Magical Thinker / Cherry Red 2019
Preserved for posterity in audio and on video, a humble concert debut of a pop-prog ensemble who defy vanity.
Even though the stage didn’t seem off-limits to DOWNES BRAIDE ASSOCIATION, Geoff Downes and Chris Braide never really gave such a possibility a proper thought until their itinerant stars aligned to descend in East Sussex, in September of 2018, where the group’s expanded line-up graced the “Trading Boundaries” club with a long, if arresting, performance that’s encapsulated now in this 2CD/DVD package. Strange, but while there are many songs from "Skyscraper Souls" and its predecessor "Suburban Ghosts" – the duo’s third and second albums – there’s not a single entry from 2012’s "Pictures Of You" which was the band’s first, and still, the somewhat conceptual setlist informs their repertoire with tasty continuity.
What’s different about this show is Braide’s resorting to a standalone vocalist role, and Downes having to rather heavily rely on backing tracks, including voices and piano – something the listener can pick up only on a video, not audio, part of “Live In England” – and the presence of extra players, but not drummer who would disrupt the enchanting atmosphere as introduced by Roger Dean. Enchanting – yet not perfect, because slight roughness suits almost each of the cuts supremely: whereas studio recordings were polished to achieve a nigh-on-blinding brilliance, their concert variants get high on emotionality, with epic expanse of multifaceted opener “Skyscraper Souls” – delivered in all its 20-minute, electronica-stricken glory – not getting in the way of expressiveness and shorter pieces like “Glacier Girl” condensing art-rock complexity into pop form.
As Dave Colquhoun’s guitar and Andy Hodge’s bass spice up the motorik groove of “Machinery Of Fate” and “Lighthouse” and BIG BIG TRAIN’s David Longdon joins in on “Tomorrow” for a mesmeric duet and on “Skin Deep” for a flute accompaniment, familiar melodies acquire additional colors, and even the foggy melancholy of “Dreaming Of England” has an air of purple-haze fantasy here. No wonder that, in front of the audience, “Vanity” – another anguish-filled ballad – should hit much harder than before, Chris steeling and releasing his supple pipes against Geoff’s subtle backdrop which will shimmer on “Heat Of The Moment” and “Video Killed The Radio Star”: two prime examples of the veteran’s method new numbers keep adding to.
If they so desired and if promoted properly, a DBA concert could take on a PET SHOP BOYS show proportions, but Downes and Braide’s main creative courses keep them too busy to pursue this route. Their band’s second advent is scheduled for a couple of dates in February 2020 at the same venue, so it’s still a humble proposition, but maybe it’s also a way to contain and concentrate the duo’s magic. It’s great to experience this ensemble’s charm out in the open.