Considering the group's stature as one of the quintessential progressive-rock bands, charting new terrain in terms of complex melodies and wild song structures, the first concert movie featuring Yes is surprisingly conventional. Despite opening with trippy images by painter Roger Dean, who illustrated many of the group's classic album covers, and notwithstanding a few tricked-up sequences during which abstract slow-motion images lend a dreamlike quality, Yessongs is a straightforward document of the band in concert, recorded with unimaginative camerawork and woven together with ordinary editing techniques. Truly experimental visual artifacts from the band wouldn't emerge until later in Yes' run, particularly during the '80s, when the band embraced music-video stylization at the same time the Yes sound evolved to include drum machines and other New Wave-era affectations. Nonetheless, Yessongs is useful as an artifact of the group's breakthrough period, since the movie was filmed during a 1972 tour supporting the enduring album Close to the Edge.
Yessongs—not to be confused with the live album of the same name, which contains slightly different content—captures everything from the ridiculous (keyboardist Rick Wakeman's sparkly cape) to the sublime (Jon Anderson's impossibly high elfin vocals). Another factor in the movie's favor is brevity, since Yessongs is only 76 minutes long. The picture never has time to wear out its welcome. Yessongs has a short track listing, because, as per the prog-rock norm, most songs are suites comprising several tunes mashed together; additionally, both Wakeman and wizardly guitarist Steve Howe perform extended solos. The highlights, predictably, are hits—“I’ve Seen All Good People," "Roundabout," "Your Move," "Yours Is No Disgrace." Each song explodes with creativity, intricacy, and power, showcasing the band's meticulous playing as well as its ability to generate pounding rock grooves. Even heard through the tinny sound of the movie's slipshod mix, strong material resounds.
That said, whenever the filmmakers try to emulate the sensory attack of, say, Pink Floyd, things get iffy. For instance, what's with all the macro closeups of water bubbles superimposed with druggy animation? And for that matter, what's with Wakeman's goofy inclusion of "Jingle Bells" during his keyboard-tower freakout? Maybe it's best to characterize these excesses as the cost of hearing Howe travel up and down the fretboard with quicksilver musicality, or of hearing Anderson hit notes that should exist beyond the auditory range of anything but canines.