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Anderson - Bruford - Wakeman - Howe - Live at the NEC CD (album) cover

LIVE AT THE NEC

Anderson - Bruford - Wakeman - Howe

 

Symphonic Prog

3.85 | 29 ratings

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PaulH
4 stars Documents the real ABWH line-up playing live.

We all know the music of Yes and ABWH, so I won't review the music here.

The real compelling reason to pick this up is that it is the only official live release of the ABWH line-up with Tony Levin on bass. There are some bootleg releases with Levin, but this is the only officially released one, and I would argue it is the best quality recording with Levin out of all the bootlegs as well.

Levin had gotten ill prior to the Shoreline Amphitheater show that became An Evening of Yes Music Plus, so Jeff Berlin stepped in for the rest of the US leg of the tour. Levin rejoined for the UK leg that followed, and this show was captured as part of a radio broadcast at the NEC in Birmingham, England on October 24th, 1989.

It becomes pretty apparent that Levin owns the ABWH material. Berlin did an amazing job jumping in on short notice and learning all the songs in just days, but on An Evening... you can tell he is just playing the material. Levin is clearly a first-class member of this band, with much more interaction with the other musicians. Birthright and Order of the Universe are great, and Levin of course plays both bass and Stick where Berlin was bass only.

But beyond that, Levin shows us what an incredible talent he is by making the Yes material his own as well. I have to be careful I don't get lynched by the Yes faithful, but in my opinion the renditions here of Long Distance Runaround, Starship Trooper and Heart of the Sunrise rival any other live version. This performance of Close to the Edge takes my breath away. I'm not even going to get into any debate on Squire vs. Levin or whatever, but you really should pick this up just to have this performance in your library.

Where this release falls short is in the production, which seems pretty amateur for these folks, even considering it seems to have been more of an independent release. There are some nasty glitches in Jon Anderson's solo medley, but that's what it is so maybe there was no choice there. The track order on the second CD is just plain wrong - track 3 is really Anderson's banter between songs, tracks 3 & 4 are actually 4 & 5, and Order of the Universe is for some inexplicable reason stuck out of order as track 8 with a huge gap of silence when in reality it should have followed Heart of the Sunrise.

Some editing choices are really questionable. Close to the Edge sadly has the beginning and ending fades cut off a bit, which I'm sure was due to space restrictions, but they could have edited out some crowd between songs rather than doing that. This is such a definitive performance of this epic, that cutting it short like that kills that opening and closing drama. Seriously, if they would have given me the masters, I could have done a better production editing job using Soundforge on my laptop.

The other big problem is the amount of hiss in the recording. Maybe they felt they wanted to release it without altering the original recording, but a little noise reduction would have done wonders. Especially during The Meeting, where the hiss is so loud compared to the quiet keyboards and vocals that I find it painful. I was able to clean it up myself with some mild noise reduction in Soundforge, and restored some clipped peaks, so I just think they could have given it a little more care and produced a way better sounding release.

On the plus side, the 12 page booklet is pretty good, with background on ABWH and bios of all the performers, including Milton MacDonald and Julian Colbeck, both of whom played a larger role in the performance than a lot of folks realize. Fans won't learn a whole lot new in the booklet, but it's still fairly well done.

So, how to rate it? We know the material is great. Even if you aren't as fond of the late-80's stylings of ABWH (Bruford's electronic drums sound pretty dated nowadays), the Yes material here is among the best. As a document of what ABWH was like playing live with Tony Levin, this is a must have. But the production sucks.

I'm a huge Tony Levin fan, so for me this is an excellent addition to any prog rock music collection, and I have to rate it a 4. If you aren't as excited about having a document of Levin with ABWH, this is more good, but not essential, so a 3. If the sound quality really pisses you off, and you don't have the means to fix it up on your own, you might even consider it a 2.

Tough to rate -- I give it more of a 3.5 overall, but I'll round up to 4 for the Levin factor.

PaulH | 4/5 |

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