Also many thanks to my colleague Graham for technical support.
The release of Live At The Apollo is finally here and by and large it has been positively reviewed both in the press and by fans. I agree that it's a great thing to own which will provide much enjoyment. But I also think there are some problems with it and so I plan to discuss both sides in my review.
It's truly superfluous for me to state that this is my opinion - my blog my opinion, doncha know - and I can certainly understand why many fans don't have any issues with the release. But I do want to make it clear that in a review I am going to provide my critical opinion and you can choose to agree with me or not. But don't come at me for having an opinion either way, thanks. I tend to think these days in the fandom realm people get confused regarding the uses of criticism; and even as I may be largely positive about many things I approach it all from a perspective of discernment.
I also wanted to note that I'm not including a lot of screencaps in my review because I'm planning at least two other entries devoted to that sort of thing, just in case you were wondering.
The Good Stuff
I had three reasons, primarily, for desiring this release:
-1- As an avid collector of YesWest live recordings I wanted yet another audio/video release featuring Trevor. I know there are plenty of other people out there with this same desire.
-2- I have attended ARW shows, but could never afford to sit close to the stage. A professionally-filmed show would allow me that perspective.
-3- Not that I'd say I'm the only one but...I wanted a professional-quality version of "Long Distance Runaround/The Fish" primarily for Lee Pomeroy's solo.
So I got two out of three of those desires, and like the song says: that ain't bad.
I really do enjoy this release; I know there are some in fandom who believe I am protesting unduly or am willing to trash the whole thing because item number three was not granted to me (or anyone else who might have wanted it). That is simply not true. As someone who attended multiple shows (even though it was not as many as I wish I could have seen) there is much replay value to this release for me and I've already watched/listened more than a few times just to reach the point where I can write this review from an informed perspective.
The 2016 setlist, once it was solidified, was a good one in my estimation and I'm just fine with the song selection as represented in this document. It is wonderful to have a professional-quality recording of this setlist as played by an ensemble who had finally reached a point of performance cohesion with the material and their chemistry as a band. As I've noted in my reviews of the performances/tours I think by this particular point in their collective history, ARW was turning in solid performances all around.
Even as I might find some fault with the way it was filmed, I appreciate that a seasoned director helmed this project and that it was shepherded at a professional level. It's well done, if not quite 9012Live in terms of cinematic perfection. Then again, that is just not possible anymore, for so many reasons.
To be honest, I'm just happy we actually have it, because I wasn't sure if it was going to be released. Although it was produced by an outside concern that wasn't necessarily enough assurance in terms of reaching the finish line (though I ardently wished that it would be, and it turned out okay in the end). So about that...
The waiting is *insert metaphor here*
Unless it was the plan all along as regards the observance of the anniversary or to coincide with the US tour, I don't understand why it took a year-and-a-half to get this release to market. As example, this November Eagle Rock is releasing a live album/video by prog legend Steven Wilson of a performance from March of this year in five different formats, also with a 5.1 Surround mix - thus proving that it does not take a year-and-a-half to accomplish such a feat. Since this release was available to buy at the recent shows I can only think that we were meant to wait that long. Of course, there might have been another reason entirely. I say this because, according to my research, the project cycle for an Eagle Rock live release tends to be about 6-8 months from production to sale.
"I think we should change the cover, though. A bit late!"
The above is an actual quote from Trevor, and certainly one may argue he was just joking but maybe not. I am on record as not having any particular affinity for Jay Nungesser's design work for ARW. For me, it's primarily the new logo, I don't like it. His ARW logo was much more appealing compared to the new Yes logo. I think the "Quintessential Yes" version of the overall design is far better still but I imagine the artwork for Live At The Apollo was created long before the new website design was completed so therefore it incorporates all of the previous elements (i.e. the maze and the cubes). The typeface and photos and all are fine, although I find it interesting that in the collage of photos Jon and Trevor are at the top of the page and Rick is relegated to a space with the sidemen at the bottom. I don't have a particular issue with the color scheme, but I have to admit I was a bit disappointed to discover that the packaging was reflecting the old design elements.
I know I'm not the only one who feels this way but I wanted to note this from a recent review of the Blu-ray on the AudiophileReview website:
My only real nit pick on this release has nothing to do with the audio, the video or the performance. It is simply that the packaging design is lackluster for a release of this caliber. Even though the cover art does not feature design by Roger Dean -- the legendary artist whose images have become somewhat synonymous with the band -- the logo used here is rather ... well... pedestrian. Its just not iconic enough to match the stature of the band and this performance. This band deserves better.One thing I have noticed is that there is no packaging design/artwork credit for this release - to my knowledge Nungesser has never been publicly credited for his work on the previous website and merchandising (other than his own postings to social media) and you have to wonder if that's intentional. Unless Nungesser was the one to request that his name not appear, that is.
