A planet revolves through space when parts of it break off, floating through the void until they land on another planet of endless seas, where they sit like islands emerging from the water and life grows on them, both flora and fauna. In the meantime, it's nearly Christmas 1972 and the progressive rock band Yes are taking to the stage in London's The Rainbow for an audience eager to hear their musical heroes in action, and though the arena is not huge, the musicians are equally happy to be there. After a brief warm up they launch into Your Move as guitarist Steve Howe impresses all and sundry with his mastery of his instrument and the others in the band complement his distinctive sound...
If, assuming you had never seen this concert movie, you just listened to the Yes fans then you would doubtlessly come away with the impression that Yessongs was somewhere close to the greatest film to capture a live performance ever made. However, at the time, released as it was after the band had, er, progessed even further, the reaction among the cultural commentators was not the best as they pricked what they considered the pomposity of the work and picked apart various problems they perceived in it. But who needs critics, right? This was strictly for those fans, though even then a number of grumbles were heard since the quality was not something they were accustomed to.
Yet you had to be sympathetic to the constraints of documentary filming of the day; Led Zeppelin's behemoth of a concert movie The Song Remains the Same hit the big screen the year after and showed what they could do with far more money at their disposal, and Yes recorded four years earlier on fairly ordinary equipment, no matter how the results were advertised quadraphonic sound, just wasn't going to compete. This was more akin to the David Bowie effort Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars shot at about the same point in time, though even that had the benefit of major attention paid to the sound, whereas Yessongs was being compared to the triple (!) live album of the same name.
That album was very carefully crafted and produced, yet the movie came across as a more slapdash affair, with the odd example of stock footage of undersea life (perhaps from a topographic ocean?), spiderwebs with dew hanging on them, and what looks like bats flapping across the screen to break up the visuals of Howe and Chris Squire performing intricate guitar tricks and singer Jon Anderson beaming out at the crowd. If you were hoping for more Roger Dean input after the barely animated introduction he contributed then you would be sorely disappointed because that was the sum total of his contribution; the thought of watching his iconic album designs brought to life as cartoons was an appealing one, but the budget didn't stretch to it.
Yessongs was typical of the concert movies of the early to mid seventies, as basic as it could be and all about the music, without even an unusual location for the band to play in. In spite of the sound quality being on a lower level of what you would hear on an album, triple or otherwise, it was still possible to appreciate the work that had gone into reaching this level of musicianship. Some of course could not see past Rick Wakeman's cape and would tell you this was why punk had to happen - the keyboard whizz gets a mid-concert showcase where he can exercise his fancy fingerwork, much as John Bonham gets his Moby Dick drum solo in the Led Zep epic - and it's true some will watch a minute of this and not care whether it was the classic line-up or not, not able to see past the clothes and vast amounts of hair. However, the image of Yes as a band for chinstroking teenage boys to listen to in the dark of their bedrooms is belied by the clips of the auditorium which shows a variety of concertgoers, both men and women. Really this would not convert many, though.