May 5, 2011

Mayo Performing Arts Center

Morristown, NJ

Review by Ralph Greco, Jr.

In the last few years, I have had the occasion to catch a lot of the old guard at work — Styx, Kansas, Rush, even B.B.King. I am happy to report these ‘older’ performers have been pretty much fantastic! It was no different when I went to see Asia, on tour in support of their live collection, Spirit Of The Night: The Phoenix Tour Live in Cambridge 2009.

I'm pleased to say that keyboardist Geoff Downes, vocalist/bassist John Wetton, guitarist Steve Howe and drummer Carl Palmer are staying true to my recent wonderful “older band” experiences. However, this a wholly different quartet than the one I saw in 2006 when the original lineup first got back together for their 25th anniversary tour. Having a couple of recent albums — Phoenix (2008) and Omega (2010) — to their credit, along their first two — 1982’s multi-million-unit selling self-titled debut and 1983’s Alpha — the band had more material to work with.

So they opened with the newer “I Believe,” and followed up with the classic “Only Time Will Tell,” the best song of the night as far as I’m concerned. Wetton’s voice was near perfect, as deeply resonant as it had been back in the day. Not only is the guy singing great, he’s also become a little more animated — in a way I have never seen him. He was smiling to himself many times during the night, as if he was literally having the time of his life on stage.

Despite Howe’s sound problems, the band rolled into another newer song from Omega — “Holy War” — featuring some fast playing from Palmer, who, by the audience response, had a healthy contingent of fans in the crowd. Howe sat down for a little acoustic solo music before the band returned to the stage. The audience joined in on a sing-a-long, which Wetton enthusiastically encouraged, on “Don’t Cry.” And on the absolutely spectacular "The Smile Has Left Your Eyes,” Palmer and Howe came in near the end to recreate those great parts from the recording.

After a 10-minute intermission, Asia really kicked it up into high gear. “An Extraordinary Life,” from Phoenix, was a big highlight. But much of the set was dominated by the songs from the first and second albums — “Wildest Dreams,” “Time Again,” “The Heat Goes On” and the set closer “Soul Survivor.” The requisite Carl Palmer drum solo was tighter and shorter than I have ever seen him deliver (and I’ve seen him with a lot), but no less spectacular.

The two-song encore featured “Go,” from the group’s ill-fated third album, 1985’s Astra, followed by their first Number One and arguably best-loved track, “Heat Of The Moment.” Unlike previous tours, Asia did not delve into songs from their former groups, Yes, ELP, King Crimson or the Buggles.

Taking their roots into consideration, it’s easy to forget, in the face of such catchy tunes, Palmer’s masterful, hard-hitting style, Howe’s precise plucking (he really never misses), Downes’ truly beautiful keyboard work, and Wetton’s voice, verve and damn fine bass playing. In the end, it was a great night in old Jersey with old Asia sounding every bit as young and vital as ever.

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