From a British perspective, it is sometimes forgotten just how big Asia was as a band in the early 1980’s. To say that the group was considered out of step in the UK with a music press that was still in thrall to swastika wearing punks and an indifferent rock buying public would be something of an understatement. There were even divisions amongst the remaining members of the progressive rock community where Asia was often viewed as having turned its backs on progressiveness and whole heartedly embraced AOR and a very corporate pop-rock. Others had no problem with that at all. In many territories, though, Asia was a huge concern. It was a true rock supergroup that brought together the talents of John Wetton, Carl Palmer, Geoff Downes and Steve Howe, who had, of course, already amassed tens of millions of record sales and extensively toured with their collective bands of the 1970s, doing so with some artistry. But the band members felt a need to leave behind their progressive roots, and embark on embracing the commercial FM rock sound that then dominated US airwaves and took that, alongside the burgeoning MTV video channel, by storm. The single Heat Of The Moment was a world-wide hit for the band and the self-titled 1982 debut album spent an incredible nine weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard chart in the USA as Asia became the biggest selling album of the year and the world tour dates sold out. The band produced a second album, Alpha, released in 1983.
Then John Wetton suddenly left the band. There remains no fully agreed definitive reason for this, but with prestigious dates in Japan on the horizon, that was to include one concert which to was make history as the first live broadcast between Japan and MTV in America, quite an achievement in its time, there was a need to react quickly. At very short notice, Carl Palmer’s former colleague in ELP, Greg Lake agreed to help out as a special guest. Despite only having a short period of time to learn the songs, which included the band needing to make rearrangements for Greg’s different vocal range compared to John Wetton’s, the tour, and particularly the broadcast, was viewed as a success. “The show was an important global commitment,” says Steve Howe, “so we had to rise to the occasion, which we did, with Greg’s help. We couldn’t have done it without him, for sure.”
This sumptuous release contains just about all you could have dreamed about from a single show, if indeed you dream of such things. The newly packaged box set includes (take a deep breath!): exclusive new artwork by Roger Dean; colour vinyl 2LP of original MTV Telecast concert audio, remixed 2022 from the master tapes, with two previously unreleased, post broadcast encore tracks; two audio CDs, Live at The Budokan Arena, Tokyo, Japan, MTV satellite telecast concert (6 December 1983, USA time), remixed 2022 from the master tapes by Matt Wiggins and Rick Nelson; Live at The Budokan Arena, Tokyo, Japan, previous night’s show (6 December 1983, Japanese Time), remixed 2022 from the master tapes; Audio-visual Blu-ray of restored original broadcast concert with 2022 remixed audio (Duration: 1hr 20 mins), plus restored original concert laserdisc featuring alternate camera angles (Duration: 1hr); forty page, deluxe 12” book with rare and unseen band photos, memorabilia and extensive new sleeve notes, new quotes from the original band members; new bespoke metal and enamel ‘ASIA’ logo pin badge; printed memorabilia, including: two exclusive new Roger Dean artwork A3 posters, two reproduced live broadcast original concert tickets, replicated, matt laminated original AAA backstage pass, original concert VHS advert, and three glossy 8” x 5” rare band photos (right, it’s OK to breathe again now). The concert had previously been released on VHS in 1984, and was available as a laserdisc for a while.
For Geoff Downes, this is a significant release, showing the band’s resilience. “It deserves its place in the Asia catalogue” he says. “Aside from its musical strengths, it demonstrates the level of professionalism that we have always striven to bring to the Asia name.”
This is a very definite upgrade on the original video release, with both the sound and vision benefitting from the remixing and restoration. The visuals are much clearer and the sound much more sympathetic. Most, if not all of the glaring on the original video now appears to have been fixed. The release is also expanded compared to the VHS, which had ten tracks. The new version has sixteen. Besides the boxset version, it is also available as a 2LP Gatefold, 1CD and in digital formats.
All four musicians give excellent performances, the remix giving the whole concert a better feel. The arrangements seem to suit the band well and having songs segueing into each other makes some of the tunes seem more substantial thus helping the flow. This seems to particularly work well as Steve’s solo, Sketches In The Sun, comes out of an excellent Eye To Eye and Geoff’s solo, Ihiri – The Setting Sun / Bolero, grows out of Open Your Eyes. There are moments too when there appears to be more interplay between the instruments, particularly from Steve and Geoff. Open Your Eyes seems longer than the studio version and features more guitar work from Steve than your reviewer recalls.
