"Keys to Ascension"
Label: CMC/Yes Records
Rating: 3 notes
By MIKE MEYER
In 1977 Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson wrote a song called "Too Old to Rock 'n' Roll: Too Young to Die." Anderson was only 29 at the time but already was feeling the pressure that younger acts were putting on his band (Tull had existed since 1968).
Luckily, it seems that attitudes have changed since Anderson wrote that classic tune. True, every time you open Rolling Stone, "classic rock" is being ripped on and passed over to make way for the "next big thing."
But who are this year's top concert attractions? KISS, Rush and the Who. And now, the legendary mid-'70s lineup of Yes has reunited to bring forth the mostly live "Keys to Ascension," a performance of popular (and some fairly obscure) songs, augmented by two lengthy new studio cuts.
The band now consists of vocalist Jon Anderson, guitarist Steve Howe, keyboardist Rick Wakeman, bassist Chris Squire and drummer Alan White, the same lineup that was responsible for all the Yes albums from 1973's live "Yes Songs" to 1978's "Tormato" (with the exception of the Wakeman-less Relayer).
The live section of Heys seems to function as a sampler, presenting one song from each album from 1970s essential "The Yes Album" to "Tormato" (besides Relayer). This makes for the omission of some great songs (which may be picked up when the second half of the show that was recorded is released in April), but also for the inclusion of some seemingly lost gems.
Many of the songs are extremely long, which may discourage some listeners. Of the nine songs included on this two-disc set, six are more than 10 minutes long, with "The Revealing Science of God" breaking 20 minutes and "Awaken" and the new "That, That Is" not far behind (18:33 and 19:14, respectively).
Fortunately, Yes always has had a talent for making its extended pieces eminently listenable, and, true to form, only the historically tepid "Revealing Science" really makes the listener want to skip forward to the next song.
This is Yes's fourth live recording, and all that have come before have been discouraging at times. "Yes Songs" has an incredible track listing, but the production is frustratingly poor. 1981's "Yes Shows" has better production, but the songs aren't quite as good as on its predecessor. And 1984's "9012 Live" concentrates only on the band's solos, so there are no real songs, per se.
Keys provides the long-sought combination of good songs and good production. In fact, the production on the new studio tracks, "Be the One" and "That, That Is," is so good, one might think it actually was a much younger band performing.
The new studio tracks mark a new beginning for this lineup. If "Be the One" were any shorter (it is nearly 10 minutes), it probably would be dominating AOR radio. "That, That Is" is a truly monumental piece, maybe even on par with Yes's greatest epic, 1972's "Close to the Edge." These songs predict a fruitful future for these legends.
The performances, especially by Howe, Anderson and Wakeman, are amazing throughout. Especially compelling is the "Wurm" section of "Starship Trooper," as well as "Awaken."
"Keys to Ascension" is an impressive calling card by the new/old Yes, and it also signals that as a creative force, the band still is at the head of the pack. It also shows that, contrary to Ian Anderson's song, you are never too old to be a great musician.