21 September 2006

House of Blues, Las Vegas, NV


Once described as "pedestrian musicianship" by the rock press, Asia stormed into rock culture back when the music industry was probably in as much of a state of flux as it had ever been. Asia was similar to other groups in Rock & Roll history, such as the Eagles and Souther-Hillman-Furay, in that David Geffen played a major role in assembling the band. The resulting chemistry, in some instances proved interesting, and in others sounded fabricated. In most every case, Geffen-crafted bands have made megabucks.

I seem to recall, in the early 1980s, a video of Asia's second hit, "Only Time Will Tell" [performed this evening], with all four original members occupying a quadrant of the video screen, all seeming questionable in their interest in the project.

Nonetheless, John Wetton, Steve Howe, Geoffrey Downes, and Carl Palmer, took the stage tonight as part of a somewhat low-key 25th Anniversary Tour.

With no opening act, the Theatre dropped the pre-concert music and cut the lights at about 8:40 P.M., to a brief cheer by the full crowd at the House of Blues Theatre, inside the Mandalay Bay Casino Hotel. After the cheer settled and before the curtains rose, my standard "Freebird" yell garnished the best response I'd received yet.

This tour's setlist includes material from their first two albums, while all four original members were still on the payroll. Though impressive to see artists such as Greg Lake and Steve Lukather join for various incarnations over a decade, the group's fan base has always payed the most reverence to the original lineup. Such setlist songs performed by this original quartet included "Don't Cry", "The Smile Has Left Your Eyes", "The Heat Goes On", and "Soul Survivor".

Wetton, now about 30 lbs huskier, visually resembled a modern-day Vince Gill, and sang to a performance with all songs dropped a semitone from studio tuning. His vocals covered "In The Court Of The Crimson King" from his King Crimson days.

For most of the evening, only Wetton and Downes handled vocals, though, at times, the vocal mix sounded as if 3-4 or more voices were harmonizing. I suspect some kind of effects processing on the singing--not that it sounded bad--it admittedly made the mix sound fuller, richer.

Sticking to the theme of paying homage to work from previous band membership, Howe, now looking more like a physics professor on a Hawaiian vacation, impressed the crowd with an acoustic guitar performance of "Clap". And, Wetton strained to the vocals of "Roundabout" from Howe's YES years.

"Fanfare for the Common Man", often heard in the 1970s/1980s accompanying CBS's Sports Spectacular, served as Palmer's ELP contribution, and, of course, "Video Killed The Radio Star" filled the final square for the now-bleach-blonded Downes' Buggles history.

I honestly would have liked to hear "Too Late", "Voice of America" and "Days Like These", but I believe the band chose otherwise given that such studio versions emerged from different band makeups.

Also, no "When The Heart Rules The Mind", "Lucky Man", "From The Beginning", or "I Believe In Father Christmas".

But, Carl Palmer did erupt into a fairly impressive drum solo. I'm convinced the guy is nuts, though, seeing him trying to balance drum sticks on crash cymbols, giving the audience wierd looks, and changing tempo with every breath.

Speaking of tempos, the encore of "Heat Of The Moment" didn't foster the STOMP.....STOMP-STOMP-CLAP response that I had expected and seen on South Park.

Having never seen any of the bands from which these four members escaped to join together in early-1980s superstardom, I found the music, as it was in studio versions, to be very melodic, enjoyable, and thus accessible.

The Four Original Members Of Asia seem to have an easy, friendly rapport with each other, indicating that any past tension may have just been as a result of relative immaturity.

Nice, pleasant progressive-synth-pop-rock, in an intimate stage setting proving to be a far cry from the over-illuminated, hyper-dramatic arena rock days of yestercentury.

[****] - Steven T.

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