Saving Grace Of God (Virtuoso 113/114/115/116/117/118)
Yes Union was certainly the most bizarre, and most creative, project in the band’s forty year history. The combination of the Yes West band with the European Yes was, on the released CD, a bit of a misnomer because none of the songs featured all eight musicians. Rather, it was more of a shared album with the unreleased second ABWH album with some Yes west outtakes.
The tour was a different matter. Not only did all eight share the stage, but they also added their own styles and contribution to the numbers, creating a musical retrospective synthesis of Yes’ entire career. Jon Anderson, being interviewed for Seconds Magazine, compared it to an orchestra.
When asked about the personality clashes on the tour, he replied that “Music is more powerful than friendship. I can’t imagine everybody in an orchestra being buddies and yet they perform Rachmoninoff’s Second, or Sibelius’ Seventh with great aplomb. They might hate each other but maybe that’s what makes them great players.
“The band that was on Union, or as Chris Squire said, Onion: it wasn’t a very good album but it was a great show. I listened to the album the other week and there were some good tracks. But it was truly an amazing live show-and that was the primary reason we did it.”
It could have been even more comprehensive if the contributions of other musicians who were part of the band were acknowledged. Peter Banks, Yes’ first guitarist, tried to contribute but was rebuffed with Anderson calling his presence “inappropriate.”
Steve Howe felt it could have been even better, saying that “I think to answer that fairly one’s got to take into account some of the other ideas in UNION that never happened and what was talked about was what about having some very special shows where we’ve got Trevor [Horn] and Geoff [Downes] and Peter and Patrick as well; and the other guys were like (foo), we just got blanked on some ideas about making it even more special, topping it off with more people or something.
“After all, we wanted Tony Levin; quite blatantly we said, we want Tony Levin on this tour, we booked him for the tour and they wouldn’t agree. And we could have played all that stuff, ‘I Could [sic] Have Waited Forever’ like a piece of cake, we all knew it but Chris didn’t know anything, he only learned ‘Shock To the System’. I was telling you that just to show you that there was an openness more from the European side about sharing this as a project, certainly making some special event.”
The two US tours, and the single tour of Europe, were so successful that additional dates were booked the following year. A planned tour of South America in February was cancelled, so the sole 1992 shows were five dates in Japan between February 29th and March 5th. These five had the same setlist as the previous year’s tour with “Saving My Heart” being dropped halfway through.
These would be the final Union shows. Afterwards the band would be pared down to the Yes West lineup and would record Talk.
Virtuoso utilize new audience tapes for these three shows on Saving Grace Of God. None have circulated before and all are similar in timbre. They are all very clear but slightly distant from the stage and have an emphasis upon the top end.
Castle Hall, Osaka, Japan – March 2nd, 1992
Disc 1 (79:51): Firebird Suite, Yours Is No Disgrace, Rhythm Of Love, Shock To The System, Heart Of The Sunrise, Surface Tension, Mood For A Day, Make It Easy, Owner Of A Lonely Heart, Heiwa No Uta, And You And I, Drum Duet, Changes
Disc 2 (79:29): I’ve Seen All Good People, Solly’s Beard, Saving My Heart, Whitefish, Amazing Grace, Lift Me Up, Tombo No Megane, Wakeman Solo, Awaken, Roundabout
The March 2nd Osaka show is the second on the tour and and makes its silver pressed debut on Saving Grace Of God. The taper was close to the stage and, coupled with the very polite audience, produced an astonishingly clear recording of the concert. There are several small cuts between numbers, but nothing at all serious.
The show is good, but the seven month lay off shows. There is a certain stiffness in the air and, in “Heart Of The Sunrise,” and egregious error by Wakeman eight minutes into the performance. He misses his cue and the rest of the band try to cover for him.
Jon Anderson is in high spirits, greeting Osaka with “ohkini” between songs. Steve Howe’s solo spot starts with “Surface Tension” as it did the previous night in Tokyo, followed by “Mood For A Day.” After this interlude the rest of the show settles down and is quite effective.
