Yes – Los Angeles 1980 1st Night: Mike Millard Master (Virtuoso 486/487)

Los Angeles 1980 1st Night: Mike Millard Master Tapes (Virtuoso 486/487)

Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, Los Angeles, CA, USA – October 3, 1980 

Disc 1 (65:13) Young Person’s Guide To The Orchestra, Does It Really Happen?, Yours Is No Disgrace, Into The Lens, Clap, And You And I, Go Through This, Man In A White Car Suite, We Can Fly From Here 

Disc 2 (49:23) Tempus Fugit, Amazing Grace, Whitefish, Machine Messiah, Starship Trooper, Roundabout 

Mike Millard was a huge Yes fan and was one of the first acts he ever taped back in 1974, so it’s no surprise that The Lost and Found Mike the MICrophone Tapes series has released several of his recordings. Perhaps one of the most interesting is from the 1980 tour in support of Drama which usually falls into two categories, like and dislike. I am in the like group, Drama is an excellent album that was musically a step forward from Tormato and the 70’s deep lush arraignments, most feel, is the Golden era of progressive music. Drama is aggressive and a simplification tonally but not instrumentally, this album contains some of my favorite playing from Steve Howe and Chris Squire. Having had most of Millard’s 70’s Yes recordings in my collection I was beyond pleased when this recording was featured on volume 158 of the series, and I was even more pleased that the folks at Virtuoso have released it. Like my other Millard reviews, here is a choice piece of the notes that accompanied the release: 

Yes, Sports Arena, Los Angeles, CA, October 3, 1980

After six superb, classic Yes recordings circa 1974-1979, we arrive at the divisive Drama era. Though there had been line-up changes before (and many splits after including present day), Drama saw the departure of the lead singer Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman, replaced Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes respectively. Horn and Downes had their own band, The Buggles, known for their new wave hit and on-the-nose MTV video debutante, “Video Killed The Radio Star.” What I didn’t really put together until this week (stupidly) is that “Radio Star” was a hit (in the UK) BEFORE they joined Yes, not after. I had always assumed the song came after their brief stint in Yes, likely because “Video Killed The Radio Star” didn’t break in the US until it was shown on MTV in 1981.

It does seem bizarre that two guys from the new wave movement that was something of a reaction to the dinosaur rock of the ’70s, would join a prog rock juggernaut like Yes. As the story goes, their path to Yes really comes down to the fact that they were recording in the studio next door to the band when things with Anderson and Wakeman went south. Conventional wisdom says resulting album, Drama, the band’s tenth, was met with a mixed reception, but so too had its recent predecessors. Wakeman had come and gone before, but for fans, Anderson‘s departure was a bitter pill to swallow. Despite the personnel shift, Yes mounted another arena tour in support of the album, performing in the round again. Interestingly the set only featured four of the six songs from Drama (“White Car” and “Run Through The Light” were omitted), but two outtakes from the sessions featured: “We Can Fly From Here” and “Go Through This.”

While he does struggle to reach the note on a few occasions, I found Horn acquitting himself nicely on vocals. He isn’t a soundalike, but his vocal tone and range are adjacent to Anderson‘s. The version of “Yours Is No Disgrace” is particularly compelling. As Jim notes below, he and Mike were sitting relatively close for this one, though in the round positioning is different than a typical arena configuration. There’s a bit more audience on this one and perhaps a bit more room, but it is still rich, full, clear and likely one of the best audience recordings of the tour. The circulating recording of this show, Live Drama In Los Angeles, is Mike’s underlying recording though it hasn’t been credited to him that we know of. This new transfer represents a significant upgrade. 

Here’s what Jim R recalled about Yes in the Sports Arena 1980:

I went with Mike Millard to the Yes concert on October 3, 1980. We always went to as many Yes shows as we could. It was at the LA Sports Arena instead of the usual Forum or Long Beach Arena. These were the In-The-Round days for Yes. This stage setup was used the last few tours. We sat in the second row on the floor. The only benefit to the In-The-Round configuration was security had to be spread around a 360 degree pattern instead of 180–fewer eyes to spot microphones in a hat. This one included a much different line up: No Jon Anderson on lead vocals and no Rick Wakeman on keyboards. That’s a big hit. Should we call this Pseudo-Yes ? The crowd to their credit remained dedicated and enthusiastic.

The new lineup makes this a tough one to write up. But what can you do? It is what it is. At least we still had Steve Howe, a true wizard on guitar, that is multiple guitars. Chris Squire on bass, one of my faves. And Alan White (RIP) on drums, a real dynamo. So the rhythm section was intact. The band has a special meaning to Mike and me, as it was at a Yes show in 1974 where we first met. Due to strict security at the LA Sports Arena, I left my camera bag at home. 1980 was big year for the venue which also hosted stands by The Who, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull and Bruce Springsteen.

Cheers to my buddy Mike. RIP.

As you can see, this Yes line up polarized Mike and Jim as well but as Jim eludes to, most of those in attendance are primed and give the band nothing but positive, beautiful feedback. Mike’s recording is excellent, the balance is perfect and all instruments and vocals are clearly heard. As Jim notes their close proximity made for an excellent recording, one that has a good bit of audience noise which really captures the energy of the atmosphere inside the Sports Arena. For 1980 there are two excellent audience captures, the Boston September 9, 1980 recording is certainly the best in terms of sound quality, slightly besting this recording, Mike’s gets the nod for being the most atmospheric and enjoyable, both are essential recordings for Yes fans. There has not been a silver release of this show until now, Where The Lens Is Wide (Amity-318) and Apocalypse LA (Blue Cafe-309A/B) were both early CD-R titles taken from an early transfer. This recent version of Mike’s recording has seen two CD-R titles, Brushed Mike Millard Tape/First Show In Los Angeles 1980 (Stargazers SGF-00181) and Drama Tour In L.A. 1980 (Galaxy GX172A/B), thankfully Virtuoso stepped up and give us the preferred version of this recording. 

