The Word Is Live

The Word Is Live
The Word is Live is a live box set by progressive rock band YES and was released in 2005 through Rhino Records. Considered the live companion to 2002’s studio In a Word: Yes (1969 – ) box set, The Word is Live serves to document the band’s live story from early BBC recordings in 1970 with Peter Banks to 1988 shows for Big Generator. All but the first two tracks were previously unreleased.

Many of the tracks were originally broadcast on radio shows and have been bootlegged extensively. In these, it is often the case that the radio show’s final mix was the only mix available so few improvements in quality could be done for the release. While a few of the recordings (mostly those from the 1980 tour) do feature a less-than-polished quality to them, The Word is Live is still considered a fine document of YES in a concert setting.

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The Word Is Live
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Soundcloud excerpts

Selected excerpts from the CD Booklet - Opening Announcements

The words that immediately come to mind when attempting to describe the music of YES are world Class. They are one of the very few bands that have been able to endure through the years, transcending all the various changes in musical fashion, while at the same time maintaining a high standard of musical quality and continuity of success. This is true of their studio recordings and certainly of their live performances.

My first recollections of the band go as far back as the late 1960s, when I met Chris Squire for the first time. We had become friends because of our common interest in bass playing, and being a couple of struggling musicians (living more or less on the breadline), we had decided to share an apartment together in London. It was during this time that we both came to discover the use of wire-wound strings for the bass guitar, a discovery that contributed to producing the resonant and percussive bass sounds for which we both became well-known. This sound formed an integral part of both YES and ELP’s music and is probably the reason why people sometimes think they can detect a similarity between the two bands.

Since that time and my introduction to YES, Chris and I have remained good friends and have always had a deep respect for each other as players as well as for the music of our respective bands.

Apart from my personal friendship with Chris, I have always admired the talent and ability of Jon Anderson, who, in addition to being a great songwriter, has the very fortunate gift of being blessed with a totally unique and instantly identifiable voice. Apart from this, Jon has always had the courage to probe new artistic possibilities and has been prepared to take the risks that have enabled the music of YES to remain innovative. This has undoubtedly been one of the main reasons the band has enjoyed its enduring success.


There is no great band without a great drummer, and so it is with YES. Alan White is without doubt a creative force in rock music and has been so for as long as I care to remember. He has always given the band its dynamic rhythmical quality and solid percussive foundation. (The band’s original drummer, Bill Bruford, was also a brilliant percussionist, and he actually left YES to join King Crimson, which I had started in 1969 with Robert Fripp.) Alan has an unquestionable feel and a real sense of musicality. Apart from being solid as a rock, he has a complete understanding of the music, which is why the YES sound is so dynamic and filled with such rhythmical energy.

The band has had numerous keyboard players, including Tony Kaye, Rick Wakeman and Patrick Moraz, but Rick is the one who made the most distinct impression on me over the years. The band always had great guitarists, too, with Steve Howe being the most enduring. Being a five-piece band, YES have had the ability to change and augment different players over the years and have done this to great effect.

Almost everyone who had played in the band during that time has made a real contribution to its history. It is indeed a credit to the founding members that they were able to be sufficiently flexible and open enough to incorporate all these talented players into the music. These transitions have almost appeared seamless, indeed a remarkable achievement.

Over the years bands come and go, but few acquire the almost institutionalized recognition that YES have acheived with their legacy. The instantly recognized sound that has emerged from countless albums, the thousands of live shows, and a lifetime of dedication to its art, are what put YES in a class of their own.

As the old saying goes, the have “paid their dues,” and their ability to write, play, and perform great music has been proved beyond question. The can deliver in real time and definitely deserve the respect and admiration they now receive all over the world from musicians and fans alike.

Long may their success continue.

– Greg Lake
Emerson, Lake & Palmer

Selected excerpts from the CD Booklet - Sound Chaser: Atlanta Omni, 1974

“Long ago, set into to rhyme”
YES (Relayer)

There’s a phenomenon called “screen memory,” where someone replays an event so often in his or her mind that what’s eventually experienced is a concatenation of the memories themselves – the events get “filled out.” This is the stuff of tall tales, for instance.

As I try to cast my mind back almost 30 years, to the time I saw YES as the Atlanta Omni in November 1974 as an 18-year-old college freshman, I can’t be sure how much is “real” and how much is “screen.” And yet some things remain very vivid, things that perhaps most people would find strange.