“Owner Of A Lonely Heart,” undoubtedly Yes’ biggest hit, is played very early in the set. It’s given a Union style arrangement just like “Rhythm Of Love” with Rick Wakeman joining and soloing in the track.
Anderson sings “Heiwa No Uta Desu” as an introduction to “And You And I” in all of the Japan shows. He would later record the piece of music as “Peace Symphony” with KITARO. The Close To The Edge classic is another song which blends the styles of the different musicians very well. Trevor Rabin adds a pretty little melodic part in the first part over Howe’s acoustic strumming.
During the drum duet, White bangs out “Mind Drive” underneath Bruford’s electronic drum improvisation and leads into 90125‘s “Changes.”
Trevor Rabin’s solo spot, with Anderson detailing his musical career as an introduction, is the whimsical “Solly’s Beard.” It segues into “Saving My Heart,” one of the best songs from Union. This in turn melts into Squire’s solo extravaganza with “The Fish” and the massive bass line to “Tempus Fugit.” Rabin comes in with “The Fish” melody at the every end, and Anderson comes in to sing “Amazing Grace.”
Rick Wakeman’s solo contained three excerpts from Six Wives, the three “Catherine” selections. It opened with the first song from Six Wives, just like on Yessongs. Then there was a slower, longing melody from another “Catherine.” The third was the bit introduced by Rabin on guitar and then picked up by the keyboards. Wakeman has said before that his greatest regret is not being in any Yes lineup with Rabin and hearing this gives a tantalizing glimpse into what could have been.
The show ends with an “Awaken” that stretches to twenty glorious minutes followed by the only encore “Roundabout.”
Century Hall, Nagoya, Japan – March 3rd, 1992
Disc 3 (79:43): Firebird Suite, Yours Is No Disgrace, Rhythm Of Love, Shock To The System, Heart Of The Sunrise, All’s A Chord, Mood For A Day, Make It Easy, Owner Of A Lonely Heart, Heiwa No Uta, And You And I, Drum Duet, Changes
Disc 4 (75:43): I’ve Seen All Good People, Solly’s Beard, Saving My Heart, Whitefish, Amazing Grace, Lift Me Up, Tombo No Megane, Wakeman Solo, Awaken, Roundabout
The complete March 3rd Nagoya show was previously pressed on Masters Of Time (Silver Rarities SIRA 98/99/100) in the mid nineties. The tape on discs three and four of Saving Grace Of God has a similar timbre to the first night and is an improvement over the Silver Rarities.
Of the three shows in this collection Nagoya is the most inventive and interesting. Some of this comes about through sloppy play such as Squire missing the cues in “Heart Of The Sunrise” (one can see his embarrassed smiles after the third such incident).
But some comes about probably because of the mix in the PA which emphasizes all of the instruments very well. Rabin’s contributions to “Heart Of The Sunrise” and “And You And I,” for example, are much more apparent on this recording than others. Even his doodling to the esoteric sections in “Awaken” add such immeasurable richness to the music.
Steve Howe plays the first part of “All’s A Chord” from 1979’s The Steve Howe Album before in his solo spot. He even attempts to sing, but his voice sounds horrible. It is a nice rarity in the collection because it’s the only known time he’s played the song in a Yes concert. He follows with “Mood For A Day.”
In “And You And I” Squire plays bass lines from Tales From Topographic Oceans, bring a completely different flavor to the piece. White and Bruford follow with their drum duet, the same as the previous night with White playing “Mind Drive” and Bruford augmenting it with his electronic drums. Anderson runs onstage late to announce Tony Kaye for the introduction to “Changes.”
“I’ve Seen All Good People” includes the various solo spots in the latter half of the song, but afterwards Anderson doesn’t get into the long childhood spiel about Rabin before “Solly’s Beard.”
