Spirit Of The Night:
The Phoenix Tour
Live in Cambridge 2009


For progressive rock fans, Asia was a shining light in the dim days of the early 80s when there didn’t seem to be much chance of the epic music from the 70s surviving the big hair assault. I saw the band on their first tour, delighted that Steve Howe, Carl Palmer, John Wetton and Geoff Downes survived the 70s and emerged victorious in the 80s. Unfortunately, the classic Asia lineup didn’t last long. Wetton left just before the band’s televised Japan show and was briefly replaced by Greg Lake (Wetton came back soon after). Meanwhile, Howe left to form GTR with Steve Hackett, only to join his mates from Yes for the Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe project (and eventually return to Yes). Palmer was in and out of the band, in between ELP reunions in the 90s while Downes stayed with Asia and its various lineups. Flash forward 25 years, and the original Asia was back for a 2006/07 tour. They have been chugging along ever since, even releasing two studio albums. Now, a live CD/DVD called Spirit Of The Night: The Phoenix Tour Live in Cambridge 2009 pushes Asia in 2011.

Opening with a couple from their debut, “Only Time Will Tell” and “Time Again,” it’s evident that these guys are still pretty much on top of their playing. Wetton sounds more or less as he did in the early days. “An Extraordinary Life,” from the Phoenix album, with a spiky verse and an over-the-top pop-like chorus, sounding like two different songs smashed together. Elsewhere, Downes’ piano leads “My Own Time (I’ll Do What I Want),” a rather sweet love song showcasing Wetton’s softer vocals from the Alpha album.

Given each member’s illustrious past, each one takes the spotlight at some point in the show, playing a song they’re most associated with. For Howe, it’s “Roundabout.” Downes is featured on the Buggles’ “Video Killed The Radio Star.” Wetton takes a lead “In The Court Of The Crimson King.” And Palmer’s spot comes when Asia takes a stab at “Fanfare For The Common Man.” As a unit, the band kicks it into a high gear on “The Heat Goes On” and the snapping “Soul Survivor.” “Heat Of The Moment” is played at least a half step down (it’s probably the weakest tune of the bunch), but coming at the end of a hit-filled night, I’ll give the guys a pass.

The companion DVD is a visual representation of the same show sans “Fanfare,” but filled out with a bonus “In The Court Of The Crimson King” from a 2009 performance at the Tower Theatre in Philadelphia, featuring original King Crimson member Ian McDonald playing some amazing flute. Even as it’s evident that Downes is pushing some sweetened sampled vocals during those quiet moments, Asia sounds pretty damn good on Spirit Of The Night: The Phoenix Tour Live in Cambridge 2009, an excellent CD/DVD set that shows how great this band can still be.

~ Ralph Greco, Jr.

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