This next point has been a source of tireless debate in fandom thus far, and I have an opinion as does everyone else. Nobody is right or wrong I would say, but everyone is entitled to feel however they will about it. I'm taking a stand to declare that berating or ridiculing others regarding their feelings on this matter is not cool and if you've done this in fandom discussion or on social media, you should just stop it.
The added crowd noise in the audio (what I have referred to as crowd swells) is indeed annoying from my perspective but if you listen to it enough times solely on the audio I find it just becomes background noise. It's definitely strange strictly from the perspective of - if you were at the show or if you've watched audience footage of the show - knowing those in attendance were a typical prog-loving respectful UK-based audience and simply did not cheer every 30 seconds or so. Here's an example of what this crowd really sounded like during "Heart of the Sunrise" - I picked this video specifically because it is filmed from directly behind the production/mixing area so most of the crowd on the floor is in front of the person filming.
And in the Live At The Apollo video you can, at different points, witness the general demeanor of the audience, which is completely at odds with what you're hearing on the audio. There are washes of cheering during "And You and I" which you hear while you see the audience calmly absorbed within the performance before them. You hear one thing, you see another. I'm going to be blunt: that's just dumb. But what's done is done so fans will deal with it as they will. I can certainly understand the pushback occurring on social media, but I don't believe anything will be accomplished to remedy or change the release. However, in time I fully expect that a hobbyist audio engineer will at some point circulate a "hype-free" mix of the audio where the crowd noise has been turned down, so to speak.
There are no bonus features on this release. None. I'm disappointed, sure, although I feel like it would have been too much to expect given how long it took to release this. I've noted before that there is a distinct lack of organization in the ARW business concern and I can't help but wonder if perhaps Eagle Rock requested that bonus features be provided or suggested that they be filmed, only to be met with resounding silence from the principles. I think at the very least we should have been provided with an audio track of "The Meeting" from a prior performance as that was an element of the 2016-17 setlist.
It's not like I'm Quentin Tarantino demanding that movies be shot on film and projected from film, but the HD digital mediums for music and video are not entirely ideal in my opinion. There's something distinctly clinical about both aspects which can be both good and bad.
Interestingly, it's the nuance - there is so much nuance in Paul Linford's mix (and yes, I know that Paul and Trevor receive co-credit for the mix but Paul receives the leading credit so I'm going to assert it's primarily his mix) - which makes it an interesting and exciting experience to listen to, but at some points it is a little too cold for my tastes. But I do enjoy it even so, it shows the true character of this ensemble far better than any particular performance ever could, in my opinion, even with the enhancements (which I think are fairly unobtrusive). But I also know it's an all-digital recording so I would say that's probably the culprit. On the other hand, the HD video equipment used for shooting allows for any number of interesting camera angles and pans but it's a little too revealing sometimes. Things don't always look attractive in HD digital video. They call it the "Soap Opera Effect" and it can provoke Uncanny Valley levels of visual dread at times.
But also I have issues with some of the camera angles, like the camera which was placed somewhere in the vicinity of Trevor's right hip in order to capture shots of Lee (behind Trevor on his platform) which are just oddly-framed because of the positioning. And the very long shots where the stage appears in seeming miniature and granted, from the back of the hall (which seats 3500) it probably does look that way but I just don't see the point of including those kinds of shots. Some of the focus-pulls which I'm assuming were added in post are jarring to me as well. And the tracking is a bit too mechanical, as the cameras were all on automation. Far more convenient and less distracting in terms of having extra bodies on stage, but the movement of the cameras calls attention to that very consideration and so I found that distracting instead. And there are parts of Rick's solos where they fast-cut to every single camera angle they had for him and it reminded me of this one guy who had a cringingly amateurish music video show reel on YouTube and it was something like 20 cuts in 30 seconds which had the effect of making me want to claw my own eyes out.
On another point I did want to acknowledge the whimsy of making the opening sequence look like a film from 1968 which I thought was a nice touch; it actually enhanced the whole scripted quality of the band's entrance rather than emphasized the non-subtlety of it.
Consigned to the Recycle Bin of history
There's been some editing done to "Owner" because the segue into "Sunshine Of Your Love" has been cut out although I believe you can hear them coming out of it back into "Make It Easy" and then to the end of the song. Granted, it's a brief part when compared to other later renditions.
