Photos and live gig review by Adrian Hextall
7:45pm on a Sunday night in Shepherds Bush and Asia make their way onto the stage with no amount of fuss or support act. Seasoned musicians who have been doing this for years, there are no pretences from any of the band members just a relaxed professional approach as they begin a set filled with classic AOR tinged progressive rock tracks from a career that spans several decades.
The notable change to the line up is of course the introduction of Sam Coulson who has replaced Steve Howe on guitar. Although the change took place back in January 2013, Sam is still the ‘newbie’ in a band whose first major hit ‘Heat of the Moment’ was released 4 years before he was born! He was spotted online by Paul Gilbert who invited him to be a guest instructor for the Great Guitar Escape he created in July 2012. That exposure, plus playing with Walter Trout in 2012 led Asia to contact him when he was recommended during the selection process to replace Howe.
He fits the band very well indeed and his work on latest album Gravitas has added a new lease of life to Asia as well. If you’ve not heard it yet, do check out what is possibly the strongest release since they returned to the scene with John Wetton back on vocals.
Carl Palmer is, as you might expect, surrounded by a tremendous collection of drums, gongs and symbols and takes time between tracks to come out in from of them to talk to the audience and recount some career moments, sharing the spotlight with Wetton. Not to be outdone, Geoff Downes has about nine keyboards set up in a U-shape around himself to essentially balance out the opposite side of the stage against Palmer’s drum kit.
With only four of them on stage, this leaves Coulson and Wetton to do the moving about and fill the space afforded to them during the 2 hour set. From the first bars of ‘Sole Survivor’ it’s immediately apparent how clear the sound is and how strong Wetton’s voice still is. The harmonies ring out on tracks like ‘Wildest Dreams’, ably assisted by Downes, hemmed into his spot by his massive bank of keyboards.
Opening track from the Gravitas album ‘Valkyrie’ gets an airing tonight to an enthusiastic reception from the crowd. Asia crowds are never the most dynamic, predominantly there through a love of complex melodies and intricacies that only musicians with the pedigree of those on stage can typically deliver. As such, crowd surfing and mosh pits are notably absent as everyone soaks in the song structures and sonic textures woven by the band. That’s not to say the crowd are not in fine voice however, as they sing along with aplomb during ‘Voice of America’ when Wetton plays the song with an acoustic guitar.
Not surprisingly, we are treated to a few musical interludes to allow the musicians to showcase their respective talents and both Palmer and Downes perform solos. Palmer’s drum solo is at times manic, his hands a blur over his drum kit. The speed at which he drums does at times get the better of him and there are a couple of instances where a drum stick goes flying but beats are not missed, the feet and other hand compensate as he grabs another stick and continues as before. It’s worth a lot of other bands checking out his approach as they could learn a lot about how to keep a drum solo remotely interesting these days.
Sitting on the front row of the balcony at the Empire, listening to Asia live is very much like having the band playing through the best sound system you could buy whilst sitting in your living room. The sound quality mirrors the album tracks perfectly and allows you to soak up the soaring melodies and range in John Wetton’s voice. The guitar solos from Coulson are not exaggerated and fit perfectly with the sound Steve Howe originally brought to the group. His approach is measured and not overly flamboyant and that fits the style of the band perfectly.
The set finishes as expected with ‘Heat of the Moment’, leaving an audience with many wide smiles having ticked off the list of songs (in most cases) that people were expecting to hear. The new material from albums like XXX and Gravitas fit perfectly with the old and you certainly would not think there was a twenty-plus year gap between the old and the new. With so many bands just reforming to play ‘the old stuff’ it’s refreshing to see one that has made a real effort to produce new material and of such high quality.
John Wetton – lead vocals, bass & acoustic guitars
Carl Palmer – drums
Geoff Downes – keyboards
Sam Coulson – guitars
(May differ from actual list on night)
Face on the Bridge
Finger on the Trigger (John Wetton & Geoffrey Downes cover)
I Know How You Feel
The Smile Has Left Your Eyes
My Own Time (I’ll Do What I Want)
Voice of America (Acoustic)
An Extraordinary Life
Boléro (Maurice Ravel cover)
Days Like These
Don’t Cry (with Carl Palmer Drum Solo)
Only Time Will Tell
Open Your Eyes
Heat of the Moment