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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Into "The Gates of Delerium"....and Back.

Or: Another blog post about Yes.
Roger Dean's artwork for the Yes album Relayer, minus the logo.
© 1974 by the artist/Yes/Rhino Records

On September 8, 2001, my ex-partner and I went to Radio City Music Hall to see Yes, who were touring their album Magnification. Due to the band's umpteenth personnel change, Russian keyboardist Igor Koroshev had been booted from the band, replaced with a full symphony orchestra on the record. This was an experiment the band had tried before, on their sophomore effort Time And A Word.

Little could we know that three days later, the towers of the World Trade Center would be destroyed, and the world would go to hell for a decade.

Ironically, the highlight of the show was a live performance of "The Gates of Delerium", a 22-minute epic from the band's 1974 Relayer album. "Gates" contains some of the band's most challenging music, with lyrics that tell of a terrifying plunge into war and the dust settling afterwards over the battlefield. The performance was everything it promised to be, and the symphony orchestra only added to the grandeur of the work.

"Gates" opens with a shimmering, descending figure that sounds like it's right out of Strauss' Die Frau Ohne Schatten--the scene where the Nurse shows untold riches to the Dyer's Wife. This gives way to acoustic guitar and Jon Anderson's voice, singing of the preparation for battle.

As the piece moves forward, the whole band moves in and the lyrics become more aggressive, detailing a society readying itself for battle, marching forth, interrogating spies, and killing civilians.

The music ultimately erupts into the central battle sequence, which features some of the band's most advanced playing. The music careens and lurches, building up, stopping and starting again like a Bruckner symphony stuck in overdrive. Driven relentlessly by drummer Alan White and the searching bass-line of Chris Squire, the song rapidly shifts time changes over Steve Howe's jabbing guitar.

If all that wasn't enough, the band added found objects to the song, car brakes, hubcaps, and other junk that they rattled, banged on and crashed. Add to that Patrick Moraz' whooping "electric slinky" keyboard effect that sounds like black wings moaning over the battlefield, and the total effect is terrifying. And at the section's close, Alan White simply toppled the whole rack over. The crash is audible.

But that is just preparation for the final section, popularly known to Yes-heads as "Soon." A new theme is stated in the steel guitar, and is joined by Jon's high, keening voice in a resigned plea for peace. The effect is not unlike the final scene of Aida. The acoustic comes back, supported by bass, drums and a wash of keyboards. The final words belong to Steve Howe's steel guitar, which resolves all this chaos in an eloquent, final solo.

I still love it. Relayer has been my favorite Yes album since I bought my first copy (on cassette, from the Sears in the Rockaway Townsquare Mall, NJ, on the same day I bought Led Zeppelin III. (I think it was the fourth or fifth one I bought.) I wore that cassette out, and still listen to the song once a week. Playing it now as I write this, I only hope that this decade of senseless, hate-fuelled war will come to an end, and the world can somehow attempt to get back to what used to be normal.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.