Asia, Not Minor

One of the things we’ll be doing regularly here in da Bitstream is discuss music and DVDs we’re otherwise unable to get to in the magazine proper or cover over in the website’s Entertainment review section. (Ken Richardson has more on that manifesto below.) I hope to chime in on stuff I’ll call, for now, “Those That Got Away” a few times a week. First up for me is Fantasia Live in Tokyo, a double live album from the reunited Asia, on Eagle Records. I never saw the original Asia live even though I was a HUGE fan of their 1982 S/T album. Had an album flat of that classic Roger Dean cover up on the wall in my room back then, and I recall doing a watercolor of it In one of my art classes. So I was thrilled to be able to see the original four — John Wetton, Geoff Downes, Steve Howe, and Carl Palmer — at the Nokia Theatre here in NYC last September 9. And unlike many reunion shows, the ticket prices were quite reasonable: $40 a pop.

They did every song I wanted to hear from the two main albums (Asia and 1983’s Alpha) and a few key tracks from some of their other bands — Asiacover_3 I went back into the S&V archives to see if our predecessor magazine, Stereo Review, covered the S/T album, and, whaddya know, they did so in the August 1982 issue. Performance was rated Awesome and Recording as Excellent. Furthermore, reviewer Mark Peel noted, “Here are guitar riffs that grip you by the primitive brain stem and jerk your head and feet around, blistering solos sure to give rise to an epidemic of contorted facial expressions and involuntary spasms, and the kind of pure, almost angelic electronically assisted vocal harmonies that can turn a listening experience into a religious experience.“ I’m so glad SR didn’t take the clichéd rock critic approach to this one — assuming, of course, that Peel’s review isn’t tongue-in-cheek… (BTW, anybody remember J.D. Considine’s infamous three-letter, vowel-free review of mid-‘80s Yes/Genesis/Asia offshoot GTR in Musician magazine?) Asia often got knocked for being an insipid CRB (Corporate Rock Band), but I humbly submit that they’re better suited to writing and performing pop songs because of their pedigree. Bands like the Doors and Cream benefited from members who were trained jazz players, and the related prog/classical thread certainly holds true here. Concerning his own past, drummer Palmer made an interesting, telling comment in an Asiagroupphoto_3 And that’s essentially what you get on Fantasia — 4- and 5-ish-minute blasts of classic prog pop that you’ll sing right along to (as the Mrs. and I did in the car this past Sunday night). The musicianship is topnotch and Wetton’s voice has held up relatively well. The “Roundabout” cover still seems half-hearted, but prime Asia cuts like “Wildest Dreams,” “Cutting It Fine,” and “Sole Survivor” display plenty of kick. A DVD of the show, recorded in Tokyo on March 8, 2007, is likely to hit circa September. And, good news, Howe confirmed to that they’re in the process of recording a new album. If you dig prog and have a soft spot for Asia, the Fantasia two-disc set is for you. —Mike Mettler