A twenty minute version of “Awaken” closes the show. After a long period of cheering they return to the stage for “Roundabout.” Just as Squire missed cues in “Heart Of The Sunrise,” Anderson messes up his cues in this song. It is a sloppy ending to a trouble yet ultimately fascinating performance.
Yoyogi Olympic Pool, Tokyo, Japan – March 5th, 1992
Disc 5 (78:51): Firebird Suite, Yours Is No Disgrace, Rhythm Of Love, Shock To The System, Heart Of The Sunrise, Clap, Make It Easy, Owner Of A Lonely Heart, Heiwa No Uta, And You And I, Drum Duet, Changes
Disc 6 (73:05): I’ve Seen All Good People, Solly’s Beard, Whitefish, Amazing Grace, Lift Me Up, Tombo No Megane, Wakeman Solo, Awaken, Roundabout
The final Union show in Japan, and the final ever, was released on silver in 1998 on Look Through The Dragonfly (Highland HL221/222). The tape used on Saving Grace Of God has similar characteristics as the other two tapes in this set. It isn’t as lively as Highland, but is more clear and lacks the intrusive audience noise.
“Yours Is No Disgrace” opens the show and remains the perfect song to expand and improvise (performances in past tours have reached close to twenty minutes). Alan White lays down the beat while Bruford augments his high pitched drums on top and both Howe and Rabin take solos emphasizing their particular style.
“Heart Of The Sunrise,” the source of many sloppy performances in Japan, is played perfectly in the final night in Tokyo. Neither Wakeman nor Squire miss their cues and the band jell well together.
Steve Howe changes his solo section, dropping “Mood For A Day” and which ever solo piece and plays “Clap” instead. He plays a mid-tempo country tune in the style of Chet Atkins as a prelude.
Rabin plays “Make It Easy,” the 90125 outtake recently released on the YesYears boxset, as a prelude to their biggest hit “Owner Of A Lonely Heart.” And like with the Big Generator single, Wakeman plays a blistering solo in the song’s concluding moments while Bruford plays very Crimsonesque drums.
“And You And I” is played with the Howe harmonics introduction as on Close To The Edge instead of beginning with “Apocalypse” as they’ve done in past tours. But it does include the Squire harmonica melody in “The Preacher The Teacher” inserted in 1974.
Anderson gives a long introduction for Rabin’s solo spot “Solly’s Beard” saying, “Chair. Chair. Chair. Ah. Chair. Guitar. Ah. Tall people. Once upon a time there was a young boy this big. He played Violin. Violin. Violin. Violin. Practice, Practice, Practice, Practice, Violin. Violin. Then when he was ten years old. He got the violin and threw it out the window. ‘Screw that’ he said. Sorry that’s a English phrase. I will play the guitar and be a rock ‘n roll player and so he grew up. Tall, tall, tall, tall, tall, tall, tall so big and his name. Trevor Rabin.”
Unlike previous shows where “Solly’s Beard” would segue into “Saving My Heart,” Rabin drops that tune, leading into Chris Squire’s and Alan White’s solo piece “Whitefish.” This will be the final time the piece was played until the Open Your Eyes tour in 1997 where it would be expanded with references to “Sound Chaser” and “Ritual” (and, in 2002, with “On The Silent Wings Of Freedom.”)
The show ends with another glorious “Awaken” and “Roundabout” as an encore.
Saving Grace Of God is packaged in a six disc quad jewel case. Virtuoso include a miniature reproduction of the tour program and a poster which doesn’t fit into the jewel case unfortunately. The extras are great reminders of the event from twenty years ago. Virtuoso have been playing it safe the past couple of years by resigning Union shows (really everything not from the seventies) to their CDR labels. But to press these onto silver with a lavish production is a bold move which hopefully will continue in the future. For fans of Union era Yes, this is an essential release to have.If you liked this review, buy me a cup of joe. (Suggested: $3 a shot or $7.5 for a double)