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.

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Saturday, January 21, 2017

music-minded update

Today brings good news from Our Trev regarding progress on the new music...

Friday, January 20, 2017

A Guide to Field Recordings: define "definitive"

A series featuring commentary on live recordings from my collection (though this is not one of them).

As I noted in my review of the SoCal ARW shows I attended, Rick is currently taking a dim view of bootlegs, and it does appear his complaint has merit in that at least one taping of a performance is being sold in Japan (available to anyone in the world willing to purchase from the vendor's website, of course).  But I'd like to add that you can download a high-quality audience recording of this show from the YesSongs ROIO website.

But is the UB Amherst show truly definitive?  And before you say, "Well obviously they're referring to the recording not the performance," let me just state that yes, I am aware of that, but I want to consider the inherent value proposition of selling a recording from that particular date.  Seeding a boot from any date is another consideration entirely because the only value is historical and/or personal, or possibly situational when comparing multiple recordings of the same performance.

So here's another version of the question: Is the Buffalo show definitive enough to purchase rather than download from a trading site?  I'll weigh in on this, although naturally I expect every fan to decide for themselves, with various factors at work in such a decision.

As this performance occurred in Week Five of the tour, one would assume that the boys had finally located their groove and their respective places within the songs to click into place as an ensemble, and I would agree it was mostly true by then.  I imagine it was even a strategy of the bootleggers to wait until a show without trainwrecks could be captured and then made palatable for sale rather than trading.  Of course this particular show has a very special feature: technical difficulties with Rick's rig led to a rather ribald impromptu stand-up routine from Mr. Wakeman.

There are likely a few reasons for selection of this show: having moved past the "traveling rehearsal" period is definitely one consideration, but as well I thought the overall sound at this gig was decent, having listened to various recordings.  Everyone was present in the mix and the balance seemed fair enough.  The audience energy was sufficient and they were respectful of the dynamics of the show itself as regards their participation and presence.   In my estimation the performances appear to have gelled, with some fans believing the overall turning point came the previous night in New York City.  I wouldn't necessarily disagree but I need more time with the recordings to truly make an informed judgement.

This particular video - a series of excerpts from the show - gives one a general idea of the calibre of the performance and audience response, even as the sound suffers from the person filming being too close to the PA.  And as I've stated previously, I believe the PA was to blame for the lack of appreciable dynamics, not the mix.

And this was also before illness plagued the tour (to use an obvious adverb) - as one fan related, Lee had stated it became an issue a few days later in Nashville.

This show features the full final setlist and so is a complete performance from that perspective.  My comments address the recordings available save the one being sold, as I want to examine the performance itself being worthy of such consideration.  I'm not going to discuss the entire setlist but my first point of examination involves the songs Trevor sings, as that is a very important part of any ARW show for me.

"Lift Me Up" finally hit its' stride in NYC, I believe, so every night after that represents vast improvement in my estimation.  There is a feeling of five musicians finally gelling with each other, and Trevor is projecting in the way he needs to for the song's impassioned vocal and his playing primarily recounts the original fiery fretwork.  As for "Changes" - eight performances in I can say that Trevor nailed it with only one flubbed line and that is a very good thing.  He holds his long notes as well as the modulation between his current range and the higher notes the bridge requires without noticeable strain.  And Lee's high harmonies are essential (as an acknowledgement of one of Chris' key contributions to YesWest), even as the overall performance of the principles seems to plod a bit, an impression which didn't truly change for me over time.  It's an opinion I realize most fans don't share, but there's an absent frisson - which I can't adequately articulate - from all of those particular songs save "Rhythm of Love" - which was very exciting for me.  I imagine it's merely a consideration of Trevor and Rick's playing which, while reminiscent of their glory days, doesn't quite make it all the way back to that halcyon time - and one shouldn't necessarily expect it would.  I would posit that is one reason the concept of "reworkings" was put forth in advance discussion: in consideration not only of the grand idea that updating was desired, but also because current capabilities meant it was required.

