A new three-disc CD/DVD set celebrates that strange period in which a band not called Yes, including most of the individuals credited with the Yes sound, put together an album and tour that sounded just like … well, Yes. Only, for contractual reasons, they ended up calling themselves Anderson Bruford Wakeman and Howe. It was a bit like having a car and renaming it “Steering Wheel, Transmission, Radials and Chassis.”
Live at the NEC, October 24, 1989, a newly released three-disc ABWH set available exclusively through Gonzo MultiMedia, makes easy work of establishing that this is, in all but name only, Yes playing Yes music for Yes fans.
The song list largely mimics the original 1993 concert film An Evening of Yes Music Plus, beginning with a series of solo features — including a medley of songs from Anderson in “Time and a Word,” “Owner of a Lonely Heart” and “Teakbois”; solo turns by Howe (“Clap,” “Mood for a Day”) and Wakeman; and then a drum feature for Bruford after the band’s take on “Long Distance Runaround.”
Also repeated are ABWH renditions of legacy Yes items like “And You and I,” “Close to the Edge” (interesting, of course, because Bill Bruford left before the tour in support of that album commenced) and “Roundabout”; as well as the tracks “Birthright,” “Themes,” “Brother of Mine,” “The Meeting” and “Order of the Universe” from Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe’s underrated self-titled 1989 release.
New on Live at the NEC, October 24, 1989, however, is their explosive take on “I’ve Seen All Good People” on the first disc, and an intriguing redo of “Starship Trooper” on the second disc.
“All Good People,” after a lovely acapella opening, surges into a bold restatement of the original theme — with Wakeman’s churchy organ providing the launching pad. Howe’s serrated fills eventually give way to a more classically inspired turn from Wakeman, who’s overtaken in turn by an ever-more insistent Howe. Back and forth they rage, punching and counterpunching, in what quickly becomes one of the most thrilling moments to be found on Live at the NEC.
Still, I kept coming back to Tony Levin, filling in for co-founding bassist Chris Squire (who was still off leading a band actually called Yes) but oddly not part of the earlier An Evening of Yes Music Plus because the featured show happened on a night when Levin was ill. As he adds this muscular thump to the song’s charging middle section, I was reminded that Levin’s pairing with Bruford was always ABWH’s most intriguing calling card — the thing that set it apart from the many other incarnations of Yes. I’m not certain, really, that Levin presence alone doesn’t make Live at the NEC worth the price of admission.
The disc-closing “Starship Trooper,” with Wakeman’s dynamic synthesizers replacing Tony Kaye’s original gurgling organ runs, has a completely different texture. Howe’s role is different here, too. The original take from The Yes Album, which saw Howe’s debut with the band, was perhaps fittingly more guitar-oriented. Within Anderson Bruford Wakeman and Howe, the guitarist is part of a larger compendium of sounds. Anderson inserts “Soon” after the second movement of “Starship Trooper,” before bidding the crowd farewell and ceding the floor finally to Howe — who closes things out with his titanic riff from “Wurm.”
The third disc in Live at the NEC, October 24, 1989 is devoted to unedited home movies, taken backstage and during sound checks from ABWH’s second keyboardist Julian Colbeck. To purchase the Live at the NEC, October 24, 1989′ from Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe, visit Gonzo Multimedia here.