This was the Relayer tour, and one of the most important aspects of the concert for me was that the album wasn’t out at that point – or at least it hadn’t reached Greenville, South Carolina, where I was attending School. So the new music was entirely fresh for me.

It was my second YES show. The first came earlier that year, at the Miami Baseball Stadium, home to one of the first U.S. Tales From Topographic Oceans shows, where the band performed both Close To The Edge and Tales in their entirety. So from February to November, YES went from play all of Tales to playing all of Relayer, and of course, they went from Rick Wakeman to Patrick Moraz.

Having only been at my school for a couple of months and being relatively shy and even a bit shell-shocked, I didn’t know of any other YES fans or anyone who might have wanted to attend the concert. So I was somewhat lost” already as I boarded a Greyhound for Atlanta. I was already experiencing a strong element of what literary theorists call “defamiliarization,” which isn’t alienation, exactly, but there’s still a sense of being soi distant, or distant from oneself. (This is all “screen” too, because I’m sure terms like defamiliarization and soi distant were foreign to the 1974 me.)

But it was quite jarring back then to hear the music of Relayer, jarring and fantastic – astounding, really – and that I’ll never forget. It was the music, that new and completely unexpected music, that made a deep impression. I remember that YES also performed selections from other albums, like “Close To The Edge” and “Ritual.” I even recall actual scenes from the latter: for instance, the timpani being wheeled out for Chris Squire during the percussion section, and the giant “crab” thing that opened over Patrick Moraz’s keyboards at the conclusion.

What has stayed with me musically, however, are the Relayer pieces, and this has probably helped propel the record toward the top of my YES list. It was that music and, strangely enough, two colors: the white of Steve Howe’s Telecaster and the chrome of Alan White’s Ludwigs. Indeed, the chrome is what hit me first, in the form of Alan’s vibes-and­-drums introduction to the opening song, the nearly insane “Sound Chaser.”

Strange sounds were already in the air, however: the opening band was the medieval prog-rock outfit Gryphon. I count myself very fortunate for having seen this group on that particular tour, for they were playing a good deal (perhaps the entirety, that I cannot remember) of their then-recent Red Queen To Gryphon Three, a concept record themed around chess. Red Queen has actually acquired more significance for me in the last few years, as I have gotten deeper into the game. At the time, though, it was fascinating to see these musicians, who had been fellow conservatory students with Rick Wakeman, combining early music and instruments such as recorder (played in virtuoso style by Richard Harvey, also the group’s keyboardist), bassoon, krumhorn, and timpani-with rock. Apparently, YES and Gryphon teamed up for encores on some of those shows, and that I really wish I’d seen.

Perhaps only a YES fan can appreciate this, and perhaps only a YES fan of a certain generation, but I was struck by the fact that Graeme Taylor, Gryphon’s guitarist, used a Fender Telecaster, and then I was blown away when Steve Howe played one on YES‘ opening number. I think it was quite common in the early 1970s to identify Fender players with a more blues and straight-ahead rock’n’roll sound, and to identify Gibson guitarists with a more classical-music and jazz style. Certainly Howe had done a good deal to create this impression with his use of many Gibson hollow-bodies, especially his magnificent ES-175. But it was a Tele he wielded on “Sound Chaser,” exploiting the instrument’s sound at its farthest reaches of piercing treble.

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Everything about that song was pushed to the limit: its fragmentary, very avant opening; the incredibly breakneck pace of the opening riff (which reminds me of that line “on the back of your 40-second screamdown,” from “On The Silent Wings Of Freedom“); the dazzling electric independence of the lyrics; and then one of those sudden suspension effects where everything seemed to drop out except Squire, who continues with that crazy, pulsating-yet-also-machine-gun riff on his Rickenbacker – and then things get even more bizarre! For now we have a truly strange piece of music, a kind of classical guitar solo executed on the steeliest and trebliest of Telecasters, accompanied by Patrick Moraz’s Mellotron running through a phaser and Alan White playing timpani.

I’ve only described the first couple of minutes of the concert, but imagine hearing this piece for the first time. Still to come was the freaky cha-cha-cha vocal section and the extremely syncopated bass and drums of Squire and White beneath a funky, Herbie Hancock-style synth solo from Moraz (who had plenty of warped keyboard tricks in store that night). So many musical worlds had already opened that YES almost could have walked off after their opening number!

