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