However, it appears Trevor is facing the same conundrum as he did 30 years ago in regards to performing Classic Yes songs, regardless of his familiarity with the material.  I found this observation from an ongoing fandom discussion both succinct and insightful:
Rabin absolutely has the the hardest balance to achieve here. Wakeman can do whatever he wants with Tony Kaye's parts and fans will accept it, but Trevor needs to be true to the material while finding a compromise between being himself and meeting expectations for what a song "should sound like."
By way of further elaboration, I believe what is missing from "Hold On" is the anthemic fervor and groove of the original, and granted neither Jon nor Trevor can sing as high as they once did in counterpoint to Chris' vocal (which Lee does a solid job of echoing) especially when it comes to that joyously declared refrain.  And Trevor attempts to reprise his own style but there are obvious differences in speed and articulation, although he does nail that one well-known run in the bridge before the final refrain.  But in direct contrast to RoL I don't think the structure of his solo works as well in this case, it sounds like Trevor has wandered off course rather than blazed a new trail.  For a song which has always represented a rollicking good time when performed it was a bit disconcerting.  But I did appreciate the reprisal of that classic "sunshine shine on" lighting cue.

Speaking of RoL, the version that night retained a characteristic warm thick sound, a wonderful slab of genuine rock n'roll groove, which is what distinguishes it from the way YesWest (or even the Union lineup) used to play it.  I will be entirely grateful to have a professional and official recording of that interpretation in my collection.

My other favorite of the setlist, "Long Distance Runaround/The Fish" was wonderful every night (you can trust me on this, I've heard/watched them all), and so even I might be tempted by a "definitive" bootleg simply to bask in its' greatness wherever I might be.  Trevor's funky riffing reminds me of his ZA days, Rick's accents are lovely, and Jon and Lee's vocals are a fitting tribute to that singular harmony which only Jon and Chris could create.  One point on the side of the visual is: how can you not grin at Lee's comedic reaction to the effects loop during "The Fish" -  how is it possibly playing by itself?!

But even with respect to Lee's excellent interpretation, this particular rendition could not be considered definitive to my mind because it came before he made those changes to his solo which featured further quotations from Chris' oeuvre.  "The Fish" went from being a moment in the spotlight to a true showstopper and the revision occurred in Chicago as far as I can tell.

And now to invoke the (now old) warhorse - as I noted in my review, "Owner of a Lonely Heart" was made into a entertaining piece of its' own beyond its' status as Yes' biggest hit, Trevor's signature composition, and the one song indelibly linked to YesWest.  And as the closer it did need to represent something greater than itself.  There's plenty of energy, which makes it fun for the audience, but I have to say that at least for this particular performance, Trevor is the weak link - and I was surprised to come to that conclusion when I took the time to listen to the available ROIOs. This version was rather more succinct than others, it seems it got a bit longer as the tour went on.  In my opinion a more definitive version of this song would be from Anaheim - and yes, I know I said Anaheim wasn't as good as Los Angeles - but "Owner" was better, by way of comparison.  I truly believe that any fan is better served by watching a rendition of "Owner" than by listening to one, at least where this tour is concerned. Viewing a performance - any performance, I suppose - will put across the fun, which is of course what they mean to convey most of all.

It's also my opinion that if there's any other rendition which does contain genuine Yes DNA it would be "Roundabout" which I will say is so much more satisfying to hear with Rick, even a truncated version.  But even as they didn't care to play an 8-minute encore, I think it's a shame not to hear a full version on a so-called "definitive" recording given these musicians can do justice to it.  This is a case in which they shifted from playing a Classic Yes version to playing a YesWest version, and I'm not certain if the show was truly well-served by such a decision.

But you can decide for yourself...here is the performance in Clearwater, the night "Roundabout" became the encore.

And here is UB Amherst.

One other thing I will say about this show: Trevor gets the award for Most Underdressed of the tour.  Jeans and a plain black t-shirt?  Who do you think you are, David Gilmour?  I say this with all the love in the world, but you need to dress it up, Mr. Rabin, because we're not just your average punters you know.  But that sort of thing only happened a few times over the course of the tour.

All of this illustrates one show is only one moment in time, and it might be a perfect show, but it's generally not.  Certainly not definitive, even if characteristic.  It's not necessarily the quality of the recording which could be considered an insult to the performers (as Rick has implied), but rather the quality of the performance itself.  A bad recording of a great performance does little to tarnish the performance; just as a decent quality recording of a mediocre performance can't salvage its' inherent flaws.

There are a number of perspectives to consider regarding purchasing bootlegs and I'm not here to judge those who buy them because I've done it myself in the past.  However, as there is a response on record from the principles to combat the strategy of others making money off their labors by choosing to release their own document of the tour, it might indeed be better to wait.  Who deserves our money?  Whomever entertains us the best, and I would say that question has been answered already.  On the other hand, even with all the careful amateur mix and mastering which bootleggers bring to bear on their product (and some of them are known for near-professional quality efforts) I believe it is truly a synergy of right place, right time and therefore you can't always capture lightning in the bits and bytes unless you've got a wide range of performances to choose from.  The modern live album/video release is normally a cut-and-paste affair to create a - wait for it - definitive performance.  I'm assuming that is what we can expect from an official ARW live release.