In my screen memory I thought the group continued with the rest of Relayer, so this at least I checked. I was wrong. They played “Close To The Edge,” then followed with “To Be Over” and “Gates Of Delirium” – truly a concert of epics, which was basically my YES experience in those days. “To Be Over” is one of those beautiful “sleeper” songs that YES has here and there, all the way from “A Venture” (The Yes Album) to “Foot Prints” (Keys To Ascension 2) It features some brilliant eclecticism, especially with Steve Howe’s opening nautical theme on electric sitar, followed by the Telecaster’s return on a wonderfully crunchy, country-inflected solo. And yet probably everything I “remember” about the live performance of “To Be Over” is something created on the “screen” after many sessions with the Relayer album. This is not true of “Gates Of Delirium,” however. That memory remains quite vivid, perhaps most of all because of the aforementioned “chrome” element.

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YES were developing that language; the members who had played on “Close To The Edge” were elevating what they had done two years earlier to the next level, and they were joined by two very different musicians at the percussion and keyboard stations. Of course, even not having heard “Gates” before, there was something familiar about it to me. It bore some striking similarities to “Close To The Edge,” just as Relayer as a whole is like a strange mirror held up to Close To The Edge, the album – strange in a good sense, even where the mirror is warped and harsh. Both epics concern a struggle for redemption, but the struggle in “Gates” takes a harsh, violent, and military form. Its long instrumental section – the outright “war” – saw all the musicians pushing each other in a combination of melodic contest and cooperation matched by few in rock. This combination was evident even in Squire’s playing alone, which managed to be both unstoppably propulsive and jagged. Jon Anderson’s vocals leading up to the instrumental section were harsher than anything I had heard from him before, on record or live, so that was just one more thing blowing me away as I sat there dazed, trying to absorb it all.

The end of the “battle scene” was utter devastation. I had to wonder how the musicians held up, given that I and (I think it’s safe to say) much of the audience were completely exhausted just from listening. And then to have this bleak landscape morph into “Soon” – I believe we all were astounded by Anderson’s range, not only in terms of pitch and tone but also in emotional depth, and perhaps even more so by the meeting of tragedy and redemption. There was a power there that transcended the mere playback screen of memory, and it’s stayed with me for three decades.

It was another 20 years before I saw YES again, as hard as that is for even me to believe. To be honest, I got tired of most rock concerts, and perhaps especially ones for my favorite groups; there were just too many people who weren’t there for the music. But I have seen YES a number of times in recent years, including a July 2002 show in Bonner Springs, Kansas. I had the good fortune of a front-row seat, right in front of Chris Squire. As a bass player myself, to be able to observe him closely is a great privilege. What a master of the instrument he is, a brilliant composer of contrapuntal lines.

It was lovely and fantastic to see the same version of the group I had seen at my first YES concert, almost 30 years before. Of rock musicians, YES are in that exceedingly small group of people who continue to improve with time. Singers, especially, are not supposed to be better years later than they were at 25, but somehow Jon Anderson has done it, and the beauty of it brings tears to my eyes. The guys don’t jump around so much these days; Steve stands very still for the most part, and Alan exemplifies the “it’s all in the wrists” school of drumming to such an extent that he makes some very difficult playing look deceptively simple. But that is all to the good. Let the music speak for itself, and there will be people to listen.

– Bill Martin

Selected excerpts from the CD Booklet - Homecoming: Wembley, 1994

To many rock fans, the greatest feeling they can experience is to see and hear their heroes onstage, playing the songs that have become the soundtracks to their lives. To those fortunate enough to be tuned in to the special frequency of progressive rock, among the greatest practitioners of the live art is YES. Indeed, YES always struck me as the ultimate art-rock band. Much of their music bears an ethereal quality, at turns simple, acoustic-shaped, even pastoral, then again surging, uplifting, and compelling and marked out by complex, grandiose structures and intricate interplay and time signatures.

The chance to hear such songs in the flesh is always enticing, and perhaps the greatest thrill – on that most fans thought would never transpire – would be to see eight members of YES playing as a unified whole. Of all the laces to take in this mouth-watering, mind-boggling prospect of YES to the power of eight, creating their magical music on a revolving “in the round” stage, London, where it all began in 1968, would hold the most attraction.

