September 8, 2006
New York, NY
Concert Review by Ralph Greco, Jr.
And now you find yourself in 1982…
It felt like it, believe you me. But it always feels like I am stepping back in time when I go to a concert of a band that is not only from the 70s, but that hasn’t toured since the 70s. Technically, our sweet beloved Asia, the supergroup that included (at least for two albums) Carl Palmer, Geoff Downes, John Wetton and Steve Howe, has not toured in nearly 25 years. This tour actual celebrates the release of the first Asia album 25 year ago, so it wasn’t as long for me seeing these guys as it had been seeing say, Nektar when they regrouped a few years ago. But this was just as sweet, to see those four guys, a little older, balder, fatter, slower, on that small theater stage in the Big Apple.
The songs played featured heavily from Asia’s first album (which sold six million copies, by the way!), a smattering of the second album, and some interesting — and I stress the word ‘interesting’ — selections from each band member’s illustrious historical progressive pasts. First of all, let me say at the outset, that the sound sucked, sucked, sucked (did I say it sucked?). There were notable low-end problems all night; the keyboards were buried and Steve’s Howe’s beautiful hollow-body guitar sounded like it was being played through a paper speaker half the night. But I got beyond that — we all got beyond that — to watch the older dudes play with their chops intact and smiles on their faces.
The song selection was what threw me. Not the Asia stuff — Wetton’s vocals sounded pretty much up to par (expect when they transposed “Heat of the Moment” down two steps to accommodate). And when they tackled “Roundabout,” he and Downes handled the vocals pretty much OK. But here is where they lost me. “Roundabout,” the first of the songs Palmer announced they were going to play to showcase each individual member’s past, just didn’t cut it. They played all the parts well, but it just wasn’t injected with the character that Yes brings to it. And to tell you the truth, I think they went more with popularity of "Roundabout" instead of with a song that would showcase Mr. Howe’s talents. While there are plenty of interesting guitar parts, there are certainly better Yes songs for him to play (he did have a stab at “The Clap”) which would have highlighted his abilities.
This is pretty much how the night went: A few Asia tunes, most notably “Soul Survivor” and a mellower “The Smile Has Left Your Eyes" (featuring Howe on slide), and then we’d get thrown a gem from the past of the players. There was the requisite Steve Howe acoustic moment (the aforementioned “Clap”), Palmer’s drum solo, and “Fanfare For the Common Man” as the featured ELP track. At this point I started really feeling for ol ex-Buggle Geoff Downes, seeing as Yes and ELP always had strong keyboard parts he had to emulate on this night. He did a solid job making his own. There was a rousing “Video Killed the Radio Star,” but next to “Soul Survivor” and “Cutting it Fine,” the best song of the night was King Crimson's “The Court of the Crimson King.”
Now correct me if I’m wrong (but don’t bother ‘cause I know I’m not!), but nobody on that stage was in King Crimson when the first King Crimson album was made, so why are they playing this song? Yes, Wetton is the King Crimson rep here, but still. At least on “Roundabout, ” Howe played on the original recording, just as Palmer did on “Fanfare” and Geoff Downes was half of The Buggles, but “The Court Of The Crimson King” from the album of the same name did not feature any of these musicians. Though I know both Wetton and Palmer have played it enough in their days and I might be nitpicking here, but isn’t it ironic that the best song of the night was this one?
And believe me, this crowd would have easily gotten into any King Crimson song (maybe from an album Wetton had played on). There were two encores with "Ride Easy" and the obligatory “Heat of the Moment,” again transposed down two keys. Overall, it was a decent show, a little disjointed at times, and played through a bad mix. But it was a great chance to see giants like Asia roam the Earth once again, even if it was just for one night.