The band utilize a portion of Britten’s Young Persons Guide To Orchestra as the introduction to the performance having adopted this in 1978 to replace Firebird Suite. The opening number of the tour is the last song on the first side of Drama, Does It Really Happen? is an excellent choice, excellent uptempo music with a killer bass line from Chris and trademark Yes vocal harmonies, Trevor Horn’s voice blends very well with Squire and Howe and very much falls in the Yes range. While not a Jon Anderson clone, Horn’s voice is similar yet lower in register and certainly not able to hit those glorious Anderson highs. Once you accept this, the Drama line up actually hits on all marks of Yesmusic. Yours Is No Disgrace is an excellent choice for the second spot, Horn does an excellent vocal and Geoff Downes makes easy work of the pastoral styled keyboards. As soon as Steve Howe plays certain parts, the audience roars in approval, they are fully engulfed by the music, their response is joyous applause. The two dates in Los Angeles come about three quarters of the way through the North American tour, this line up has fully gelled onstage, Disgrace is a perfect example of this. 

Trevor introduces the next number, “We’re going to play something from the album Drama now…this is called ‘Into The Lens” to a nice round of applause, it’s certain the West coast Yes dihards have heard the album. This recording is so vivid and clear, we can very much enjoy Alan White’s drumming unobstructed. The marching patterns are powerful in the sound spectrum, Downes’ keyboards are dissonant and matches Horn’s vocal “I Am A Camera” sounding mechanically robotic. The influence of Downes and Horn give the traditional Yes sound a fresh and modern (for the time) sound…and that glorious Chris Squire bass, vividly present in this recording, the tone is unmistakably Chris. Steve takes a solo spot next via the Clap and has the audience eating from his hand, they erupt when he knocks on the side of his acoustic. His strumming is excellent, his finger picking even better, perfectly articulate is delivery hitting folk, classical, and bluegrass all melding into his unique style. 

Steve keeps the acoustic on and noodles a bit with the beginning of And You And I, once he begins it properly the band receive perhaps the loudest ovation of the evening, they quickly quite down to listen to the beautiful music. Trevor does a good job with his vocals, although he cannot hit the highs, for the most part he tends to stay in his range and for me, does not limit my enjoyment of the song, in fact it is really enjoyable, based upon the applause from the audience, they thought so as well. Trevor introduces Go Through This as something they wrote at the beginning of the tour, a fast paced rocker of a tune, the studio version can be found on the remaster of Drama, a live version found on The Word Is Live. More unreleased (at the time) music is played with the Man In The White Car, a longer version than the studio version found on the remastered Drama CD, the live version gives a chance for Downes to showcase his talents. We Can Fly From Here is interesting, the Buggles meet Yes is interesting and works well live yet is not as strong as Go Through This in the live setting. 

Trevor gives a nice intro, “When we were working on the album Drama…we were working with a rather strange little guy and you probably read his name before on Yes album covers…his name is Eddie Offord (applause), anyway whenever we were wasting time in the studio he always used to say ‘C’mon guys…Tempus Fugit”. One of the best songs on Drama, Tempus Fugit has a monster bass line from Chris, fast paced aggressive Yesmusic at its best, perfect for the stage, the vocals are largely harmony and give a full Yes sound. Chris gets his solo spot after a warm introduction from Trevor, beginning with Amazing Grace and Whitefish which features accompaniment from Alan White, is incredible, the interplay between the two is perfection and like a wave of percussion that hammers the audience and listener alike, brilliantly Chris goes back into a sparse ending of Amazing Grace and the piece receives a warming and long ovation from the audience. 

Machine Messiah is greeted with a nice round of applause, the beginning features the heaviest guitar riff that Steve Howe would every record, certainly the envy of many a Metal guitarists. The song features traits of classic Yesmusic, different styles and textures in its amalgamation, on closer examination one really gets even more appreciation for Downes keyboard style and talents, he is very much as much a part of the songs success as Howe. This live version is certainly on par with the studio version and is very much a set highlight (as are the Drama tracks). For those doubters, when Horn introduces Starship Trooper as the “last song” there is a loud cry of “Noooo” from the audience, the West Coast faithful are certainly enjoying this evening of Yes Music. Starship Trooper is excellent and is slightly stripped back from the Wakeman versions of the song that became overblown. Howe is a bit out of tune at the beginning of Disillusion that’s awkward sounding, but soon gets it together as the audience cheer and clap along. This glorious Millard recording captures the punch of Alan’s drums perfectly, he adds a lot of great fills as well. The audience are joyous during The Wurm section, Howe masterfully teases them a bit with tempo, when the rest of the band join in it’s full on party time in the Sports Arena as the tension builds and builds leading to that icon Howe guitar lick that leads to his solo. Just as things are reaching that massive climax the recording cuts as Millard runs too close to the end of his tape side at the 10:30 mark. The band return for a blistering version of Roundabout which has the entire audience on their feet clapping and certainly dancing along to the joyous celebration that is Yesmusic. 

As always all thanks go to the late great Mike Millard for his glorious recordings and the entire JEMS crew for getting the best possible versions of these recordings out to the masses to enjoy. Virtuoso does a good job with the inserts, live and posed shots from the Drama era with Drama graphics that make for a nice visual presentation. The excellent Forgotten Yesterdays website has some excellent items that could have been included, gig poster and ticket stub would have all looked great, in all reality it’s the music that really matters, and on this title, it’s the music that truly shines. 

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