So if you're inclined not to wait and you desire a CD to tide you over until that eventuality you couldn't do worse, necessarily.  Well okay, you could but you wouldn't have to pay for it.  I believe there are better gigs which would be worth your hard-earned fandom expenditure but this performance is certainly representative of what audiences enjoyed about this tour, these performances, and this band.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Media Watch: upcoming interview

Spotted on Twitter: this update from journalist Chuck Yarborough, which suggests that an interview with Trevor will soon appear on the Cleveland.com website...

Monday, January 16, 2017

Media Watch: old and new

It was only fitting that on Trevor's birthday Yes Music Podcast should present another interview with his percussive BFF and 1/2 of our favorite rhythm section, which you can stream or download from the YMP site:

I also wanted to thank the YMP guys for posting a link to the blog a while back which brought me some new readers, fandom works cross-pollination at its' best!

And with gratitude to Yesfans member popeyebonaparte for the heads-up, here is a great find - courtesy of WVEU's Video Music Channel - a document of the 9012Live tour in Atlanta, featuring interview segments with Trevor and Tony and live performance footage.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Media Watch: more good old times

Here are more YesWest archival interviews courtesy of VHS Dust's YouTube channel...

This interview has been in trading circles for a few years now, Trevor and Jon pay a visit to the MuchMusic studios in Toronto during The BIG Tour of 1987.

These 90125 era clips feature Chris and Trevor.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Spirit of 63

Sure, it's the very first Friday the 13th of 2017, but more importantly it's a very Happy Birthday to the Maestro!  This year will be full of adventures, hopefully new music, and of course additional opportunities to see ARW doing what they love.  Here's to many more days at the office for Trevor just like this...cheers!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

old friends, part four

Just before the New Year, one of Trevor's enduring colleagues of the South African years - musician/engineer/producer Julian Laxton - posted on his Facebook page a piece written by Trevor and it's a touching tribute to their association; it will serve as the forward for Laxton's upcoming autobiography.  It's a testament to the influence of Freedom's Children on Trevor's musical landscape (not to mention the whole of South Africa), and a nice snapshot of Trevor and Ronnie in their teens being wowed by those psychedelic warriors.

As long-time fans are aware, Trevor worked with Laxton for several years on the Rabbitt albums (Rabbitt would cover the FC song "Tribal Fence") as well as Laxton's solo releases and other studio projects.  But Trevor and Ronnie's involvement in Freedom's Children came after Laxton's tenure, he departed the band in 1972.

Here is the link to the original post:

But I have included it here for those who don't care to click through.
Many years ago I went with my friend and band mate (Ronnie Friedman) to a band he was into. Freedoms Children.
Being a guitar player, I was quite a harsh critic and very seldom would "glow" at other guitarists. Call it competitiveness.
Consequently I was rarely impressed with my competition, least of all from local players. However that night at the City Hall in Johannesburg, I witnessed someone who left me speechless. He was Julian Laxton.
He was so far ahead of anyone in South Africa and I would argue a match for those in and outside of South Africa.
Freedoms Children had done an album called "Astra". I would also argue, to my ears, the finest South African album to date.
There were 4 band members.
However, without Julian's unique ability as an engineer and producer, the vocals would have sounded "ok" as apposed to electric and unique, the same with the drum sound.
The songs would probably have been "ok" folk songs.
What Julian did with Astra, is produce the greatest prog rock record in South African history. Nothing in South African music history comes close.
When I (as I still do) listen to Astra, I am amazed by the taste, the sound of the guitar, the atmosphere of the vocals, the strength of the drum sound, the arrangement "between " the keyboards and guitar and just the sheer brilliance of the production.
I consider myself a good producer, I have worked with successful producers including Bob Ezrin, Trevor Horn,..... but they don't began to compare to the production prowess of Julian Laxton.
Coincidentally, the other producer I consider on an equal footing to Jules, is my good friend Mutt Lange.
But for Julian Laxton, I don't believe anyone would have given a shit about Ramsey Mackays songs.
In conclusion, Astra would not be alive without Julian.
Julian and I would often play on the same bill at shows..........we became friends and are to this day.
He is one of the most important guitarists, producers ever to come out of South Africa.
The "South African musician" has long suffered from an inferiority complex when comparing themselves to "music from overseas"
This was never the case with Julian Laxton.
South Africa doesn't make artists like him anymore.
He broke the mold. I love you Jules….