Every year I try to highlight some cool progressive rock offerings for our readers, and this year is no exception. For those of us that love the genre, 2015 was a fairly heady time, as one of the most influential artists in prog passed away.
As a huge fan of Yes, the loss of bassist Chris Squire hit me hard. My first bass was an imitation Rickenbacker, which I discovered not long after purchasing it that it was Squire’s bass of choice. The Fish, as he was known to fans, passed away this spring after a brief battle with a rare form of leukaemia. The band carries on, though, with Squire’s longtime friend and former Yesman Billy Sherwood ably filling his shoes on tour.
Prior to Squire’s passing, two live offerings from Yes were released in 2015. The first, Progeny: Seven Shows From Seventy-Two, is a massive offering of 7 complete shows from 1972, the band’s first tour with drummer Alan White, and done in support of their fifth album, the genre-defining Close To The Edge. The shows are virtually identical in song selection, so this is a release that is really tailor-made for die-hards willing to listen closely for the minutia – a change in phrasing, a variation in solo. The band is on fire, mind you – literally, going for the one each and every night.
The 2012-2015 incarnation of the band (Squire, White, guitarist Steve Howe, keyboardist Geoff Downes and singer Jon Davison) released their own live album in 2015 – Like It Is: Yes At The Mesa Arts Centre, the second half of a series that finds the group playing complete renditions of classic albums Close To The Edge and Fragile. How you view this release depends on if you can accept the band without founding member and lead singer Jon Anderson. If you can, you’ll find a lot to love here, as the band was once again performing a high level, with vocalist Davison ably stepping into Anderson’s often flighty shoes. I called this version of the band Ultimate Yes, as they managed to play anything from the band’s catalogue with passion and love. Like It Is comes as a 2 CD/1 DVD set, and is a strong offering in the increasing large Yes live catalogue.
Also released this year was a deluxe remastered and remixed edition of the band’s fourth album, and their breakthrough, 1971’s Fragile. Put out by Burning Shed/Panegyric, this Definitive Edition follows on the heels of The Yes Album, Close To The Edge and Relayer in the same series and puts all versions of Fragile to shame, thanks to a spectacular Surround Sound remix by aural master Steven Wilson, and a treasure trove of various versions of the album – unreleased tidbits, alternate takes, needle drops and more. It’s fair to say that Yes fans have bought a few different versions of Fragile, but with this 2015 release, there really seems no reason to purchase any other copies. This is the one.
Burning Shed/Panegyric, along with DGM, were also responsible for one of the biggest box sets of the year, King Crimson’s Thrak limited edition box set, comprised of 12 cds, 1 DVD-A, 1 DVD and 2 Blu-rays that are the final word and exclamation points on the legendary prog rock band’s 1995 album. From rehearsals to various mixes to live albums and footage, this set leaves absolutely no stone unturned. Consider it a university level excursion into the creation of art rock. For devotees of the band and the album (as I happen to be), this is an absolute must-have.
Finally, few prog rock fans are willing to say good-bye to Canada’s Rush, but that just may be the case following the band’s 40th anniversary tour and the rumours of Neil Peart’s retirement from the business. Luckily, R40 captures the band at the peak of their powers, some 40 years after debuting at a Toronto high school gymnasium. The 3 cd/DVD or Blu-Ray release was filmed at the band’s two hometown shows in 2015 and man, Geddy, Alex and Neil were on absolute fire. Rush has released a lot of live albums and videos over the past 15 years, but I’m of the mind that R40 is the best of the lot. The trio play as if they still have something to prove.
So much prog, so little time. But these all are definitely ideal gifts for that someone in your life who loves crazy time signatures, esoteric lyrics and the pushing of musical boundaries.