There was quite a bit of history behind Yes' Union tour. Formed in 1968, progressive rock band Yes experienced numerous lineup changes throughout the 70's, finally stabilizing in the 80's with the lineup known as "Yes West". Amidst urging from their record company, a merging of arguably the two most popular lineups of the band occurred, producing an album (Union) and world tour. This lineup included singer Jon Anderson and Chris Squire on bass, as well as Steve Howe and Trevor Rabin on guitars, drummers Bill Bruford and Alan White, and Rick Wakeman and Tony Kaye on keyboards. Fans have the widely available (and slightly underwhelming) Union album to document this period, but few have had the privilege of experiencing the amazing tour that followed.
Until now. Previously only available as a Japanese VHS/DVD import, us Westerners finally get a proper release, and the performance (recorded live on August 9, 1991 at the Shoreline Amphitheater, Mountain View, CA) gets an official CD release for the first time. There has never been a live Yes album quite like this one (they all seem to have their own personality), as this gives the listener the rare opportunity to hear classic Yes songs reinterpreted by the members (even members who played on respective original recordings make a go at new arrangements). It would be easy for a sloppy performance to result from having eight super-musicians (and therefore, eight egos) on stage, but not only are the performances tight, the energy is amazing. One listen to the extended performance of "Yours Is No Disgrace" should convince any skeptic. The interplay between Howe and Rabin on classic tunes, mixed with Wakeman's keyboard and keytar solos during "Rhythm Of Love" and "Owner Of A Lonely Heart" truly demonstrate the unique cross-pollination at work among members across Yes' vast discography. Even the way it was recorded is cool; anyone who has been to the Shoreline Amphitheater will recognize the brand of natural reverb that this venue produces- captured nicely in this recording. Anyone familiar with what Yes can do onstage should have an idea of what to expect (but multiplied by two).
However, as much as I want to shower this release with blind praise, I must admit there are some faults. The first big one is the abridged set list. Excluding the Firebird Suite intro, there are just 12 tracks. The track listing does not differ from the original Japanese release, but there exists audio of additional performances from the night this was recorded. These include the songs "Shock To The System", "And You And I", and "Lift Me Up". I'm sure even more were performed, as period bootlegs feature upwards of 24 songs on the set list. For the diehard fans, a 4-disc deluxe edition is available (two DVD+two CD), with the previously mentioned omitted tracks featured as audio-only 5.1 on the bonus DVD. With the obvious availability of additional performances, one wonders why the record company didn't release the full show (at around 55 minutes of content per disc, there certainly was enough room for at least a few more songs).
In relation to the short set list, a lot of crowd noise and Anderson's in-between-songs banter is eliminated, subtracting from the "live" feel of the album. I would have excused this if it meant making room for squeezing more tracks in. Additional notes: The recording quality and remaster are brilliant -don't get me wrong- the following is more of a heads up to the reader than a noted flaw of the disc. The volume of this release is a bit quieter than comparable CD releases, but this isn't an issue if your CD player features a volume knob (rest assured that this album doesn't suffer from compression in the least). Also, the mix is very bass-heavy, but I believe this stems from the dynamics-killing situation of having eight performers on one stage, rather than a recording issue.
Overall, this set is really the Yes enthusiast's wet dream. Even those not keen on the Union-era of Yes will not be disappointed (only one track from said album is featured here). I do not recommend this album as an introduction to Yes; if you're new to the band, I would instead point you in the direction of The Yes Album, Close To The Edge, or 90125, depending on musical preference. For the casual fan, I would not even recommend this as a first live album (check out Yessongs or the Keys To Ascension series instead). This release is really aimed at the dedicated fan, but the overall quality of the album allows for anyone with like musical tastes to enjoy listening, even if an appreciation for the historical value of this performance can't be established. The truly committed should check out the afore-mentioned deluxe edition (contains both audio discs, plus a DVD of the concert, PLUS a bonus disc with a full professionally recorded bootleg concert, a full audience-shot bootleg concert, and bonus audio). A solo DVD release is also available. Four stars.
(Edit 3/22/12: The four disc deluxe edition I mentioned in this review is sold out. It was made in extremely limited numbers. For fun, I wanted to see how much used copies cost, and I couldn't even find a copy anywhere online for any price, eBay included. The rest of my review about the CD and DVD standard versions still apply. Thanks for reading.)