It has happened to me before. Whilst reviewing an album the artist sadly passes away. This time it happened when I was reviewing the new John Wetton live release, titled The Official Bootleg - Archive Vol.1. The first words were hardly written when on Facebook the news broke that John had lost his battle against cancer and died at the age of 67, much too young of course! He had such an impressive musical career, and many of the songs he performed with his bands Asia, King Crimson, U.K. and as a solo artist can be found on this new release. So the rest of review certainly was written in a new perspective. Listing to this release did mean I was listening to the musical achievements of one of the most important artists in the history of progressive rock. Only this time around not in the original versions but done by Wetton and his backing band.
In the past several concerts of John Wetton and his band were released on DVD and CD. All worth watching and listening to. I guess his latest release can be labelled as worth listening to as well. But let's go deeper into what The Official Bootleg - Archive Vol.1 is all about. It is a box in which you can find six CDs on which three concerts can be heard. Concerts which were recorded in Buenos Aires, Osaka and Tokyo. Don't expect the best audio possible, after all these releases got the title official bootleg. But it will do and some of them sound rather good.
CD 1 and 2 have the title Live In Argentina 1996. It features recordings made during a concert held in the Broadway Theatre of Buenos Aires on 19 October 1996. The band at the time consists of John Wetton on lead vocals, bass and acoustic guitar, Billy Liesegang on guitar, Thomas Lang on drums and Martin Orford on keyboards. It starts with a large part of the classic U.K. composition In The Dead Of Night. I guess they forgot to press the recording button when the band performed this classic piece in a strong way. Two more U.K. pieces can be heard as well. Namely Thirty Years and Rendezvous 6.02. Both are performed in an acoustic setting. An unplugged part of the main set in which songs are done on the acoustic guitar and piano or string synthesizer. Thank God they used a drummer and some synthesizers to play the last title mentioned. This way it comes rather close to the original version. Something which cannot be said about Book Of Saturday and
The Smile Has Left Your Eyes which are mainly performed on the acoustic guitar. The remaining Asia and King Crimson tunes are done with the whole band and that's how I like to hear songs such as Easy Money, Heat Of The Moment, Starless and Don't Cry. The drum solo by Thomas Lang was not something which I was waiting for. On the other hand, the intro to Battle Lines is worth listening to, it has fine electric guitar and keyboard parts before John starts singing his lyrics.
CD 3 and 4 have the title Live In Osaka 1997 and has almost the same line up as one year earlier in Argentina. Only Orford was replaced by John Young on keyboards. This performance, which was recorded on October 2, 1997, at the Osaka Club Quattoro, is much more energetic than in the previous year. Moreover the bootleg sound from Japan sounds a lot more compact and transparent than the one from Argentina. The Japan concert recordings begins with a melodramatic strings intro, as if a large orchestra were slowly reaching a grand finale. It goes over into The Last Thing On My Mind followed by a strong version of Sole Survivor. After this track the more mellow part of the show can be heard. The highlight is probably Young's keyboard solo. With the start of Only Time Will Tell the full band gets back into high gear. Young also plays perfectly on Rendezvous 6.02 and you can hear a more energetic version which I like a lot. I didn't like the drum solo done by Lang. However after his solo the band goes into two classic prog tunes. Namely King Crimson's Easy Money and U.K.'s In The Dead Of The Night, both done brilliantly. The first piece has fine solo's on the electric guitar and bass. Again this classic U.K. piece has a lot of energy and sounds a bit faster than usual. Before the band kick's ass with splendid versions of Starless and Don't Cry,acoustic versions of After All and Heat Of The Moment can be enjoyed. It's up to the listener if you like them or not. However, Heat Of The Moment surprises when the electric version comes along as well.
CD 5 and 6 have the title Live At The Sun Plaza Tokyo 1999. Again, as in Osaka, a melodramatic intro (The Circle Of St.Giles) starts the live event, which, unlike the Osaka concert, does not reach the sound quality of the 97 recordings, still sounds quite good, but a little tinny. Especially the drums, which are this time around played by Steve Christey. On keyboard Martin Orford returns. The best guitar player during all three concerts is probably the one who joined the stage in Tokyo. He is David Kilminster. Just listen to the acoustic guitar intro for Easy Money and the electric guitar parts in Starless. Both are highlights of the third bootleg recordings. Mentioning more highlights of the Tokyo show is not very difficult. The first one is without doubt the version of Sole Survivor with fantastic harmony vocals at the start of the song. Also Orford's solo is pretty amazing. This was done in the middle of the acoustic part of the set, just before the band did good versions of Only Time Will Tell and In The Dead Of The Night. Also the other classic U.K. composition Rendezvous 6.02 belongs to the best parts of this concert held in Tokyo.
Too bad the versions of Heat Of The Moment and Don't Cry contain too much audience participating otherwise they would have been highlights too. But then again it only shows how popular the Asia tunes are in Japan!
It is clear that what is offered on this first part of The Official Bootleg is not of the audio level you get when hearing a normal live album. Without doubt what you hear is very good, but not a perfect live recording. In the studio they probably did not restore the mistakes which were made. You get to hear the band as they sounded on the respective evenings they played. Therefore the recordings sound very honest and have a lot of energy. But that also makes the charm of the recordings that you can hear an authentic musician and his band. In addition, the purely acoustic quality of the respective recordings is absolutely perfect.
I certainly believe that a fairly large archive of recordings is available of John's live shows recorded throughout his career. So I think there is more to look forward to in the not so distant future. As for fans of this icon in the progressive rock scene this release is without doubt a must have, for me this package of The Official Bootleg Vol. 1, which includes three concerts and six CDs with a playing time of almost 300 minutes, and liner notes written by John himself, was a great way a great way to commemorate this musician. You will be missed a lot dear John!
*** Henri Strik (edited by Tracy van Os van den Abeelen)
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