Monday, May 2, 2011

Asia -- Birchmere - May 1 2011

Asia - This is nostalgia for a life I never lived. Asia came on to the scene way too late of me, immersed as I was in all things punk and hardcore. But I never gave up my prog roots and I had tried out John Wetton's UK band which was less than satisfactory. By the time Wetton got together with Carl Palmer (of ELP who I did like) and Steve Howe and Geoff Downes (of Yes, who I really didn't care for), I was not paying attention. But the public did and Asia went on to big things (and they had a great logo). But in 2011, I could not name a single song title or even hum a tune of theirs. So why show up? Well, I am still kicking myself for not catching Carl Palmer a few years back playing ELP songs instrumentally with a guitarist and bass. I have seen him once when I was in high school, but I had not ever seen the versatile bassist from King Crimson's "Red", nor the guitarist on "My White Bicycle". So on to the show... They all look good, Palmer looking surprisingly young with plenty of muscle. Wetton has a slight paunch, while Howe looks even thinner and looks ready to be cast for American Gothic (see below). They all have good hair, but most of all, they still can play. "Holy War" really featured Palmer's drumming and led me to believe I was not the only one in the audience that wanted to see what he could do (well we knew would he could do, but has he still got it?). Palmer's powerhouse style really propels what are otherwise simple mid-tempo pop-rock songs into something that is worth listening to. Howe is a solid guitarist still with a nice fluid style. Wetton sang well enough and at times showed a little flash on bass. I thought there were some odd thrusting sonic moments, but then noticed he was playing some moog pedals. Downes did a good job and was versatile, but the songs required that "special" 80s keyboard sound which just does not hold up too well for me these days, either on stage or on various movie soundtracks from those days. But they never bored me as there was enough rocking music that held my attention with the occasional strong song actually standing out ("Time Again" rocked). The drum solo took me back to the California Jam and I even recognized some of Palmer's trademark moves--snare vs. double kick battles, loads of cymbal tonal work and he even had the double gongs. He brought the house down. Howe's earlier solo portion started with an acoustic guitar where he and the crew could not get amplified. He mentioned that he was wondering if they could go acoustic with the size of the club... Huh? This is a lot bigger than Ram's Head where they also play, but certainly smaller than the arenas he has been in. Anyway after he quietly told the crew "This isn't going anywhere, we'll have to scrap it", he popped his electric back on and played a couple of tunes. The first one reminded me of a cross between Duane Eddy and Howe's own older style while in Tomorrow. He then did a Richard Thompson-like intelligent rocker with plenty of quality riffing. Considering the set was identical to a recent show (minus one song), this "impromptu" (as he said) duo was actually a lot of fun and quite welcome. Wetton and Downes also did a solo bit, so all members had equal rests. Conclusion? Asia fans had a great time and even a less-than neutral listener like myself had a decent enough time. It was worth seeing these guys and it is good to see that their four unique personalities can work together so well.

Set List: I Believe/Only Time Will Tell/Holy War/Never Again/Through My Veins/Howe solo/Don't Cry/The Smile has Left your Eyes/Open Your Eyes/Finger on the Trigger/Time Again/An Extraordinary Life/End of the World/The Heat Goes On (Palmer solo)/Sole Survivor/Go?/Heat of the Moment (OK, I do! remember Heat of the Moment)

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