-1- Jon does not actually know the words, and it's funny but I don't know how well the joke would stand up in repeated listening/viewing.
-2- Who wants to pay licensing/royalties on something that's actually kind of a throw-away interpolation?
Speaking of edits, this brings me to one particular complaint I have with this release (and it shouldn't surprise any of my long-time readers) - the exclusion of Lou and Lee's solos. They weren't edited down, but rather cut completely out of the songs in which they were performed. And this truly baffles me because even if the reasoning is that someone at home might be bored by a five-minute solo, they could have still retained a minute or so to avoid the completely abrupt and confusing transitions where their solos are supposed to be.
Again, I'll be blunt: there is no good reason for this to have happened. Don't like the solos? Skip them. But give us the choice, don't edit out any of the performance when there's no need to do so, and there absolutely was not. It's like all of the generosity which allowed them to have a moment in the spotlight was then negated by excising those moments like they never existed at all. And I find myself very disappointed with whomever ultimately made that decision.
It's not totally spoiled but...
This was just a gaffe but it does disappoint me that the version of "Rhythm of Love" on this recording is missing an entire verse. It's my favorite of the setlist and again, I really wanted to have a professionally-recorded version of it. But for what it is, missing verse and all, it's a lot of fun although to my surprise I think the version of "Hold On" has more of a classic rock band kind of vibe to it. There's a certain crunchiness which is missing compared to previous performances of RoL.
Returning to my main gripe: the combined track of "Long Distance Runaround/The Fish" on Live At The Apollo comes to 6:17. The actual performance time of the songs - based on the audience video I've seen of that particular rendition - is a little over eleven minutes (if you subtract Jon's introductory remarks). Lee's solo comprises about five minutes of the total song. I'm not speaking from a position of attempting to demand anything from the production team, this is not me making an entitled rant. But I honestly don't understand why one of the highlights of the show - so much so that they actually made this section twice as long as it had been upon the original debut in 2016 - would be wholly deleted from the recording and concert film. Lee's performance of "The Fish" throughout those touring cycles was a wonderful tribute to Chris Squire as well as adding an additional layer of Yes-like legitimacy to the endeavor because to perform Yes music you need a great bass player, and I imagine now no one would dispute that Lee Pomeroy is one of the best the UK has to offer. His bravura and upbeat attitude made me a fan, and as a fan I'm gutted that it's not there. But I have already amassed a collection of audience videos and recordings on my hard drive to remind me of the good times, and you can't take that away from me, guys.
And I know what you're thinking: "Hey, there's nearly two minutes of Lee soloing in 'Heart of the Sunrise!'" And that is certainly true, and I truly appreciate that song didn't get edited down, trust me. I suppose if the reasoning was that Lee could have one solo but not two, well, okay - but that strikes me as a rather lame excuse if in fact it is one.
(with thanks to Cee for this screencap)
As much as the principles might have disapproved of YouTube videos - and thus this release was a response to such things - now audience recordings seem to be the only way to view the show as it was actually performed in toto.
So the video quality of this recording is not the greatest, although the sound is okay - but here is what we're missing in terms of experiencing a high-quality version of this section of the show (and I want to note that I found this particular video last year and added it to my collection, I'm not just now discovering it for the purpose of supporting my assertions).
Definitively not definitive
The interesting consideration for me as a fan and as someone with a critical appreciation for such things is that the audio and video releases present different experiences for different needs. When I need to listen to this great performance and enjoy it for what it is, then the audio serves that desire beautifully, whereas when I want to remember the experience of seeing ARW, the experience of the show itself, then I will (and have) listen to audience recordings instead. Same with the video - I'll watch a VOIO. What I get from the video portion of Live At The Apollo is an appreciation for their interplay and sense of enjoyment and fun, but not necessarily a true portrait of an actual show.
And given the reason this project was accomplished - to provide the definitive version of a recording of the live experience - I find that a bit ironic. This in fact does not replace audience recordings. It is certainly better quality overall but the decisions which were made from a production standpoint end up being at odds with what actually occurred.
But I also find that I'm enjoying it in the same way I enjoy recordings of the Union era and the Eighty Dates tour - an appreciation that this happened at all and we have the memory of that unique glory. Even if this release is not exactly what I want, it is quite enjoyable for the same reason that I enjoyed the ARW live experience to begin with: it gave me so much more elation than even I would have expected it to. And I truly hope that it does the same for you as well.