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Asia: Fantasia – Live In Tokyo (DVD)

It proves that time is indeed the enemy when the "pop" band that sprang from the union of three progressive veterans and one upstart "Buggle" is now celebrating their 25th anniversary. In 1982, when Asia released their first album, Steve Howe, John Wetton and Carl Palmer were each already a decade and a half into the business of professional musicianship. The "young" guy, Geoff Downes, was fresh out of The Buggles and a stint with Yes.

How 25 years has passed in a blink. I remember wearing out the Asia LP in the Spring of '82, while a 10th grader trying desperately to pass Geometry! The tight, melody-laden and focused pop of Asia was sacrilege to some fans of Yes, ELP and King Crimson, the bands that reared the three vets, but to me, it was just great music, with sing-along choruses, stacked harmonies, wet, reverb-laden Big 80's production and great musicianship. Sales proved that my take was the popular one, and in time, even die hard fans of the old guard at least appreciated that these well-known pro's where enjoying a renaissance on FM radio and newly-launched MTV.

Unfortunately, where to go from nine weeks at number one and seven-million copies sold than down? And Asia, rushed into their decidedly inferior though successful 1983 follow-up album (Alpha) suffered the loss of their lead singer Wetton almost immediately. Howe was next and by 1985, following a brief return by Wetton for a third album without Howe (Astra), Asia silently broke up. After Downes, Wetton and Palmer reunited for a tour and several new songs in 1990, by the next studio album (Aqua, 1992), bassist/vocalist John Payne had filled the Wetton role, and Palmer and Howe were only guesting as studio musicians (though Howe joined the tour). Asia from 1994 – 2005 was basically Downes and Payne, with a revolving door of supporters. They recorded several studio albums and toured, but widespread success was evasive.

In 2006, the four original members reunited for an American tour. Fantasia, recorded in the Spring of 2007 in Tokyo, captures a group of musicians who have seemingly learned a lesson in letting a good thing slip away, and they appear to be on a mission to not let history repeat itself.

The band is very solid. Importantly, John Wetton retains most of his vocal timbre and range from decades prior to still be effective. While he grimaces on occasion, he's still smooth and silky in his delivery, and above all he IS the voice of Asia; this is important (think Greg Lake who replaced Wetton for 1983's mammoth worldwide MTV satellite broadcast, "Asia In Asia," when Wetton had abruptly quit. Lake almost pulled it off, but not quite. One could say the same for Payne). With singers, bar several remote exceptions, there's nothing like the original.

The celebrated Howe is as focused as he has ever been—even more so in this context. Because Asia's set is mostly the entire debut album, plus some extras, Howe's typical army of guitars is absent. Here, he uses the same Gibson ES Artist exclusively that he toured with on the original Asia road shows. Other than a PRS with MIDI acoustic pick-up and his classic Martin for his solo spot, he sticks to this and—shockingly—has dispensed with his analog amps and replaced them with processed Line 6 sounds. Hell if it doesn't work—and sound great—to boot. OK, so I'm sold, these modeled sounds have finally made the grade; if Howe is using them you can count on it.

The ultra-technical Palmer comes off a bit under par for him; while he's mostly steady and his laser fast handwork is always impressive, his fills, while technically brilliant, are simply rushed at times. The arrangements on the early Asia albums stressed colorful unison drum/guitar fills, and when one is rushed (especially alongside Howe's always tasteful, spot-on timing), it's very noticeable. Let's assume he had an off night.

Downes is the best keyboard player no one ever celebrates, and the star of Asia. Forget that he kept the Asia flame going for years on his own, allowing for this reunion to actually happen. The guy is a flat-out great musician. His array of sounds are always interesting and never stale. He's got pianos, harmonicas, synclavier, Fender Rhodes, Emerson moogs, organs, mellotrons, all expertly realized and executed. When Downes is the keyboardist, you tend to forget how technically brilliant he is, because he makes it sound so singable (but just try this at home!).

With the performance mostly solid and inspired, the songs are like old friends. No disappointments here. It's great to hear "Without You", "Cutting It Fine" and "One Step Closer" see the light of day alongside the hits. And the Yes/ELP/Crimson/Buggles selections are nicely done (though could anyone really replicate "Video Killed the Radio Star" without Trevor Horn?). The surprise is how Wetton handles "Roundabout"; Jon Anderson is no walk in the park!

For bonuses, there's a nice set of band interviews to go along with the show. Rumor is that the re-united Asia is recoding a new album in 2008. If Fantasia is any indication, these four talented mates have learned to hold on to a good thing, and only good things can come.

