Yes: In The Present: Live From Lyon

It’s common practice on live albums to edit out mistakes or wrong notes, and on the tapes from this Dec. 1, 2009 performance (featuring no new songs) Yes—perhaps admirably—didn’t retouch their performance. As a result, the band shows their age on this three-disc (two CDs, one DVD) set.

Though fans have mixed feelings about Yes’ new singer, Canadian Jon Anderson sound-alike Benoît David, the man sounds near-perfect throughout the recording; it’s actually 64-year-old guitarist Steve Howe who seems to be loosing his touch. Howe’s parts are far from simple, but his leads are littered with accidentally muted notes and he kicks off the show with a grossly under tempo version of “Siberian Khatru,” which will be entirely vexing for diehard Yes fans, used to hearing the song at a higher BPM.

Bassist Chris Squire harmonizes nicely with David to start “I’ve Seen All Good People,” the second track. A couple missed notes on Squire’s part during the bridge (“diddip, diddip, diddip…” and so forth), however, take some of the glory out of Oliver Wakeman’s organ part, which suddenly envelops the mix. “Tempus Fugit” flows nicely into the spacious and pretty ballad “Onward,” and the chorus to “Astral Traveller” has been stuck in my head for weeks now. Wakeman’s solo on “And You And I” is a shining moment on the first disc, and Howe takes us to the second disc with the solo “Corkscrew,” showing that his acoustic chops are exactly where they need to be.

A solid version of “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” starts the second disc. “South Side Of The Sky” comes next, and it too feels a little slower than the recorded version. This time I can’t pin it on Howe, though, as Alan White starts the tune with a sloppy fill and a rushed flam before the verse, but again David reaches into his upper register and keeps the tune from falling flat.

“Heart Of The Sunrise” has long been one of my favorite Yes tunes with the way it drifts around Squire’s bass solo, a great showcase of his signature Rickenbacker snarl and keen sense of rhythm. The set closer “Roundabout” is dead on and the encore, “Starship Trooper,” closes the set nicely.

If you pick this up, get if for the CDs. The performance isn’t their best, but it’s much easier to wrap your head around the audio than the all too brief and awkwardly cut footage on the DVD interspersed between band interviews. There’s virtually no crowd noise and very few shots of the audience, which had me wondering initially whether it really was footage from the show or not. The crowd appears to have no energy, and the band—well, they’re best experienced in audio form nowadays.

Great songs are great songs, though, and Live From Lyon’s faults won’t keep me from checking the band out in concert. But since they already have live albums featuring Anderson, it’s strange that they would have recorded a show with David before writing any new material.

In A Word: Adequate