iCon

I had a ticket to go and see Judas Priest at Wembley Arena on Saturday 21 February, but once I heard that John Wetton and Geoffrey Downes iCon project were going to be playing an intimate concert at St. Mary-le-Bow’s church in the City of London, I knew I had to be there.  And even more for two reasons – another opportunity to enjoy the vocal talents of Panic Room’s Anne-Marie Helder, and a first opportunity to witness the virtuoso guitar skills of Dave Kilminster live.
As both Wetton and Downes began their musical careers in the English church, they felt it seemed fitting to bring us this unique event within the confines of such an extraordinary and beautiful building.  St. Mary-le-Bow was founded in 1080, completely destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, destroyed again in 1941, and rebuilt in 1964.  It is the sound of its Bow bell which distinguishes an area in which Cockneys are said to be born.  I am not quite as old as the current church, but old enough to have followed the careers of both Wetton and Downes before Asia was formed and subsequently, and have always enjoyed their work.  So I was very much looking forward to this concert, and especially because of the band they had around them, which was completed by Hugh McDowell on cello and Peter Riley on drums, and because I had seen the setlists from their recent concerts in Japan, which showed a mixture of tracks from their past, as well as from the forthcoming iCon album.
They launched in with Asia’s Countdown To Zero, from the Astra album, although John’s microphone did not appear to be working to start with, so we had his vocals just in their natural state with no amplification, but still powerful, and it’s a wonderfully upbeat, rocking, melodic number to open with, a lovely guitar solo from Dave Kilminster and a lighter keyboard part from Geoff taking us into Go, such a rich sound being well presented in the wonderful acoustics of this venue, another stunning guitar solo, some more great vocals from John, and this concert is really up and running.  Next up is I’ve Come To Take You Home from John’s Rock Of Faith album, a lovely piano intro from Geoff, and then John’s vocals and Hugh McDowell’s cello resound through the venue and the track builds into a wailing guitar solo, before ending with a short flute part from Anne-Marie Helder.  There is genuine sustained applause at the end of the track.  And now something from the new iCon 3 album, Twice The Man I Was, which begins with keyboards and cello before the drums and guitar cut in, giving us an upbeat rocking melodic track with a hard edge – it’s classic Wetton/Downes material – a screeching guitar solo rocks out and the song really builds through the keyboards to the end.  Then the classic Buggles track, Elstree, bounces along, very enjoyable, and great to be able to take in such wonderful keyboard sounds.  Then an interesting choice – Angel, from Dave Kilminster’s solo album, Scarlet, with Dave on 12-string acoustic guitar and vocals, Anne-Marie Helder on backing vocals, and following a cello intro the guitar sound gently rocks through this lavish track, with some gentle keyboards flowing under some stunning guitar sounds.  Dave is back on electric guitar for Asia’s Voice Of America, another rich sound to this track, a soft piano intro, John’s voice calling out, Hugh’s cello giving such substance, and Peter Riley’s drums really kick in at the chorus.  The Die Is Cast is from iCon’s second album, Rubicon, and after a melodic keyboard intro the track explodes – it’s grandiose, bombastic, anthemic, and it rocks along before we reach a short but very sweet wailing guitar solo, and a great cello ending, which again is an element which works so well in this setting.  And then another track from Rubicon, To Catch A Thief, providing us with a duet between John and Anne-Marie, her glorious voice rising high above John’s in an upbeat, rounded number, and there is power and emotion from both vocalists.  Then we have a “pop tune for you now”, which is about 35 years old – King Crimson’s Starless.  We have guitar bursts cutting in over keyboards, a mellow, laid back feel, while John’s vocals are soaring, sounding really good, then a subtle, soaring guitar solo, which moves into a more sinister guitar sound, some nice bass sounds, the guitar bouncing off them, something of a jazz feel in there, and the audience is transfixed, not sure where the track is leading, or which instrument will lead us there, the guitar sounds lost, desperate, the bass is trapping it, such a sharp guitar sound and such skill from dave to be able to hold it, then a chaotic explosion from the keyboards, the sound filling the church like a whirlwind, the guitar finally bringing us down to earth before soaring again, and this is truly epic.  They take a short break after this !
They return with a couple of tracks from the first iCon album.  First up is Paradox/Let Me Go, a warm, melancholic feel to it, the keyboards and cello take us into the track and the drums roll us out as the guitar cuts in, and we have an epic sound in a gentle track which eases us back into the concert, with a stunning piano sound taking us into Meet Me At Midnight, John’s voice, with Dave providing backing vocals, combining with Geoff’s keyboards and Hugh’s cello – wonderful.  And then another new one, which features Anne-Marie Helder – Raven, with a sound which is similar for me to Meet Me At Midnight, again with some sublime cello, but really testing Anne-Marie’s lower range, and she is up to such a challenge – she told me afterwards that at rehearsals it had been suggested that the song be taken down a semi-octave, and whether that happened or not, her performance was flawless, the sound was lovely, and it simply serves to demonstrate what considerable range she has.  Asia’s True Colours takes us uptempo again and is full of pomp and passion, lovely little guitar flourishes, and the drums leading us into little explosions of sound.  John and Dave are both on acoustic guitar for a sublime version of Asia’s Heat Of The Moment, John’s vocals quite mellow but still powerful, and the track has a real feeling of longing, of nostalgia.  John is back on bass, Dave is back on electric guitar, and Peter Riley is back on drums for Rubicon, and Geoff’s keyboards are grand, warm, epic, before an interesting beat to the drums gives an edginess to the track.  It is contemplative before gathering hope, belief, and the guitar solo is triumphant.  Don’t Go Out Tonight is another one from the new album, a biting guitar intro, its upbeat, racing, rocking heavy, has a great melody, very catchy, bouncy, and the audience are into it immediately, clapping during the middle part before piano takes us to a guitar riff ending – the new album is sounding very promising !  And we’re back with Asia for My Own Time (I’ll Do What I Want), racing along, such a lovely piano sound from Geoff, brilliant vocals from John in a great anthem, with a sparkling guitar solo from Dave.  Then another Asia track with Days Like These, which John says is “probably our most successful single in the US, but we didn’t write it”.  It’s upbeat, bouncy, got that rock feel which does go down so well in the US, harmony vocals in the chorus, a guitar riff in the background before it breaks into a screeching solo, and this brings the main set to an end.
Of course, there has to be more – the audience demand it, and the band definitely look like they want it.  We start with In The End from the first iCon album, no guitar or bass, but Anne-Marie is on flute for this one.  It has such a wonderful melody, great vocals from John, and more of Anne-Marie’s higher range at the chorus, some glorious floating notes.  It is a truly beautiful song and finishes with a cello finale from Hugh.  But it is not over yet – with John’s “thanks to God for inviting us into his house” we are into Asia’s Rock And Roll Dream, with a sampled opening which the track slowly builds around, guitar flourishes before we hit the solo, the track settling again before it grows some more, John’s voice roars and with this fuller sound the song rocks along, the audience clapping along as it really flows, and there is huge applause at the end.  This has been such a wonderful event, and it will be a pleasure to see the dvd when it comes out later this year.
And I also had the good fortune to meet John Mitchell after the gig, even if he would not reveal the identity of the very, very special guest on the forthcoming Touchstone album.

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