Voiceprint 2000, 2003 / Cherry Red 2016
In search of the lost ark, art-rock veteran spreads his wings and refocuses the crossfire.
Those who wonder where have John Wetton‘s experimental tendencies have gone past the ’70s, must investigate his extensive concert catalogue. The veteran’s on-stage recordings range from intimately acoustic – solitary and in a trio setting – to full-band electric, which allow him to set familiar songs in perpetual motion, with slight but significant changes to many a classic on offer. This six-disc set is a great example of that: although the repertoire is for the most part the same, even the sequence of pieces play a major role in creating different moods for the audience to bathe in.
Dividing a show taped in Argentina in 1996 from Japanese performances of 1997 and 1999 was John’s darkest album, “Arkangel” – not out yet at the time of the earliest document – and it was its introduction to repertoire that shifted “In The Dead Of Night” down in the running order and softened the opening blow with “The Last Thing On My Mind” to lend the evening a wistful hue, while retaining the concert’s initial bass rumble. Less levelled, feelings-wise, Wetton’s Osaka and Tokyo appearance didn’t feature the effervescent airing of “Caught In The Crossfire” from his solo debut, but stripped the onset of “Sole Survivor” in the most recent performance, and the end of another ASIA staple, “Heat Of The Moment,” from instrumental attack to distill the ensemble’s vocal harmonies, and reverse the game by slowly constructing the “Easy Money” riff from exquisite strains of improvised interplay. A group rendition may somehow ruin the sentiment behind “Voice Of America” which would later be left out, whereas the delicate strum and flute on “Book Of Saturday” reveals out the genuine heart of this KING CRIMSON ballad, and U.K. gem “Thirty Years” is turned into an ethereal gem here.
In their turn, “Starless” and “Rendezvous 6:02” provide the musicians with a vast emotional expanse to explore the light and the gloom that John mixes from year to year in various proportions. Yet each of his accompanists has a spot to shine during these shows to present either a number of their own like Martin Orford, or a series of arresting flurries of notes like Dave Kilminster whose licks paint “I Can’t Lie Anymore” in blues and add filigree to “Arkangel” which is wrapped in John Young‘s shimmering passages. What almost doesn’t morph through the shows is “Battle Lines” – and the reason is obvious: it’s a cornerstone of Wetton’s personal oeuvre, his strongest personal statement, a vortex of hope and regret, of desperation and determination; just like “Hold Me Now” is a brave display of his vulnerability that immensely enriches the artist’s delivery and voice in the same picturesque way that “The Night Watch” does, especially when its guitar canvas is adorned with a piano motif. The ’90s stretch of John Wetton’s tours used to finish with “Don’t Cry”: a vigorous hymn to optimism, a streak stressing the veteran’s latter-day outlook.
This set is a testament to his ability to turn red into rainbows – the invaluable expansion of a great catalogue.