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Asia: Fantasia Live in Tokyo

Count it among the prog reunions you never thought you'd see (or hear). The original members of Asia reconvened in 2006 for a 25th anniversary tour of the United States, England, South America and Japan extending the celebration into this year and culminating with the two-CD set Fantasia: Live in Tokyo, recorded in March. (A DVD of the performance is slated for release this fall.)

Vocalist/bassist John Wetton, keyboardist Geoff Downes, drummer Carl Palmer and guitarist Steve Howe don't sound much different now than they did a quarter-century ago as they play all nine songs from Asia's self-titled 1982 debut, as well as a few other rearranged Asia cuts ("Don't Cry," acoustically! and the B-side "Ride Easy") and select pieces from the musicians' vast back-catalogs including a slowed-down version of Yes' "Roundabout," "Emerson, Lake & Palmer's "Fanfare for the Common Man" and, of course, The Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star." The group seems to struggle on these tracks, though, sounding a tad sloppy, plodding and unsure. But considering the professional and physical turmoil Wetton endured since departing Asia after 1985's Astra, his voice still resonates convincingly, even on material he didn't originally sing.

That said, and as much as I anticipated this reunion Asia's debut was one of the first records that I remember spinning over and over, turning me on to a new world of audio delights I can't help but wish the circumstances surrounding it had been different. Downes reportedly left Wetton's successor, John Payne (who helped the keyboard player carry on the Asia name with five studio albums between 1992 and 2004), high and dry with little warning that he would be rejoining his former band mates. That shouldn't diminish the significance of this tour, however, which marked the first time Wetton, Downes, Palmer and Howe have shared the same stage in more than two decades. Fantasia is a worthy souvenir, even if you didn't attend any of the reunion gigs.

Forget The Eagles; this is what hell freezing over sounds like. But I still feel bad for John Payne.

Track Listing
Disc One:
1) Time Again
2) Wildest Dreams
3) One Step Closer
4) Roundabout
5) Without You
6) Cutting It Fine
7) Intersection Blues
8) Fanfare for the Common Man
9) The Smile Has Left Your Eyes

Disc Two:
1) Don't Cry
2) In the Court of the Crimson King
3) Here Comes the Feeling
4) Video Killed the Radio Star
5) The Heat Goes On
6) Only Time Will Tell
7) Sole Survivor
8) Ride Easy
9) Heat of the Moment

Added: October 31st 2007
Reviewer: Michael Popke
Related Link: Official Asia Web Site
Hits: 3325
Language: english

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Asia: Fantasia Live in Tokyo
Posted by Ken Pierce, SoT Staff Writer on 2007-10-31 15:02:21
My Score:

Twenty five years ago four Progressive Rock luminaries released an album that was nothing less than incredible. The bands name was Asia and their debut recording would use the same name and as soon as you heard it you realized that it didn't need any sort of fancy title whatsoever based on what was in its grooves. "Heat Of The Moment" was the recordings signature track and it would find more airplay than any of the other songs these musicians had ever recorded before and the album as a whole was loaded with Arena Rock classics that all still stand strong in today's music environment. Classy in it's day, and classic now without a doubt. The core personnel of John Wetton, Geoffrey Downes, Steve Howe and Carl Palmer proved that the musicianship involved was nothing short of exemplary and what would you expect from former members of Yes, Emerson Lake & Palmer, King Crimson and The Buggles. The bands original lineup would not pass their second recording "Alpha" but the name would still continue on with a rotating cast of musicians for decades. Fast forward to 2006 where the original lineup decided to once again perform together and celebrate the amazing music that they created while members of Asia. This CD brings the listener to one of the reunion shows that were held in Japan and as far as concert recordings go you will find that this is a very good one. It's clean in sound and has a pretty tight production and as far as the band interaction during the show it seems as though no real time has passed when in fact it has been some twenty years if not more.

