During the fall of 2006, the 25th anniversary of the progressive-rock supergroup Asia was commemorated with the return of the original line-up to American concert halls. The foursome had an impressive prog-rock pedigree. Lead singer and bassist John Wetton had been in King Crimson; drummer Carl Palmer was, not surprisingly, from Emerson, Lake & Palmer; and from Yes, their long-time guitarist Steve Howe and a keyboardist for one album Geoffrey Downes, who was also a member of The Buggles.
Yet, Asia found them cutting some of the excesses of the genre to make music more pop radio friendly. They succeeded as their debut album hit #1 on the Billboard album charts, propelled by the hit single, “Heat of the Moment,” which continues to stay a fixture of pop culture through South Park and The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
This quartet only played together on the first two albums. I had thought they had disbanded, but Downes has been venturing forth all this time. Under the name Asia, he has been periodically releasing albums, at times with appearances by different founding members. Although none of these latter incarnations have made the same sort of splash as the original. At least not outside their cult fan base, presuming there was one.
Fantasia Live in Tokyo is a double-CD recorded from their March 8, 2007 concert at Shinjuku Koseinenkin-Hall, Tokyo, Japan. Because of their short time together and limited catalog, they played the entire Asia album, three tracks from Alpha, and the B-Side “Ride Easy.” Rather than play music by the numerous permutations of Asia, the set list was completed with more familiar songs by the members other endeavors, which was hit and miss.
King Crimson’s “In the Court of the Crimson King” sounded very good. Howe’s guitar imbued ELP’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” with more of a rock sound, similar to what Palmer has done recently with his Carl Palmer Band. Howe and Downes traded great solos during the bridge. Speaking of solos, Howe performed a very good acoustic guitar solo called “Natural Timbre” from his 2001 album. Unfortunately, The Buggles’ “Video Killed The Radio Star” didn’t work because the chorus sounded absolutely dreadful. Neither did Yes’ “Roundabout.” The tempo is slowed down and Wetton’s deep vocals didn’t fit well with this signature song.
A couple of bad songs aside, fans of Asia will probably enjoy this trip down memory lane and will be glad to hear the band is working on an album of new material. If this band or the other bands mentioned are unfamiliar, a best-of Asia album would be a better introduction.