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Music DVD Review: Asia – Fantasia: Live In Tokyo

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I can think of about twenty other concert videos I was more excited to get last year than this new Asia DVD. Hence the rather dated review. Although I am a fan of Asia, and a 27-year (and counting) proud owner of their 1982, eponymous, debut album, I was never exactly waiting with bated breath for these guys to reunite. I was intrigued enough, however, to not only get this DVD, but to also score tickets to a show on this summer's tour where they open for Yes.

In 2006, the original four members of Asia (John Wetton, Geoffrey Downes, Steve Howe, and Carl Palmer) reunited to celebrate the upcoming 25th anniversary of their multi-platinum selling debut album. Fantasia – Live In Tokyo captures their March 8th, 2007 performance at the Shinjuku Koseinenkin-Hall, Tokyo, Japan, which was one of seven sold-out shows in Japan that same week.

The first question that popped into my head while watching this DVD is "what rock group in their right mind would film a concert video in Japan?" Nothing against my Japanese brothers, I lived in Japan for three years and they are some of the most ardent music fans in the world, but they all just sit there in their business suits like they were waiting for the opera to begin. Perhaps it was a thank you for all of the sold-out shows.

Keeping with tradition, this concert opens with one of the most lackluster intros I have ever seen. As pre-recorded classical music pumps out of the PA, the camera pans between an empty stage and an audience that could have been mistaken for cardboard cutouts. The band eventually strolls on stage to polite applause and opens with "Time Again," accompanied by a light show that was unlikely to ignite any more excitement. Three large video screens drape the back of the stage, but when they are not showing the band members, they are mostly just displaying meaningless computer-generated graphics.

Another song from the debut album follows, "Wildest Dreams", and Carl Palmer treats you to a short, Buddy Rich-like drum solo towards the end of the song. He turns in a more dazzling extended drum solo later on in the set. It is always a treat to watch this guy play. The entire debut album would be played this night, along with three tracks from their sophomore release, Alpha, as well as a song from each of the member's previous bands.

The first of these "other band" performances was "Roundabout" from Yes. Wetton does an admirable job singing this one – although at about 20 octaves lower than Jon Anderson – but his bass playing was not quite up to par with
Chris Squire's superhuman feat. Wetton plays with a thumb pick most of the time, and that seems to make it more difficult to play that type of bass line. Just to be able to sing and play that song at the same time is a pretty amazing feat in itself though.

ELP's "Fanfare For The Common Man" was up next and Geoff Downes really gets to shine on this one while cutting lose on Keith Emerson's monster keyboard riffs. The best one of the bunch, however, was King Crimson's epic "In The Court Of The Crimson King," but it was a very odd choice considering that Wetton had not even joined the band until about three years after the song came out. It's as if they had chosen "Owner Of a Lonely Heart" for Steve Howe's song.

Strangely enough, the biggest crowd reaction of the night came when they played The Buggles smash hit "Video Killed The Radio Star," which was the first-ever music video played on MTV in the U.S. Wetton sings the processed vocal parts at the beginning of the song through a bullhorn, and does an admirable job with the rest of the "normal" vocals, getting some help from Downes on the choruses.

Long-time Asia fans will be pleased to see the encore set begin with "Ride Easy," a song that did not appear on the first Asia album, but was a b-side of the "Heat Of The Moment" single. This was a beautiful performance featuring Wetton on acoustic guitar, Downes on piano, Palmer gently tapping a single conga drum, and Howe adding some tasty simulated acoustic leads on electric guitar. A fine lead in to the impressive show closer, "Heat Of The Moment."

The overall production quality of this DVD was very good, although I had a few issues with the audio mixes, which come in three flavors: DTS 5.1 Surround, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. My main gripe, especially with the 5.1 recordings, is that the drums were mixed too low, and the keyboards were too overpowering on most of the songs. When you have one of the world's best drummers in the band, you need to be able to hear the guy play.

The widescreen picture looked outstanding and the camera work was equally impressive. The only bonus feature was about 40 minutes worth of interviews with each of the band members – done separately. I think it would have been more interesting to interview them together. A six-page color booklet with some pictures of the show and an essay by David Gallant, the author of Asia: Heat Of The Moment, is also included.

It was nice to see these four remarkable musicians get back together again after more than 20 years apart, and still be able to perform these songs so well. I wish they would have experimented more and freshened up some of these old numbers up for the 21st century, but you really get are note-for-note
renditions. I look forward to seeing what they do when I see them live in a few days.

Set List
01. Time Again
02. Wildest Dreams
03. One Step Closer

04. Roundabout
05. Without You
06. Cutting It Fine
07. Intersection Blues – Steve's Solo
08. Fanfare For The Common Man
09. The Smile Has Left Your Eyes
10. Don't Cry
11. In The Court Of The Crimson King
12. Here Comes The Feeling
13. Video Killed The Radio Star
14. The Heat Goes On – Drum Solo
15. Only Time Will Tell
16. Sole Survivor
17. Ride Easy
18. Heat Of The Moment

Performance 7/10
Production 8/10

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