The enjoyable listen covers the entire "Asia" debut album but the band wisely mixes the songs up as opposed to playing them all in sequential order. They also do a few numbers from the tasty but oft lambasted second album "Alpha". To further make this something to keep you amused they even add in some of the songs from their previous bands and while it's a nice touch I feel that had the original members kept with this past a third or fourth album and worked within the context of what made their debut a blockbuster that there would have been no need to add songs of this kind. It's really different to hear the Yes classic sung by Wetton because he is of an entirely different vocal register and while I always loved the Buggles signature tune - I felt that the Asia rendition just plodded along and did not possess the quirkiness that made the original so appealing in the first place. The solos that they performed at the shows are not presented on the audio release outside of drummer Carl Palmer's and that's unfortunate since the players are still on the money based on all their years of musical expertise. Asia might not have existed in this incarnation for a couple of decades but the members themselves have long been active in numerous projects and revivals. I found the acoustic version of "Don't Cry" to be another one of the albums lowlights but I soon forgot about it once "Sole Survivor" and blockbuster closer "Heat Of The Moment" came on. A companion DVD has also been released and outside of the hard core Progressive Rock fan who has longed for the bands original members to do this I don't really see much reason to pick up both items. To me this piece should have included the full concert audio and video in the same package because it would target both sides of their listener base and perhaps even lure in the curious. A foldout booklet is enclosed and it has comments by David Gallant who wrote a book about the band and also features some photos from the show. The audio only version of the show is more for the core fans or just those who love good Arena Rock concert albums. It was nice to see that the heat goes on and that it is still sounding great after so long a time has passed.

Asia: Fantasia Live in Tokyo
Posted by Pete Pardo, SoT Staff Writer on 2007-06-29 20:18:52
My Score:

As someone who attended one of the New York City reunion shows by Asia, Fantasia Live in Tokyo is a pleasant reminder of some of the magic that was experienced that evening. Basically the band played the same set for the entire tour, and this show here was recorded in Tokyo, Japan. Sure, Howe, Wetton, Palmer, and Downes are much older, and who really knows what the ultimate reason for this tour was, but for so many of us who have loved this line-up over the years but never had a chance to catch them live in concert, we sure appreciated the fact that they put this all together. While this set is far from being perfect, it shows that the boys still have what it takes to perform these songs in an enjoyable and classy manner that gives the audience what they crave. In fact, you really can't say anything bad about the original Asia songs, especially those off the debut album, all performed here masterfully, featuring the melodic crooning & beefy bass of Wetton, Howe's nimble guitar lines, the steady drum work of Palmer (he's not as much into the acrobatics here as compared to his time with his solo band or ELP) and Downes' underrated keyboard textures. With Asia it was never about the usual characteristics of the prog rock scene, but about hook laden songs and wonderful melodies, labeled 'arena rock' or 'corporate' AOR music. Highlights here include the dramatic "Cutting It Fine", the soaring "Wildest Dreams", the fiery rocker "Sole Survivor", or the radio friendly pieces "Heat of the Moment", "Only Time Will Tell", "Time Again", "Don't Cry", and "Here Comes The Feeling".

The band also decided to play songs that each member made famous in previous bands, which is kind of a mixed bag here. The Yes classic "Roundabout" starts out good, with John Wetton seemingly hitting the vocal just fine, but ultimately the tempo is too slow, and the song meanders a bit towards the latter half. "Intersection Blues" is just an excuse for Steve Howe to play "The Clap", and while the virtuosity of this man will never be questioned, haven't we heard this tune enough times in the last 35+ years? "Fanfare For the Common Man", the ELP staple, really works, with Geoff Downes doing his best to to recreate some of the mammoth keyboard sounds associated with Keith Emerson. Howe throws in some nice distorted licks on this one (obviously filling in a lot of space where keyboard solos would be,as he trades off with Downes) and with Wetton's bass rumbling along, Carl Palmer struts his stuff like a man half his age. The band does true to the King Crimson classic "In the Court of the Crimson King", Wetton no doubt probably sang that song more than a few times back in the day after replacing Greg Lake in Crimson (why they didn't choose a song that he actually helped write or record remains a mystery). With Downes' laying down huge beds of sampled Mellotron and Howe's tender picking, the boys do a great job on this one. "Video Killed the Radio Star" ? It wasn't a really good song back in the day, and sounds very disjointed here.

Overall this is a fun set and a reminder of just how good some of these songs are. Listening to this batch of old timers rock out on "The Heat Goes On" (and Palmer wailing on the drum kit during his solo) is pretty damn inspiring, and whether Asia chooses to keep this line-up intact and perhaps record some new material and undertake additional live shows remains to be seen. If nothing else, thanks for the memories guys.

2004 Sea Of Tranquility
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