Parts of the performance now seem a little dated though. The introduction from MTVs Mark Goodman is a tad on the cheesy side now, but would have been viewed as fine at the time. The occasional hands in the air gestures aimed at the crowd, principally from Geoff and Carl, come across as a little corny and probably were even in 1983 (sorry gents!). There are a few inadvertently funny moments too. For some reason Geoff has his not insubstantial keyboard set up in a straight line rather than a more manageable surrounding configuration. This sees him belting up and down the row between keyboards. He must have got his step-miles in that day! As he’s placed at the rear of the stage with Carl in front of him sometimes when the camera is focussed on the drummer, you’ll see the flying Geoff dash past in the background. Once you’ve noticed it you cannot unsee it! The post gig quick interviews don’t quite work as the players just want to get off and cool down. There are some cracking versions of many of the band’s better known songs included though – Heat Of The Moment, Sole Survivor, Wildest Dreams, Only Time Will Tell, Open Your Eyes and others all brilliantly played. It seems a little unfair to single one of the musicians out for praise, but you have to take you hat off to Greg. Once you know the background of the build up to the gig and understand what he had to do to prepare, you have to acknowledge it as an outstanding feat. Rehearsals only started at the end of October 1983, so he had barely over a month to get a grasp of it all. As a musician he had to learn all the bass roles, besides the melodies and lyrics to sing. There appear to be moments when he is obviously looking down at a prompt board of some kind, but even so he puts in a top-notch performance. His fellow musicians recognise this. Carl says proudly, “Greg Lake did a great job jumping into John’s shoes. So many songs to sing, he did it so well. It was impressive.”
The band had the good sense to protect themselves from unforeseen technical difficulties for the broadcast on the big night by recording the previous night’s gig as a back-up. Oddly, these both appear to have the same date, although one is Japanese time, the other USA time. The audio of this other concert is included as the second disc in the boxset, although it comprises of the same set list and is pretty much identical to the other disc. You would need to listen to them side by side to notice any potential differences.
In many ways the boxset is the completists commemoration of the concert. The Blu-Ray includes both the cleaned-up version of the concert and the original laserdisc rendering of it, so you can compare the two for changes in the mix if you like. The audio has been pressed to vinyl discs too for the audiophiles out there who are really old school, while the CDs are encased in simple cardboard envelopes, similar to those you receive free discs in from magazines. The whole boxset design has been well-thought out. The badge and paper materials are separate cardboard boxes adorned with the band’s eyes logo, while the forty-page booklet features liner notes, quotes from the surviving band members, along with lots of rare and unseen photographs. The reproduction tickets round it off nicely.
This release is unlikely to change the debate as to how prog rock or not Asia was, and indeed still is. It captures the band at an awkward moment, when John Wetton had seemingly quite suddenly left. The concert could have been a disaster for the band but it was rescued into a triumph. Subsequently, the band headed into a startling history of personnel changes, reboots and reunions but perhaps never recaptured the magic moments of the early 1980s for whatever the reasons. Listening to this box set (and it is probably a better listen than watch) you cannot help but speculate what might have happened if Greg had stayed on. We’ll never know, but this is a key moment in the band’s time that is captured superbly in the boxset.
You can watch the live performances of Sole Survivor and Here Comes The Feeling from the concert below:
Sole Survivor Live: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wp4oChqewwc
Here Comes The Feeling Live: https://youtu.be/0-ht1Vm7-EA
Asia In Asia – Live At The Budokan, Tokyo, 1983 (2 x LPs, CD1 & CD2)
1. Introduction From Mark Goodman (MTV)
2. Time Again
3. The Heat Goes On
4. Here Comes The Feeling
5. Eye To Eye
6. Steve Howe Solo (Sketches In The Sun)
7. Only Time Will Tell
8. Open Your Eyes
9. Geoffrey Downes Solo (Ihiri – The Setting Sun / Bolero)
10. The Smile Has Left Your Eyes
11. Wildest Dreams
12. Carl Palmer Solo
13. Heat Of The Moment
14. Sole Survivor
15. Cutting It Fine
Geoff Downes – keyboards
Steve Howe – guitars
Carl Palmer – drums
With special guest:
Greg Lake – bass and lead vocals
Release date: 10th June, 2022
Label: BMG Records
Formats: Deluxe boxset, 2LP Gatefold, 1CD and Digital Formats
If it is still relevant, you can pre-order here: https://asiaband.lnk.to/budokanPR
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