Album Review: Conspiracy – Conspiracy Live

As the sole member of Yes to appear on every single album, Chris Squire has stayed quite busy these last several decades. Though he released but one solo album (1975’s Fish Out of Water), Squire has found time for quite a number of projects outside Yes. One of these is a band called Conspiracy, a collaboration between the bassist and sometime Yes member Billy Sherwood. That outfit released its debut in 2000, and now a 2004 live concert has been released on a CD+DVD set called, well, Conspiracy Live.

The five piece (Squire on bass and vocals, Sherwood on guitar and vocals, plus three players who are good but whose names you’ve likely not heard before) runs through numbers from their studio album, plus a pair of rarely-performed tracks (“Hold out Your Hand” and “You By My Side” from Fish Out of Water). When Squire takes the lead vocal, things sound decidedly more Yes-like; when Sherwood sings, the effect is closer to power-rock or arena rock of the 90s (see also: Extreme, Bon Jovi). Your enjoyment of Conspiracy Live overall may likely be dictated by your taste for (or ability to endure) the latter style.

Production quality is stellar, but quite odd as well: there is absolutely no sonic trace of an audience on this recording (said to date from Oxnard CA). In fact, there’s nothing about the CD to suggest that it’s a live album at all. The decision to render this album in such a way is odd, to say the least. Not only are there no “hello Oxnard” bits, but there’s no applause. It’s all a bit sterile.

Two of the three anonymous (not really!) players are keyboardists, so there are lots of dramatic synth squeals here (plus some slightly cliched string-patch keys on “The More We Live”), but overall Conspiracy Live is focused on the voices and stringwork of Squire and Sherwood. So you get some tasty lead-bass work peppered among the tracks. And there’s no denying that Sherwood’s propulsive, dynamic “Confess” is an appealing track.

The songs are in fact good, and “New World” in particular sounds very much like the kind of thing one might have heard on Big Generator; Sherwood’s role in Yes always seemed to this listener to be to continue where Trevor Rabin left off; whether that’s a good or bad thing is left to you to decide. One thing is certain: it’s a treat to hear Squire take the lead vocal; Yes fans have been hearing him sing for years, but very rarely out front. His timbre is less airy, more rockist than Jon Anderson, and his is a very expressive instrument; see “Red Light Ahead” for proof.

Conspiracy Live is appended with a live DVD; the cover assures us that the concert was “professionally filmed,” and the DVD also includes interviews with the entire band (snarky emphasis mine). Well, good.

This does bear mentioning: The cover art could be viewed by cynics as a sort of piss-take on Roger Dean‘s designs, or not: one thing is for sure: it’s horrible, somewhat pointless and quite silly. But don’t let that deter you from checking this one out if you’re a Yes (or Extreme, ha) fan.

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