I’m old enough to remember when ASIA’s self titled debut CD became the biggest selling album (yes, we had albums, children) of 1982, on the strength of songs such as “Heat Of The Moment” and “Only Time Will Tell”. Unfortunately, the original lineup of rock’s first “supergroup” didn’t last, so I would have to wait nearly 30 years to finally see an ASIA show with the original personnel. That finally happened last night at the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta, where about 600 folks enjoyed the music of Carl Palmer, Steve Howe, Geoff Downes, and John Wetton.
Unlike most rock concerts, they actually got started on time, stepping onstage at 8:01 with the anthemic “I Believe” from their new “Omega” CD, and giving us two full hours of all their hits, plus a sizeable sharing of songs from their most recent two projects. While it was a little disappointing to see such an iconic band playing a dive like the Variety Playhouse, on a stage the size of a postage stamp, the musicianship was first rate, and I don’t recall seeing a crowd this jazzed about seeing a band in quite some time.
The set list was eclectic and kept moving, and while I scratched my head at some of the song choices (I would have gladly traded “Running Through My Veins” for “Listen, Children”, and “Open Your Eyes ” just isn’t one of their stronger songs), there was certainly enough to keep any fan interested. The John Payne era material was discarded in favor of music made by the original four, the only exception being the inclusion of “Go” from 1985’s ASTRA, which Steve Howe did not appear on, but he added his own touch to the song quite nicely.
As I said, the musicianship was excellent, with Steve Howe and Carl Palmer both having extended solos, and keyboardist Geoff Downes easily looking like he was having the most fun onstage. And what can I say about John Wetton? His voice sounds as good now as it did then, and his simple piano/vocal rendition of “The Smile Has Left Your Eyes” simply brought chills. Wetton had some serious health issues a couple of years ago, which were reflected in his songwriting on tunes such as “Extraordinary Life” and “End Of The World”, which brought an unexpected but somehow appropriate spiritual touch to the evening.
We were treated to a two song encore, featuring “Days Like These” (one of my favorite tracks, even if it wasn’t penned by Wetton/Downes) and of course, “Heat Of The Moment”, and I’m pretty sure the audience was left satisfied.
In a musical era populated by such freaks of nature as Lady Gaga and others of her ilk, it was refreshing to simply enjoy an evening of great music, played to perfection by four gentlemen who, even after nearly 30 years, are still at the top of their game.