We head back to the year 2007 and Asia are partying like it’s 1982.
Release Date: 24th February 2023
Label: BMG Records
Hatchets buried (not in each other thankfully) Steve Howe, John Wetton, Carl Palmer and Geoff Downes managed what some might consider the impossible – Eagles called it Hell Freezes Over – when they picked up where they left off twenty years earlier.
We’re talking Asia; we’re talking about one of the biggest-selling albums of the Eighties from a band who shelved their obvious Prog Rock leanings and created a hybrid AOR/radio-friendly monster with their self-titled Asia album. They burned with a fiercely intense brightness for a short while before splitting and eventually regrouping to celebrate twenty-five years since that landmark debut.
With Howe and Downes able to take a break from Yes touring machine and with water well and truly under the bridge, the four found the twenty-fifth anniversary of their debut album an opportunity too good to resist. With hands shaken on a new deal, Asia headed out on a highly successful US tour that snowballed into riding what Geoff Downes calls “a swell of nostalgia.” Dave Gallant’s essay in the booklet accompanying the set (naturally housed in a sleeve designed by Roger Dean) fills in the gaps in the story of Fantasia.
We get the show from Tokyo – “being in Japan for Asia is like going home,” says Carl Palmer in Dave Gallant’s accompanying essay. It also allows John Wetton some closure having missed the 1983 ‘Asia In Asia’ show and recording as the cracks were already beginning to show.
Pressed on vinyl as a triple live album for the first time, the set revolves around the debut Asia album with solo pieces picked to showcase the members’ heritage. Roundabout, Fanfare For The Common Man, Video Killed The Radio Star and In The Court Of The Crimson King all add vignettes of interest to see how the quartet deal with them, having been used to definitive versions from the original bands. The slower pace to Roundabout is countered by the injection of adrenalin to Fanfare with even Howe bagging a solo mid tune.
In a set list sequence that harks back to ’82, from the pacey Time Again – a brief Doom-laden intro into the Fanfare-ish rhythm indeed – to the inevitable encore that has Howe power chording in Eighties Yes-style on Heat Of The Moment (surely a close enough relative to Owner Of A Lonely Heart…) the fans are rewarded with acoustic settings for Don’t Cry, Ride Easy and The Smile Has Left Your Eyes. The latter is given a tender reading with piano and some subtle acoustic guitar for Wetton’s signature piece and likewise Don’t Cry. A place for fans to demand unplugged methinks? After all, the acoustic Heat Of The Moment is also a highlight of Steve Hackett’s Tokyo Tapes….
While the bombast of the originals is replaced by subtle and sensitive arrangements, bombast returns for the Crimson King. Wetton has sung this beautifully on Steve Hackett’s Tokyo Tapes recording and the quartet make a more sterling job on this than Video Killed, maybe spoiled by some stellar versions from the Trevor Horn Band, Wetton’s treated vocal and lack of impact with the chorus the work less well.
From the Asia album The Heat Goes On allows for Palmer to solo albeit briefly while any Howe solo spot is always a treat; on this occasion, Intersection Blues a sprightly piece that might owe an odd line of phrase to some of his more well-known pieces. The chunky rock on the thundering Sole Survivor heralds the finale with the acoustic Ride Easy providing the calm before the storm of the inevitable Heat Of The Moment. Again, the riff based number owes a little more to the commercial/single Owner… mentioned previously than Howe might own up to.
The story didn’t end here though. Getting together for this show served as the catalyst for Asia to record another album, not surprisingly named Phoenix, and further still, going on to produce Omega and XXX (‘triple X’ – not ’30’ apparently…) reminding us that thirty years of Asia was upon us in 2012.
So why not ride the wave of nostalgia, admire the shots of how and Downes back to back in a guitar/keytar duel and enjoy Asia once again riding the dragon’s wings. Follow the philosophy of Andy, the 40 year old virgin, (“who frames an Asia poster?!“) and get your Roger Dean art on the wall. Embrace the nostalgia!