Review by Paul Monkhouse for MPM
It was the reunion that everyone had been waiting for as the four original members of supergroup Asia once more joined forces for a career spanning tour, tickets snapped up in a frenzied rush.
For those not lucky enough to witness the spectacle live, this new triple vinyl release puts the listener front and centre of their shows in spiritual homeland Japan and demonstrates a band in full flight.
Whilst they’d been separated for years, this line-up having parted ways over two decades previously, the quartet show no sign of rust, the playing on this release as heady as ever, the veteran musicians seemingly having the time of their lives.
With a cherry-picked set consisting of highlights from their debut onwards, they also mix in some of the best know material from their own careers, providing a wildly entertaining evening for the assembled throng.
Asia had always seemed like a band that had very purposely trimmed down some of the excesses that some critics pointed to when talking about Progressive Rock as a genre, focusing instead on more radio friendly song lengths and joyful hooks that would stay in heads for days. Certainly, their debut was
made for FM sound tracked coast to coast road trips, such was its joy and sheer accessibility, but there was much more depth to the material than pure pop fizz, the level of musicianship here never less than compelling.
What Asia focussed on was purely damn good material, the sum of all four parts bringing something fresh to fans old and new.
‘Time Again’ is a grand and sweeping start to the night, its urgent chorus adding real drama to proceedings, the involving ‘Wildest Dreams’ adding a delicate touch to a heavy subject. You can hear the quartet flexing their muscles in glorious stereophonic sound, the mix having just the right amount of crystal clarity whilst not sacrificing the live feel, John Wetton’s vocals full of command and nuance.
Cutting loose on the gloriously Proggy ‘One Step Closer’ Geoff Downes keys and Steve Howe’s guitar present a wonderfully swirling blend that brings a nostalgic glow, suffused with sunshine and as they break into the opening chords of the Yes masterpiece ‘Roundabout’ all the audience are lost to its transcending embrace.
Whilst the performances are uniformly dazzling in their craft, Asia know how to kick back and have fun as the acoustic ‘Intersection Blues’ strips things back before the pomp and circumstance of ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’ brings Carl Palmer’s thunderous drumming to the fore in a welter of dynamism.
From the driving rock of ‘Cutting it Fine’ and ‘The Heat Goes On’ to the pastoral longing of ‘The Smile Has Left Your Eyes’ and ‘Don’t Cry’ the quartet show their mastery of the different hues of the set, seamlessly switching between adrenaline-soaked excitement to gentle, heart breaking whispers.
A magnificent ‘In The Court of the Crimson King’ and the ultimate sugar rush of ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ add to the tapestry, their well-loved rhythms adding to the whole but never overwhelming the bands core material.
The fact that ‘Only Time Can Tell’ and ‘Soul Survivor’ slot in perfectly next to these heavy hitters speaks volumes in itself and by the time of the triumphant run through of closer ‘Heat of the Moment’ this epic journey stands as a wonderous tribute both to Asia the band but also to the late,great Wetton.
Given its triple vinyl spread, Roger Dean cover and fascinating booklet, this is truly a treat for all lovers of genre-spanning and accessible Prog and should be something enjoyed in one sitting, losing yourself in their world. A tour to remember, perfectly captured in this essential release.
Available now, for the first time on vinyl! Order your copy now: https://asiaband.lnk.to/fantasia3LPFA