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35th Anniversary Tour: The Director’s Cut
Artist: Yes
Label:  Pinnacle
Length:  256 minutes (2 DVDs) 

There is no shortage of material on CD or DVD of this unique band. Recent DVDs include Acoustic Yes (a somewhat short affair); one in the Live at Montreux series, also recorded on the 35th Anniversary tour; and over five hours of largely documentary material in the Classic Artists series. That last 2-DVD set scored four tocks in our review, losing one tock for too little live material. The Director’s Cut documentary brings us the best from two of these releases: a live show from the anniversary tour on each disc (the set list mirroring the Montreux release) and between-songs interviews with the band members, some of which appear to come from the same video sessions as Classic Artists. The live performances (UK Birmingham National Indoor Arena on Disc 1 and Glastonbury on Disc 2) are complete tracks, released for the first time, only edits having been seen previously, when included in Yesspeak).
This is the line-up commonly regarded as definitive: Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Chris Squire, Rick Wakeman, and Alan White; only the early drummer Bill Bruford being another contender for the accolade. The main difference between the two is that Bruford is the jazz drummer, who revels in all the tricky time signatures, while White is a power player. Whether or not this is directly relevant to the track list, what we have here is some of Yes’s most punchy material, with no noodly pieces like “Close to the Edge” or any from Topographic Oceans. The between-song interviews are well-dispersed, pretty short, and more intended as illustrative stories than as any kind of coherent documentary.
It starts off looking second rate: the introductory backstage sequence is grainy, the stage itself is bland and uninspiring, and “Siberian Khatru” sounds decidedly tired. Credit to Howe, though, for trying remarkably hard to get feeling into his solo, even if it rarely comes out. Soon come “Magnification” and “In the Presence of,” both of which sound far sharper, leaving you with the impression that either of these tracks could have been as well-loved as the Yessongs catalogue, had they been written earlier. They have all the right ingredients: rise and fall, memorable melodies, atmosphere and a decidedly spiritual tone. “In the Presence of” is almost a hymn. At this point, the band wins, and we stop worrying about the visual quality.
There are a few small glitches – occasional duet runs, where Howe and Wakeman are not quite in synch, or harmonies that have been stronger – but some of these performances have been honed to shine more brightly than earlier versions. This is particularly true of some solo pieces, such as Howe’s, where “To Be Over” is a very welcome addition to old standards like “The Clap”; and Wakeman’s, where the keyboard tones are far richer, and he gives the “Six Wives” excerpts (with a Celtic twist) all that he has. There is a sweaty “Phew!” moment at the end of it, where he breathes a hefty sigh. 
Such a back catalogue inevitably means that some people’s ‘essential’ tracks will be missed off. Thankfully, a powerful “And You and I” is included, a fine “Heart of the Sunrise” and the absolutely classic “Awaken”. But “Don’t Kill the Whale” and “We Have Heaven” could surely have given way to “Starship Trooper”? Even a bunch as old as this could play for an extra few minutes.
Perhaps the most surprising feature is the Glastonbury set, where presumably, few of the audience came to see Yes in particular, and much of the normal audience passion would have been lost. Although the same basic set as Montreux and Birmingham, the set has to be shorter, due to the festival limitations, so all the solo stuff goes. So does the visual quality: not only is it in daylight, so losing all colour and atmosphere, but there are very few camera angles and most of these are from far away. Wakeman is often off-camera, even when he is soloing.
Much as I love the Birmingham set (I should - I was there!), given the choice, the “Live at Montreux” DVD wins every time as the lighting quality and sharpness of the picture are vastly superior. Although the sound and vision might be separate in theory, comparing all three sets from the same tour, it seems that the visual excitement translates straight to the impressions of the sound. If the screen shows a close up of a detail in the music, your brain inevitably notices it far more strongly and seems to raise it in the mix. So the disc that looks best also often feels best, but “Montreux” also seems to have the instruments higher in the mix, compared with Anderson’s vocals. Short of having a keyboard-cam strapped to Wakeman’s forehead for a sense of extra involvement, “Montreux” is a virtually perfect account of the 35th Anniversary shows.
There are no extras, but this latest set is a complete release that succeeds in highlighting the band in speech and music. This will not have many new experiences for Yes addicts, but peripheral fans will find it concise, punchy and satisfying. As for what to buy for this era, the best combination is “Montreux” for the unbroken, visually stunning live set, together with the Classic Artists five hour documentary. But try this “Director’s Cut” if you want the concise compromise: a similar musical experience with a short selection of interesting interview snippets, treating the Glastonbury disc as a bonus that can be watched occasionally for a change.
Derek Walker


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