ASIA (Live)

At The Carling Academy, Newcastle, U.K., November 29, 2006

Asia 2006

It’s been quite a year for lovers of Melodic Rock, with Journey and Foreigner visiting these shores hot on the heels of successful shows by Styx and Kansas last year. It’s been a long time coming, but judging from the reaction that these bands received, it won’t be long before a return visit is made. In fact, both Journey and Styx have tours booked for 2007 in the UK.

Added to the illustrious list of Melodic Rock giants hitting the touring trail is Asia. The original Asia to be more accurate, the one responsible for the multi-million selling self-titled album which topped the USA charts for 6 weeks in 1982, becoming one of the biggest selling debut albums at the time. News that John Wetton (vocals, bass), Steve Howe (guitar), Carl Palmer (drums) and Geoff Downes (keyboards) had buried the hatchet and were to play their first shows since 1982 to commemorate their 25th anniversary of getting together, caused quite a stir.

After a series of successful shows in The States, it was the turn of the United Kingdom to welcome back Asia. The Carling Academy in Newcastle was respectably full by the time the classical medley blasted out from the P.A., heralding the entrance of Asia. As the strains of “Land of Hope and Glory” dissipated through the hall, Asia launched into “Time Again,” backed by three large animated video screens displaying the timeless Roger Dean Asia logo. By the time Palmer hammered the gong to end their opening track, it was clear that this was going to be some night.

Drawing on the whole of their classic debut album together, with the choice cuts from the follow-up Alpha, Asia served up a 2 hour lesson in consummate musicianship. It’s difficult to single out any particular member for greater praise than the others, as each excels in their own department. John Wettons’ voice was strong, clear, and emotive; Steve Howe, a master craftsman on guitar, eschewing many of the Rock clichés of power chords and wailing solos, preferring instead intricate runs and complex fills; Geoff Downes, with outstretched arms like tentacles all over his banks of keyboards, which wouldn’t look out of place on the S.S Enterprise, providing the color, atmosphere, and pomp so vital to Asia’s sound, and finally, the ever-youthful Carl Palmer, who tonight was simply stunning. Whether on the frantic drum break in the mid-section of “Wildest Dreams,” or the solo spot in which he juggled and twirled his sticks with amazing dexterity while racing around his kit at breakneck speed, he left the crowd speechless. A drum solo is usually the queue to head for the toilets, but everyone was rooted to the spot to marvel at the skill, stamina, and tricks on show. This was possibly the most incredible display of drumming prowess witnessed since Neil Peart of Rush visited these shores.

Throughout the night, which was split into two sets, Asia threw up one or two surprises to the hungry crowd. Each band member had an illustrious past prior to forming Asia, and tonight at various points during the set, they dipped back into their history. First up was Steve Howe armed with two guitars, for a rendition of “Roundabout” by Yes; Carl Palmer chipped in with a rousing version of ELP’s interpretation of “Fanfare for the Common Man.” Possibly the biggest surprise of the night was John Wetton singing King Crimson’s “In The Court of the Crimson King,” a song which he didn’t originally record but played many times in his King Crimson tenure and beyond, but who cared when such a powerful and dramatic version replete with blazing mellotron-like keyboards took the night into Prog Rock overdrive.

Geoff Downes donned a spangly jacket and wrap around shades for a full-blown band version of “Video Killed The Radio Star” by The Buggles, complete with the backing of the original video on the screens behind the band. Standing next to the Prog giants that went before, you’d expect this to fall a little flat, but the converse was true. The song raised the atmosphere a notch as the band fed off the energy of the audience.

It was great for the fans to see the band in their full glory with the line-up which created the music in the first place, and a joy to see the songs performed the definitive way, with all the passion and precision that only the original members can bring to the songs.

At the start of the second set, Asia slowed the pace down with acoustic renditions of “The Smile Has Left Your Eyes” and “Don’t Cry,” both showing Wetton’s ability to carry a tune with even the sparsest of accompaniment.

One or two reports had filtered back from earlier concerts that the sound was less than perfect, which for a band like Asia can be fatal, however, tonight the sound was crystal clear, well-balanced and powerful. The soundman had got things perfect.

Closing the set were the rousing “The Heat Goes On,” “Only Time Will Tell,” and finally “Soul Survivor” bringing the set to a close before the band returned to a heroes reception to give a haunting rendition of the rare B-Side “Ride Easy” before ending with (what else?) “Heat of the Moment,” where even Downes joined the band at the front of the stage with his Keytar (a keyboard/guitar contraption) so beloved by New Wave artists in the 80s!!

There have been a couple of top class gigs this year, Journey and Foreigner among them, that have really stood out in a busy year. Asia have been added to that list with a performance of true class, amazing musicianship, and great songs performed with vigor and obvious enthusiasm. It may have been 1982 since the band last played in the UK, but judging from tonight’s performance, they will be coming back sooner rather than later.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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