Track Listing
1) Time Again
2) Wildest Dreams
3) One Step Closer
4) Roundabout
5) Without You
6) Cutting It Fine
7) Steve Howe Guitar Solo
8) Fanfare For The Common Man
9) The Smile Has Left Your Eyes
10) Don't Cry
11) Court Of The Crimson King
12) Here Comes The Feeling
13) Video Killed The Radio Star
14) The Heat Goes On / Carl Palmer Drum Solo
15) Only Time Will Tell
16) Sole Survivor
17) Ride Easy
18) Heat Of The Moment

Added: December 3rd 2007
Reviewer: Steve Fleck
Related Link: Eagle Rock Entertainment
Hits: 2469
Language: english

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Asia: Fantasia – Live In Tokyo (DVD)
Posted by Ken Pierce, SoT Staff Writer on 2007-12-03 06:34:18
My Score:

Even though the history books will note this as fact I still refuse to believe that it has been twenty five years since I first purchased my original vinyl copy of the debut by Asia – the blockbuster album that was simply entitled Asia. Twenty five years old and this album when played today still sounds as fresh and exciting as it used to and reminds me of the Progressive Rock promise that it held for all the fans of the individual players who made up the group. For those who might be too young to remember this album and group let me bring you up to speed a little; Asia was essentially a super group when such a term was not as commonly used and that included members that were true legends from their genres. In Asia we found John Wetton (King Crimson), Steve Howe (Yes), Carl Palmer (Emerson, Lake and Palmer) and Geoff Downes (The Buggles) all working together to create a masterpiece of Melodic Progressive Rock. Their efforts were a resounding success and yes it was geared more for a wider audience than some of the more stoic Progressive Rock fans would have liked but in the end it worked out like gangbusters with Asia achieving a #1 position on the Billboard album charts and offering up six charting singles. Not bad for an album that only had nine songs to begin with. Sadly this super-combination of Rockers would not remain together in this incarnation past the second album and this release Alpha was not too well-received as it delved deeper into the commercial aspect of the first one. Fast forwarding twenty five years into the future we find the original and founding members of the lineup reunited for a world tour to celebrate the anniversary of their initial formation and this breakthrough album. The DVD film Fantasia – Live In Tokyo of course finds the band performing in Japan in front of a sold out crowd as they celebrated one of the many evenings on this very well-received reunion. Since I was unable to attend any of the shows that came around my area I was very pleased to see this released for the home viewing audience and thanks to Eagle Vision Entertainment who have once again brought the event right into our homes. Given this was done for the anniversary of the album Asia itself, the set list for the concert features the performance of the entire album but instead of doing it straight through as some bands who would be doing such a presentation would likely do, Asia mixes it up across the course of the evening. The hits from the debut release and interlaced with songs from the individual members original bands and even some music from the bands follow up release.

The songs from the debut album still sound strong but of course the guys have mellowed just a little and with twenty five years having passed this is to be expected of them. They still play very well and in some cases probably are even a little better in terms of their technique but visually this does not come off as a very exciting show to watch in concert. There was more of a sit down audience for this one but I am sure at other places the crowd remained standing from the moment it began. Often it is the culture of the people and the venue itself that govern how the audience will act. As the show played through I was finding that I can listen to the entire debut from start to finish and still have the very same favorite tunes and this has not changed yet. My tunes of note remain with the signature hit "Heat Of The Moment" along with "Sole Survivor" and "Only Time Will Tell". The video gets quite interesting with the selections from the members previous bands as we find a little Yes, King Crimson, Buggles and ELP being delivered for good measure. Of them all I was thinking that "Fanfare For The Common Man" is perhaps the best of the lot for me because I felt it weird to hear John Wetton singing "Roundabout". Maybe it was because the tune in my head automatically keys me in to the voice of Jon Anderson whenever I hear it. I also felt that Carl Palmer did not handle the subtlety that Bill Bruford does the song with and this is even with him being one of my favorite drummers in history. Carl gets to show off his stuff in a very hot drum solo. He has not lost any of his luster that's for sure. Another oddity in the set was the inclusion of "Video Killed The Radio Star" and yes, I know they had to do it since it's the big song from Geoff Downes past but it was a very "off" sounding number with these legends of Progressive Rock giving their representation of quirky Pop New Wave. The band does an alternate version of the main hit from the album Alpha by giving us an acoustically driven "Don't Cry" and I could have done without this since the original version showed that it needed no tampering at all. Either way this was a good time to watch and relive the magic of the lineup of the band that is the most revered as they perform their established hits and give us their own take on some other stuff that is tied to them. The bonus features are rather limited with just interviews with the group. If this was a show you wanted to see and didn't then I would defiantly advise you to pick this one up. A companion CD was also released and features the exact same set and includes the same liner notes booklet. That might be more for the diehard or very simply the one who hates music videos, should such a person exist anymore.

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