Wembley, June 1991. To use the English vernacular, “the dog’s bollocks.” When the Around The World In 80 Days tour was announced, it seemed too good to be true. Tickets were like gold dust, and the final shows, to be staged at the aircraft hangar of Wembley Arena, couldn’t possibly live up to the stratospheric expectations of fans, could they? In a word: YES.

The first night in London is doubtlessly etched in the memory of every one of the 12,000 lucky so-and-sos who witnessed it. I’d dared to hope that the united YES would give it their all on home turf, and in the weeks and days beforehand I steeled myself to be awed. I was not to be disappointed. I’d seen some stunning shows; the Silver Clef 25th Anniversary Award Winners’ bash at Knebworth in 1990 was fresh in my mind, featuring an unparalleled bill ranging from Page & Plant to Eric Clapton, Elton John, Dire Straits, Genesis, Paul McCartney, and Pink Floyd. Impressive stuff. But of all the 400 or so gigs I’ve seen, no outfit had impressed me more than YES on that fantastic summer night in the Big Smoke.

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I was going to the show with one of my brothers (another missed out because he was in the Swiss Alps, and he’s never gotten over it!), as well as a pair of distant cousins from our hometown in North Wales, who would travel 250 miles for the gig. We met on the type of clear blue day that can make London feel at once like both the capital of the world and a cosy English market town, and there was a warm reverie betwixt the army of YES followers gathered in local hostelries, bedecked in T-shirts from past campaigns (not least Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe, who I’d seen at Wembley in ’89). We debated the likely set list and posed the perennial pregig pub question, “What’s the opener going to be?” “Big Generator,” perhaps, or “The Miracle Of Life?“? (As usual, we were all wrong).

In the serene late afternoon, we strolled with a spring in our stride down Wembley Way and took in the famous twin towers of the stadium (which had hosted Live Aid six years earlier) and sensed the special aura engendered by the very name Wembley. The YES logo above the arena entrance saw four smirking faces enter, and after buy a T-shirt, programme, and beer (costing the equivalent of a small Third World Country’s national debt), we made our way through the milling throngs of teens to 50-somethings to our seats, a dozen rows from the tiered stage at the centre of the hall. Thankfully, we had a decent view, and surveying the huge banks of the lighting rigs, we began a guessing game over who would be standing where onstage. Among the younger members of the chattering assembly, the hottest question was whether “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” could outdo the likes of “Close To The Edge.” The older and wiser ones chuckled sagely and shook their heads.

Another thought that amused us during the preshow foreplay of banter and speculation were the potential backstage shenanigans involving eight egos that could collectively dwarf Wembley Stadium. We envisaged a conversation between Messrs. Anderson, Bruford, Howe, Kaye, Rabin, Squire, Wakeman, and White over who’d do so-and-so’s guitar, drum, or keyboard part, and whether Jon would be allowed to play his harp! A moment of doubt crept in. What if the evening’s entertainment was undermined by internal dissension? Would Rick order a chicken vindaloo? Would there be a bhaji onstage, in more ways than one?

Hold on! Think Positive! Think YES! And indeed, many with us at Wembley that day would give the show a thumbs-up, and, in truth, YES could have played Dixieland jazz and we’d have been happy! The fact that eight of them would be there, with us, was enough. The tour presented a a unique performance opportunity, and Jon regards it as the pinnacle of his career. Trevor, Alan, and Chris concur that there were “unique” nights, and while Steve felt some shows were “sloppy,” the focus was well and truly there in London. Rick adds that the sheer musicality on display was “the best ever” and had him “smiling every night.”

