Some enchanted evening in a church of orient majesty and rock abandon binding new angles to Anglo pop music.
“It was much more a vehicle for songwriting, whereas ASIA is much more a band”: that’s how Geoff Downes once described his and John Wetton‘s collaboration in ICON. This short-lived collective anticipated the original supergroup’s reunion and then ran as an alternative to the other formation with a four-letter name from 2005 to 2009, leaving a legacy of three studio albums and a series of concert recordings. The latest of those, capturing the ensemble’s final show and released as 2CD/DVD set now, hails from London’s St. Mary-Le-Bow Church and is truly special – because of the place, because of the line-up, and simply because of the magic they conjured on the verge of the project’s exit.
Strange as it is, and at the same time logical, the artists seem casually oblivious to such luxurious surroundings and are more concerned with the sound, but “I’ve Come To Take You Home” feels so spiritual within the holy walls, and its lyrics almost take on a religious meaning, John singing to a piano and cello accompaniment – the strings provided by ELO’s Hugh McDowell who was present on this track from Wetton’s "Rock Of Faith" which he and Downes saw as the beginning of their new venture. With a clear intent to draw the line between ASIA and ICON, the veterans favor fresh material and keep classics to a minimum, albeit a deceptive one, highlighting instead the brilliant songs they had hardly played before, like “Countdown To Zero” that kickstarts “Urban Psalm” in an unhurriedly triumphant way or a slightly ehnanced “True Colours” that signals their allegiance to the successful formula.
With not a lot of eye contact between the leading duo, it’s still a celebration of John and Geoff’s friendship, the festive mood oozing out of most performances and of the footage which may be far from high-definition many fans would hope for, yet quite intimate angles allow to look rather closely at Downes’ keyboard machinery and Wetton’s bass technique. Everybody’s clearly having fun with the lighthearted reading of THE BUGGLES’ “Elstree” and the boisterous “Go” – the latter echoed in the then-unreleased pop-rock number “Twice The Man I Was” – where Dave Kilminster lets rip on six strings. If the musicians are relaxed enough to deliver a rather perfunctory, although roaring, run through “Days Like These,” there’s a contrast to it in John’s delicate duetting with Anne-Marie Helder on the transparent, chamber “Raven” and “To Catch A Thief” – a moth flittering in front of the singers a natural illustration of the piece’s emotional fragility – and reaching for eternity with the ever epic, and given a cosmic solo by Downes, “Starless” from the CRIMSON cache.
Live, when set against these emotionally charged ballads to balance the rhythm scales, “The Die Is Cast” is no less cinematic and full of passion, and “Let Me Go” – coupled with the tremulous “Meet Me At Midnight” – comes on as an aural embodiment of romantic (de)termination, unlike “Rubicon” whose appeal was somehow lost in transition to the stage. What’s always left intact, and lifted up to another level here, is the anthemic nostalgia of “Rock And Roll Dream”: and this concert may have been that dream – as opposed to reality of Geoff and John’s other group’s touring; now, this recording is a testament to the raw wonders the two were capable of summoning.