Even if you don't think you know the band Yes, trust me, you do. Prior to reviewing this Blu-ray, I couldn't tell you a single song under their credits; however, while watching 'Yes: Symphonic Live,' I realized I was more familiar with their music than most other bands of their era. Their track "I See All Good People" (featured on the 'Almost Famous' soundtrack) is one of the most played tunes on my iPod - and I never even knew it was Yes. But the one thing that I didn't realize about them was their ability to fully and successfully function as a "jam band."
There's something satisfying about seeing a group of older guys who still know how to rock. (After seeing the Crosby, Stills and Nash embarrass themselves on stage several years ago, I am qualified to label good and bad "old man" rock bands.) Not only is Yes still able to instrumentally rock out, but they can vocally harmonize and hit long high notes better than most young bands.
'Symphonic Live' is new to me, but die-hard Yes fans have already been drooling over this show for nearly a decade. Originally released on DVD in 2001, 'Yes: Symphonic Live' quickly became a fan favorite. Since 'Symphonic Live' was recorded during the tour following the release of Yes album Magnification, the band brought along a 45-member orchestra to bring the album's score to venues across the globe.
The show begins with a chaotic blend of symphony and band that's reminiscent of a psychedelic bad dream. Like a several-minute-long version of the THX trademark audio, it comes to a full and perfect balance. Yes kicks off the show with "Close to Edge," a song that in and of itself is not brilliant, but what follows in the orchestral jam session afterward is. Like a staggered version of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat," four of the band's members sing the tune "I Get Up, I Get Down" with pitch-perfect harmonies as the orchestra adds huge layer of depth. Opening the show with this astounding rendition of "Close to the Edge" is the hook that reels you in for the show's complete nearly three hour runtime.
If you've never seen what an orchestra can add to a band, you're missing out. The symphonic rendition of Yes has the same effect as 'Ben Folds and the Western Australia Symphonic Orchestra: Live in Perth.' If you are not a fan of Folds, that show will make you one. And the same can be said for Yes via 'Symphonic Live.'
The tracklist for the evening blends new favorites with old classics. The setlist is as follows: "Close to the Edge," "Long Distance Runaround," "Don't Go," "In the Presence Of," "Gates of Delirium," Steve Howe guitar solo, "Starship Trooper," "Magnification," "And You and I," "Ritual," "I've Seen All Good People," "Owner of a Lonely Heart" and "Roundabout."
The only problem with the concert stems from the presentation itself. Several times throughout the show, low-res digitally animated bits hijack the screen in place of the actual concert footage. Apparently, the animations were a controllable "special feature" on the DVD of 'Symphonic Live,' but such is not the case with the Blu-ray. You're going to watch the screensaver-esque videos whether you want to or not. Fortunately, the videos never affect the sound and do not stay on-screen for long amounts of time.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Eagle Rock Entertainment delivers 'Yes: Symphonic Live' on a single Blu-ray disc in a standard keepcase. One short Eagle Eye Media promo runs before the menu. The size of the BD is not specified on the disc nor online, but is listed as Region A Blu-ray.
Although 'Symphonic Live' was recorded at a 2001 concert, it was shot in HD, making it a fine demo concert disc. It's just a shame that it received a 1080i/AVC MPEG-4 presentation - but if you didn't know that in advance, you'd never know it wasn't 1080p. The 1.78:1 presentation is crisp and clean, making it a near-perfect concert demo disc.
Of the four concert Blu-rays in my collection, 'Symphonic Live' is the only one 100 percent noise-free. While the sharpness and high details may not make its older musicians look flattering, it adds a depth to the stage that brings the larger-than-life concert into your home theater.
Edge enhancement is absent, but aliasing and banding run rampant during the computer-animated interjections. The low-res animation resembles that of mid-'90s video games or Windows 95 stock screensavers. Fortunately, the forced animations don't occur too often and don't remain onscreen for long periods of time.
The colors - especially the cool blues and psychedelic purples - pop on screen, giving your theater a fitting glow-in-the-dark ambiance. Black levels are rich and shadows are detailed. While Yes is a band I hardly knew prior to reviewing 'Symphonic Live,' this Blu-ray is one I will use to show off top-notch video quality.
The audio quality matches the near-perfect video quality. With your choice of LPCM Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS HD Master Audio, from the concert's chaotic symphonic opening of the gates, 'Symphonic Live' takes you out of your home and places you in the Amsterdam theater where the concert was filmed. If you pay close attention, in the surround speakers you will hear the faint echo that naturally comes from any live performance - but it's never a nuisance or distraction. It simply adds another layer of honesty to the Blu-ray.
A bad audio mix easily could have ruined 'Symphonic Live,' but as is, it's flawless, powerful and moving. Combining difficult and beautiful four-part vocal harmonies with a clean, tight band, a brilliant keyboardist and a 45-piece orchestra brings chills to your spine and raises the hair on your arms. It's so strong and grand at times that it's overwhelming.
'Symphonic Live' features all-encompassing audio. Every speaker is actively engaged and working hard to make you experience what it would have been like to be there.
It's obvious why Yes fans are completely in love with 'Symphonic Live;' the concert is so strong and well performed that it will make a Yes fan out of anyone. Aside from the sporadic poorly animated interruptions, 'Symphonic Live' is truly remarkable. With its superb video transfer and phenomenal lossless audio, this is one Blu-ray that every rock lover should own. If you've been looking for a worthy concert demo disc, look no further.