Blueprint 1996 / Primary Purpose 2017
Sanguine and intimate self-portrait of pilgrim trying to forsake pride for the sake of personal progress.
Appearing quietly in the wake of the boisterous “Chasing The Dragon” – a document of John Wetton‘s first tour as a solo artist, accompanied by a band – “Akustika” seemed stark yet extremely frank presentation of his usually full-blooded musical persona. Sticking to either guitar or piano, and sometimes slightly bolstering sound with a backing tape, the alumnus of prog rock elite force and writer of most arresting tunes was not simplifying his classic songs, not stripping these pieces down to essentials, not even baring the original threads of these tracks, but showing they could work in any environment, electric or otherwise. No matter how complex a number’s album version could be, a brilliant melody would always remain pivotal in carrying it down the line.
This is why the monumental “Starless” which Wetton didn’t seem to dare and perform on his own in the beginning, in 1995, still stands tall, concise and twangy, among the many memorable moments of a rougher 2005 concert expanding the concept now; and this is why John felt free to make unexpected choices when selecting gems from his treasure trove to give those an airing. Of course, with regards to the locale, the hymnal “Voice Of America” – one of a few cuts present on both discs, yet somehow different – had to be played to honor the public and to reveal the veteran’s vulnerability, perhaps, more strikingly than “Arkangel” or “Battle Lines” that become ultimately personal in such an unplugged state, while the plea of “Hold Me Now” is able to smolder independently and to serve as a sequel to the hazy “Thirty Years” from the U.K. canon.
Surprises are aplenty here, the optimistic drive of “Days Like These” defining the boldness of acoustic approach. In this new shape, the shimmer behind “Rendezvous 6:02” doesn’t change, though, as a piano rippling through this ballad propels Wetton’s smoky vocals to the peak of urban desperation, whereas the tender “Christina” – dedicated to his god-daughter, Geoff Downes‘ oldest child and never taken to a studio – is full of kindness and love. Same can be said of “Meet Me At Midnight” from the pair’s ICON project, but its uplift is also immensely soulful, or of “Woman” – another comparative rarity, taken from John’s debut LP, the pre-ASIA one. In the absence of bombast, “Only Time Will Tell” may lose some of its allure, yet that group’s other hits, the toned-down “Heat Of The Moment” and ever-vigorous “Sole Survivor” among them, gain another layer of greatness.
There’s special magic in KING CRIMSON ballads, “Book Of Saturday” – prefaced with an exquisite six-string lace in the later show – and “The Night Watch” whose deceptively monochrome delivery proves as colorful, if translucent, as their art-rock prototypes, albeit the inspired, but a bit ragged, “Walking On Air” is no less majestic. That was what John Wetton was doing at shows like these, walking on air. More official bootlegs would follow “Akustika” – some in unplugged format, too, in the company of Dave Kilminster, Ian McDonald and other friends, and none as honest and intimate. Here’s a distillation of the late great artist’s glory.