Our music pick for today’s 2017 PopCult Gift Guide is the just released new live album by legendary prog-rockers, YES, TOPOGRAPHIC DRAMA – LIVE ACROSS AMERICA. This is the first recorded document released of this version of YES since the death of virtuoso bassist and founding member, Chris Squire, in 2015. This is a great gift for the prog-rock fan on your holiday shopping list who might be curious to hear how the band is doing after the passing of the only man who played on every one of their studio albums.
More cynical fans may think that this album was rushed out in advance of the first live release by “YES featuring Anderson, Rabin and Wakeman,” a group made up of former members of YES who are actually more closely associated with the classic line-up of the band, but even if that is the case, this is a pretty damned good live album.
This album highlights the best performances from the truncated 2017 leg of the 28-show American tour and mirrors the set list from those concerts. Each night, YES opened with all six songs from Drama (1980), the band’s tenth studio album, which peaked at #2 on the U.K. album chart. Standouts include “Machine Messiah,” “Tempus Fugit” and the album’s only single “Into The Lens.” Remarkably, their current vocalist, Jon Davison, sounds uncannily like the band’s original vocalist, Jon Anderson, on these songs. Ironically, Drama was the first album the band released with a different vocalist, Trevor Horn of The Buggles. After returning to the band Anderson declined to perform these songs, so it’s a bit bizarre to hear them sounding so much like he’s singing them.
After performing Drama, the band shifted gears for songs from two of its best-selling albums: “And You And I” from 1972’s Close To The Edge and “Heart Of The Sunrise” from 1971’s Fragile. Next, the group played the opening and closing tracks of its controversial concept album, Tales From Topographic Oceans. Howe’s exceptional guitar work on “The Revealing Science Of God” and White’s propulsive drumming on “Ritual” have always been regarded as ground-breaking. The album concludes with two live staples: “Roundabout” from Fragile and “Starship Trooper” from The Yes Album.
This is rather a nifty documentation of the current touring line-up of YES (not featuring those other three guys), and it shows that the band is living up to the hefty reputation of prior line-ups. Billy Sherwood, a longtime associate of the band, ably steps into the sizable shoes left by Squire’s death, and proves that life goes on. You ought to be able to find TOPOGRAPHIC DRAMA – LIVE ACROSS AMERICA anywhere that new music is sold, or head over to Amazon.