offense to Jimmy Haun, but the live version is so much more compelling than the studio track even as Trevor didn't particularly enjoy playing it by his own admission) to remind us...oh yeah, there's a new album out!  I think it's one of the most convincing arguments as to why the Denver show should have been officially released 30 years ago, or thereabouts.  It's exciting, and fun, and amazing to watch these eight people play this music together.


Rick serves as the bookending commentator, and I think he would have been willing to give himself to the idea, at least for a while, but it's clear he seemed enthusiastic for the tour at the very least.  But his observation about Yes being whoever is in the band at that time is a bit of institutional lore which has been quoted by fans ever since.  But most everyone contributes to this as well, including Alan's classic comment about Yes being a band which looks over the horizon into the future and Rick's regarding the continuation of Yes in a classical historical sense.

Final bows, in full triumph.  Or at least that's how it appears...


But I know what you've been thinking this whole time: "Humble Narrator, this documentary wasn't released until the tour was mostly over!  How can you make an argument for what we're supposed to be thinking about the tour when the primary piece of propaganda was essentially posthumous?!"

And yeah, I get it.  But I believe it creates an expectation and an apprehension which was desired, again, in terms of granting Yes the status of an institution which was reckoned to be important for the enterprise moving forward into the '90s.  Fans' understanding and appreciation of the Union Eight has been shaped just as much by that propaganda as by actual experience.  After all, think about who made it into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame - if a voting member did nothing more than view YesYears: A Retrospective and, say, the Denver performance from that tour, it might well be enough evidence to arrive at a similar conclusion.

Jon wanted an eight-man band, or at least he believed he did.  As he emphatically stated in 1992 as 80 Dates was coming to its' end: "The group is eight people, and that's it, that's the story."  I believe he should have realized what an untenable idea that was beyond considerations of a special event, but Jon being Jon means that he's the idea guy, and to be fair it had served him well over the years, mostly.

Except this wasn't his idea to be begin with.

This tour was special, it was entertaining for fans and it imbued them with renewed love for their band, I would imagine most people had no idea at the time of the overall agendas at work.  I certainly didn't when I attended the show at the Los Angeles Forum in May of '91.  So while acknowledgement in the form of archive releases provides the desired nostalgia, presenting it at a characteristically amateurish level makes me (and others, I would imagine) desire to penetrate deeper into the context of the event itself and why it has come to this, in a manner of speaking.

Besides its' status as a event, this whole scheme - Union and the 80 Dates tour - is where Yes break off from the historical landmass it had inhabited for twenty years: ever-evolving, a band which couldn't keep a stable lineup for more than 2-3 years at a time, but also a band capable of engaging, creative, dynamic music and stagecraft which had garnered a devoutly loyal worldwide fandom and a fair amount of commercial success.  In part this break was related to the severing of their relationship with ATCO/Atlantic, the label Yes had been affiliated with for their entire career.  There is everything which came before this period, and everything after.  And nothing would be quite as special ever again save, perhaps, the reunion of the Classic Era lineup in 2004 for the 35th Anniversary tour of North America and Western Europe.  When you choose events and relevancy over chemistry and audacity...it will pay off in the short-term, but not forever.  Ever after they would be continually acknowledging their legacy and attempting new expression, but everyone - including the band - would increasingly look back to past glories.

When I say that the 80 Dates tour had its' own role in the evolution of modern touring philosophy, that's partly what I mean: that tour was about nostalgia, and nostalgia became a really easy way to make money in the touring marketplace for many artists.

But it did establish Yes as an institution, and it has continued because that's what institutions do.  Time and perseverance are their own justifications.  It's not about whether a band ages well so much as whether their legacy does.  And luckily for Yes, they proved they are an institution worthy of loyalty to the storied past they presented to all of us.  Including a portion of that history which, no matter the motivations behind it, was a shining moment to be treasured.