Live (DVD)


Independent release, 2008

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Circa -- the band of Yes-ophiles that convened last year to issue a lauded debut album -- did not rest on their laurels. As if to prove the mettle of a band that, from the instant it was formed, has comprised one of the premier assemblages of prog-rock talent around, Circa filmed their very first live show and have issued it just a few months later in the form of this DVD.

The fact that fans from around the country and around the world flew in to catch this August 2007 show at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano – a club venue holding about 500 – gives you and idea of the interest engendered by what is essentially a fusion of two generations of progressive rock. Billy Sherwood was a 20-something bassist-vocalist-songwriter when Yes bassist Chris Squire first took him under his wing around 1990, beginning a working relationship that would continue through multiple different projects and culminate in Sherwood’s four-year stint as a member of the band he grew up idolizing. Sherwood’s childhood pal and teenaged bandmate, guitarist Jimmy Haun, is a fellow Yes fanatic. And the other two members of Circa, keyboardist Tony Kaye and drummer Alan White, are Yes members of long standing, Kaye a founding member who served 15 years in two different stints, and White the still-current holder of Yes’ drum seat after 35-plus years in the saddle.

Circa’s debut 2007 is a kind of primer for “Yeswholes,” those who enjoy both the iconic opi of the heavily progressive 70s group and the inventive arena rock of the 80s edition. There’s a batch of tunes that straddle the line between progressive indulgences and well-crafted melodic rock, and one terrific 12-minute opus. Still, there had to be a dilemma present in planning this show. What do you do when you only have an hour’s worth of recorded material under your belt and people have flown thousands of miles to catch your first gig?

If you’re Circa, you blow their minds.

The first set consists of the group playing 2007 start to finish in run order. And they sound great, with the precision and sheen of their studio recordings mostly intact and a fifth player (Scott Walton) helping fill out the live sound with background vocals, vocoder and keyboard textures. They also manage to stretch several of the tunes out nicely, letting them breathe and flow more expansively than the studio renditions.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The dynamic “Cut The Ties,” with its aggressive bass-Hammond interplay and sharp guitar lines, makes for a tight and memorable opener that gets the crowd going right away. In the middle of an extended "Don't Let Go," they fall into a jam that lets Sherwood do his best Squire, echoing the big, throbbing, squirrelly notes of songs like "Heart Of The Sunrise" and "On The Silent Wings of Freedom." It's virtuoso stuff and the crowd loves it, as they do each time one of these players goes off. The gorgeous, trilling solos on "Together We Are" are Haun at his finest; White launches "Information Overload" with an appropriately busy drum solo; and Kaye takes his solo turn on "Trust In Something," which shimmers along beautifully. The performance of the group’s closing opus “Brotherhood Of Man” is where they really make a statement, though, earning a loud and well-deserved ovation for a tune that’s quickly assuming its rightful place in the pantheon of prog epics.

Okay, fine. But what’s the second set going to be?

I remember when I saw Yes in 1978 at the Oakland Coliseum, their potential setlist had already swollen to the point where they’d started doing a medley stitching together bits and pieces of several songs -- four or five as I recall. It was a nice novelty and usually fun.

Circa, like any prog rock band worth its salt, takes the attitude of, if a little is good, a lot might very well be better. And so they unleash “Chronological Journey,” a 45-minute (yeah, you heard right) Yes medley stitching together no less than 27 songs, including at least one from every single full studio album ever released by the band. Yes themselves have never tried anything like it, and after watching this performance, why would they? It’s been done, and done right, already.

What’s perhaps most surprising is that the group focuses completely on instrumental themes and leaves out vocals entirely with one exception -- a brief a capella snippet of “Endless Dream,” from 1994’s Talk. No, wait, what might be most surprising is that they cover six songs from the band’s oft-neglected first two albums -- though I suppose that isn’t all that surprising considering Kaye played on both of them and the medley was his idea. No, wait, what’s probably really most surprising is that through the entire 45-minute journey, not once do the principals ever lose their way or get out of sync with one another. To the unstudied it might seem like a single endless jam, but for a Yes fan it’s both an astonishing display of instrumental prowess and giddily close to musical nirvana.

Before we close, a minor gripe. The video quality on this DVD, it must be said, is not top-notch. Some of it is shot in high-def and some not, and the switchovers are obvious because in addition to the resolution, the color balance is substantially different between the standard and high-def cameras. The camera angles are okay but not great, with the shortest straw going to Jimmy Haun. Sherwood tries to compensate for the less than ideal angles with sharp editing, and does an admirable job with what he's got. With the sometimes shaky camera work and contrasting tones and resolutions, Live sometimes feels like a really good bootleg video, but hey... that's not far from the truth! And the sound quality throughout is superb.

The bottom line is, minor shortcomings aside, this is a must-see for Yes fans. Circa is a musical force and the live shows they’re putting together for later this year promise to be true musical events.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2008 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Independent release, and is used for informational purposes only.