At Wembley, on 28 June 1991, he wouldn’t be alone. As the clock ticked down to showtime, another flick through the programme made it clear that the band’s history would loom large in proceedings, and Jon described in it how the union was his dream – one we’d should share. After another beer we got to that juncture where you collectively look at your watches ever minute or two and ask each other what time it is. The anticipation was palpable, a sea of dimly lit faces standing in nervous expectation. Then, all four of us were struck by the horror of every gig-goer, the desperate last-minute realisation that­ yes or no – the call of nature has to be obeyed. After a joining a queue as long as the Great Wall of China, and experiencing a period of panic followed by relieved euphoria, we returned to the auditorium, just as the house lights lowered. God had shown his hand. He was a YES fan too! We laughed the laugh of condemned men exonerated. As the air filled with exultant hollering, chanting, and deafening whistles (apparently from would-be sheepdog trialists), the tempo of clapping increased, and we stood like initiates before an arcane secret ritual. It was then that, by chance, I espied two unoccupied seats in the – gasp! – front row. Hurtling toward them like a pair of Linford Christies, my brother and I claimed them as if at Iwo Jima, and then assumed the smug demeanour of those who, quite frankly, are sitting where they shouldn’t be (in promoters’ seats). Duly waving madly at our shell-shocked pals (who initially laughed at the sheer audacity of the move, then wished us instant death), we were soon cocooned by a fanfare heralding the arrival of the eight-man team that were the musical equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters.

A crescendo of sound built to fever pitch as the audience, in an unrestrained and very British form of cacophonous mass hysteria that only raises its head at gigs and soccer matches, greeted YES as conquering heroes. They donned their instruments as if for gladiatorial contest, and we basked in unmitigated glee at being witness to YES en masse in their own backyard.

Recalling the minutiae of such an overwhelming occasion from the distance of a dozen years is well nigh impossible. But it’s equally impossible to forget the spellbinding impression created in toto by each and every song, suite, solo, and flash of individual brilliance. The heady “Yours Is No Disgrace” counterpointed the razor-sharp thrust of “Rhythm Of Love,” while the punchy “Shock To The System” was followed by “Heart Of The Sunrise,” taking us soaring to another plane. Each song was met with delight, and the kind of welcome previously reserved only for a returning prodigal son greeted Steve’s acoustic spot, featuring evergreen favourites such as “Clap” and “Mood For A Day.” These fine airs were juxtaposed with a nod to the more recent past, as “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” was delivered in scintillating fashion, eliciting equally heady acclaim. The heavenly “And You And I” delivered a measure of stillness amid the storm, but this was a mere pause. For a percussion roust par excellence erupted, featuring full-steam-ahead galleon rhythms from Alan and a bewildering, syncopated maelstrom care of Bill. After the catchy AOR of “Hold On,” Trevor’s own phenomenal soloing was spotlighted on “Solly’s Beard.” which caused even dyed-in-the-wool Howe acolytes to acknowledge his stunning craft. The way was thus cleared for a catch-your-breath “Take The Water To The Mountain and pleading “Soon.” which made for a plateau of restful calm before we were geeked up again by the all-guns-blazing assault of a monumental “Long Distance Runaround” and rollicking “Saving My Heart.”

Next, Chris proved that bass solos don’t have to be a cue to go for a beer: Following the invigorating “Lift Me Up,” and Jon’s intimation that the evening’s proceedings were being recorded (release! release!), Rick took centre stage from his position stage right (if that’s possible). His usual astounding display of ivory-tinkling, coursing through pieces from “Six Wives,” had us all chortling like children on Christmas morn. With a euphoric ‘Awaken” dizzying our senses further, we were then staggered by the one-two jab and uppercut of an ebullient “Roundabout” and colossal “Starship Trooper.”

As the band filtered off to a tidal wave of adulation, my brother and I beamed from ear to ear, looking like we’d just escaped from a secure unit. Then we spotted a chink in the black cloth drapes surrounding the stage and saw the band, crouched beneath it, equally chuffed, giggling and congratulating each other. On their hallowed return we were further dazzled by an unexpected “Gimme Some Lovin’” and struck with a TKO in the shape of a tour de force “Close To The Edge.” The energy all about us could have lit up half the metropolis. It was a magnificent end to a magnificent evening-two-and-a­-half hours of exhilarating, peerless music, and a visual and aural extravaganza of stupefying dimensions.

Reunited with our buddies, we stood incredulous, drained and elated. We knew we’d witnessed something very special indeed. Not every YES fan was lucky enough to see the Union tour, and fewer still to be at the heart of YES‘ world, which Chris later reflected was a great way to celebrate their 23rd birthday. It was only a small part of the YES story, but it was a truly wondrous chapter.

As we made our way out into the fading light, we felt we’d partaken in a life-enhancing event, a communion between those onstage and those before it. For those not party to it, they can’t begin to fathom what bordered on a transcendental experience. For those of us who were – when we and YES were one – it’s enough to say, “I was there.”

– Tim Jones

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