Yes: The story behind the Progeny live recordings published.

Yes have published the story behind the new Progeny live release, which sees seven shows from 1972 released for the first time on CD:

Rhino began their Yes catalog reissue program in 2003, and an effort was made to review material for a triple-disc live retrospective while trying to avoid too much repetition from Yessongs and Yesshows. The Word Is Live made good on that promise, pulling together (mostly) previously unreleased recordings from a multitude of tours. Yes fans were particularly excited to hear unreleased live material from the Fragile tour, as well as the 1976 and 1978 tours.

But Yes fans are not only insatiable, they’re also curious, so The Word Is Live also raised a lot of questions about exactly what was in the vault.

Sadly, record label tape archives aren’t exactly how you might picture them. Immaculately organized, climate controlled, underground chambers guarded by dudes who look like extras in the Rambo movies don’t exist. This became clear during those conversations about usable material for The Word Is Live. Much of The Word Is Live was sourced from Steve Howe’s private collection (the best and most likely source of any further archive projects, so be nice to Steve), radio shows, and what precious little was usable from the Atlantic Records vaults.

This was a frustrating mystery — what about the tapes used for Yessongs? Where were the “hundreds of hours” (according to Yes biographer Dan Hedges) of tapes that Chris Squire reviewed and used to compile Yesshows? The short answer: gone. Lost, misplaced, mislabeled, accidentally erased, destroyed, thrown away, immolated in the 1978 Atlantic Records vault fire… no one really knows. Keep in mind that in the 1970s all of this chronology and documentation was done by hand—there wasn’t an app for that! Regardless of how this came to be or why, the end result was the same… The Word Is Live was limited by usable source material.

Still, as I reviewed the spreadsheets, my eye was drawn to a handful of reel-to-reel tapes from 1972… could these be the missing Yessongs source reels? When I inquired about these tapes in the context of The Word Is Live, I was informed that these reels were off limits for the purposes of the project. It was unclear what was on them, whether they were complete, and of what quality, and whether the tapes themselves were even playable. The cost of repairing/restoring them and then transferring them to a workable digital medium was huge and time consuming. Plus, for all anyone knew, the boxes were labeled “Yes” but the tapes were Donna Summer. Or time and money would be spent only to find out that the recordings sounded horrible, or that the middle eight minutes of Close To The Edge were missing. Any number of hurdles prevented forward motion, and so the tapes were left on the shelf.

Fast forward eight years, and a rejuvenated Yes—touring three of their classic albums, including Close To The Edge—is out there wowing audiences old and new. At the same time, the Yes catalog is receiving its first true remix program, helmed by esteemed prog rock visionary Steven Wilson. This remix effort sent our Rhino heroes back into the vaults spelunking for original multitracks and bonus content. Lurking in the shadows was this collection of open reel tapes, and closer examination revealed eight complete multitrack shows from the fall 1972 Close To The Edge tour—the “source code” of Yessongs. The collection you hold in your hand is something of a holy grail.

Each night is its own journey. You can hear the band progressing, taking different chances, and experimenting with different sounds. There are moments unique to each show—solos, banter, and improv change each night. Even cooler is something that happens at every show—you hear it clearly before each performance of “Close To The Edge”—an audible gasp from the audience as the spotlight hits a large mirrored disc just as the song begins. That moment where sound and vision mesh and the musical journey begins is a hallmark of the live Yes experience, and these recordings put you right in the front row. Despite identical setlists, every song from every show is worthy of repeat listens and scrutiny. There’s something notable in each and every one.

Audio technology has come a long way since the release of Yessongs, and the studio engineers were able to apply it to bring out incredible detail in the music; far beyond what was possible in the early 1970s. The intensity of the Yessongs era gets an extra sonic palette, with nuances, subtleties and even entire parts buried in a “big arena” mix coming through loud and clear. The soundstage replicates the 1972 stage setup with Steve Howe far left, Rick Wakeman far right, and Jon Anderson’s vocals soaring above the proceedings from the center.

Jon Anderson’s vocals are passionate and on point, even with the flu, or when technical gremlins knock him out of the mix and he believes he’s singing only to himself. Chris Squire’s signature sound is omnipresent, worthy of a speeding ticket one minute and threatening to leave the arena in a heap of smoldering rubble the next. Throughout every show, Rick Wakeman is all swagger and bravado, with incendiary Hammond organ playing that cooks. Not to be outdone, Steve Howe’s stylistic versatility, speed, and uncanny sense of timing puts him a notch (or several) above the guitar heroes of his day. All of this is both anchored and driven by newcomer Alan White, whose playing brings a potent rock sensibility to the stage.

The jocks are all out-of-shape and bald. The mean girls peaked in high school. The gym coaches are retired, dead, or doing time. Fashion and music trends have come and gone. Remarkably, Yes endures and the magic is as strong as ever. This is a snapshot of a time when Yes were playing circles around every other rock band on the planet, and this collection captures lightning in a bottle. The live performance—the power, grandeur, and virtuosity—that blew minds from coast to coast is fully revealed in all its sonic glory. It’s the closest you can get to being there.