You know you’re getting old when you realise that there may be some people reading this review who weren’t around when Asia first burst onto the scene. They weren’t listening to music when the astonishingly fresh and vibrant sounds of the barnstorming debut album by this supergroup first came out. And for those of us who were there, time has dimmed some of the awe and wonder when first listening to hit after hit, and begrudgingly sharing these erstwhile prog heroes with a wider, and to us less discerning, general public. No loss of quality, no loss of progness, but this band had concocted something new, something hard-hitting, unique and condensed it into catchy slices of prog-ish goodness.
So I suppose the combined talents of the sadly missed bassist/vocalist John Wetton, drummer extraordinaire Carl Palmer, keyboardist Geoff Downes and guitarist Steve Howe fresh from Yes exploits would inevitably lead to Asia immediately being the epitome of a supergroup of rock aristocracy and the natural heir to its individually members’ legendary bands of the 70s – King Crimson, Emerson Lake & Palmer, and Yes. Erm, and The Buggles.
Their music embraced the commercial FM rock sound that dominated US airwaves but added a prog and UK sensibility that created something rather unique, that you could sense owed something to the band’s former lives, and in short it took the new CD and MTV world by storm. The single ‘Heat Of The Moment’ went viral, so to speak, and their eponymous 1982 debut album spent an incredible 9 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard chart. A second album, ‘Alpha’, was released in 1983. And there is lots more history between now and then, some of it rather Yes-like in its convoluted family rock history, but let’s focus more on the time they reconvened in in 2006 for a world tour to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their incredible initial success, and at the same time released the apt-titled album ‘Phoenix‘.
Celebrating the 25th anniversary of ASIA’s formation, this exciting 18-track live show from their 2007 world tour features the reformed original line-up. The set list focusses unsurprisingly on their 1982 debut album ‘Asia’ along with select tracks from their second LP ‘Alpha’ and one song each from the band members’ previous bands: Video Killed The Radio Star, Roundabout, Fanfare For The Common Man and The Court Of The Crimson King. Album artwork is by legendary designer Roger Dean, who produced all the original Asia album covers. And in summary, this is an epic and suitably pompous and grandiose package.
Opener ‘Time Again’ is an impressive crunchy opening (Machine Messiah anyone?) before getting into the groove thanks to classic Palmer drumming. What it may lack in studio pezzaz it makes up for in raw energy. ‘Wildest Dreams’ is perfectly and exhaustingly replicated and how majestic is John Wetton’s voice. Oh how that chap is missed. ‘One Step Closer’ is a reminder that even the so-called lesser tracks of the debut were pretty good back in the day. Good dual vocals, good melody, nicely intricate musical sections, and then one of the typical Asia choruses, with Downes’s keyboard sounds more noticeable on this track. A great closer for the first side of the first LP.
‘Roundabout’. What can you say about this timeless and iconic piece of music? Wetton does nicely in replacing Squire and Anderson at the same time. Palmer chugs it along well and enjoys his percussiveness in the ‘eagle dancing’ section . And Downes replicates his mimicry of Wakeman just as he does for Yes. ‘Without You’ is an understated power ballad that again went under the radar at the time, but has lots of nice intricacies, moody sections and powerful crescendos that warrant further listens. First LP complete and plenty to go!
‘Cutting it Fine’ is a lengthier track of drama, Downes’s work retro in tone with a lovely mid-section change to piano and emotive keys to end. ‘Intersection Blues’ is a Steve Howe solo a la Clap sharing his jazzy chops. ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’ then sees Downes faithfully become a second keyboard maestro, Emerson, as Carl Palmer propels the band through the epic song along with Wetton’s thunderous bass. Howe adds some flourishes to the original trio’s party piece, as he and Downes interact in the improvised solo section over an increasingly excited Palmer, before the full band combine in a resounding close. A great ending the the side of the 2nd LP.
‘The Smile has left Your Eyes’ reminds us how good a vocal performer John Wetton was during this gorgeous acoustic number. Ever the professor, Howe shows off his guitar collection with lap guitar and mandolin. ‘Don’t Cry’ continues the acoustic section of the set, a pleasant interlude from the usual bombast (if you check the video you’ll see Carl Palmer prowling the stage encouraging crowd participation). But then, what a delightful LP side-closer with the iconic Mellotron sounds of an abbbreviated, yet still awesome ‘The Court of the Crimson King’. And kudos to Howe for replicating 12 string, Palmer likewise following the mood and power of the original, and Downes’s subtle keys ensuring the majesty of Wetton’s vocals are to the fore. Second LP complete.
‘Here Comes the Feeling’ launches the first side of the third LP in great bombastic style, and I’m impressed by How Palmer and Howe combine with some of the guitar lines, the lovely depth of some of the iconic keyboard sounds in the number, and the clever intricacy of the middle section. Great key change to dramatic close. It was always one of my favourites, and remains so. Carl Palmer introduces Downes’s “spot” ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ and frankly, this novelty gains credibility through their joyful rendition, including clever changes in who plays what and how. ‘The Heat Goes On’ is an impressive chugging number that sees a nice organ-style solo from Downes before Carl Palmer launches into a powerhouse and technically entertaining solo albeit better viewed than listened to. The anthemic ‘Only Time Will Tell’ closes the LP’s first side. Another personal favourite, and tightly performed by the superstar ensemble.
‘Sole Survivor’ opens the last side of the triple LP pack but is their closing set number. Full on, technically proficient, wonderfully layered and difficult to pick highlights, but let me give a shout out to Wetton’s strong, excellent vocal performance once more on this memorable track. Encore song ‘Ride Easy’ is another delightful acoustic number and the inevitable crowd-pleaser and concert-closer ‘Heat of the Moment’ is a wonderful end to a great experience.
By simultaneously celebrating their debut album along with iconic numbers from their foundational bands, these four band members crafted a standing testament to their collective impact on the world of music. ‘Fantasia’ is a clear reminder of their majestic legacy and artistic pedigree. And it is also a worthy reminder of the sad loss to the music world of John Wetton.
For Asia fans, this exciting live show is truly an indispensable set.
- Time Again
- Wildest Dreams
- One Step Closer
- Without You
- Cutting It Fine
- Intersection Blues
- Fanfare For The Common Man
- The Smile Has Left Your Eyes
- Don’t Cry
- In The Court Of The Crimson King
- Here Comes The Feeling
- Video Killed The Radio Star
- The Heat Goes On
- Only Time Will Tell
- Sole Survivor
- Ride Easy
- Heat Of The Moment
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