The original members of Asia figured only time would tell if they would ever come back together again.
And time has indeed told.
The all-star quartet — guitarist Steve Howe (Yes), drummer Carl Palmer (Emerson, Lake & Palmer), singer-bassist John Wetton (Roxy Music, Uriah Heep, U.K., King Crimson) and keyboardist Geoff Downes (Buggles, Yes) — reunited last year to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their formation. Intended as “a one-off,” according to Palmer, it’s led to a new live album and DVD, another year of touring and studio sessions for this lineup’s third album under the Asia banner.
“It’s proof there was a great chemistry originally — we just weren’t sensible enough to realize that this was a golden opportunity and not to blow it,” says Howe, 60, who was partnered with Wetton in 1981, shortly after Yes temporarily split up, by record executive John Kalodner.
“The fact it got messed up was our fault. So we felt like we’ve owed it to each other to put it right. We’re a bit more sensible and level-headed now. We sense that there’s some unfinished business here.”
Asia was an out-of-the-box hit in 1982, when its self-titled debut came out and hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart. Named Album of the Year by the trade magazine, it launched the hits “Heat of the Moment” and “Only Time Will Tell.”
But this version of Asia proved fragile. After another Top 10 album, “Alpha,” in 1983, the group began to splinter over egos and the usual “creative differences.”
“I was quite surprised at how shortlived it was,” says Palmer, 57. “There was a personal problem within the band, which made it come to its natural end.” Howe and Palmer joined reunited Yes and ELP, respectively. Wetton moved on to a variety of lower-profile projects. And Downes kept Asia going, recording another six studio albums with 13 different members moving through the roster. “Geoff had a long time nurturing the idea of what Asia is,” says Howe, explaining that he and the keyboardist “have often talked about whether or not we’re gonna do (the original lineup) again.” But it was Downes’ reunion with Wetton for a 2005 album called “Icon” that set the Asia reunion in full motion.
“Geoff told me John was in great shape, really healthy, singing wonderfully, and we gradually moved on from there,” Howe says. “I think people were waiting for the right signals ... to know people are doing this for the right reasons.”
The CD/DVD “Fantasia Live in Tokyo” shows Asia, whose members’ musical chops were never in question, to still be in strong form — and, unlike in its first incarnation, playing songs from their other bands, including Yes’ “Roundabout,” the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star,” King Crimson’s “In the Court of the Crimson King” and ELP’s arrangement of Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man.”
“We like the chemistry now more than ever,” Howe reports, and the good news for Asia fans is that more new music is on the way from this lineup. The group, according to the guitarist, is “starting the process of recording” and expects to have a new album out in 2008.
“We feel good about that,” Howe says. “We’re trying to make an album that isn’t terribly predictable for us. We’re not doing retrospective music; we’re certainly going to try to show our histories but still have a slightly more diverse range.
“We’re not trying to live up to the first album; that’s a very hard task. Our approach is to make an album we all like, and if we all like it, it’s probably the right thing to do.”
The four musicians are maintaining their other interests; Howe, for instance, recently started a jazz trio with his son, Dylan, and anticipates some Yes activity in 2008. But, he adds, Asia is now a going concern, and “there’s no issue of moving Asia out of the way so I can do Yes. We’ll find a way to make them both co-exist.”
The Asia reunion, Howe adds, “wasn’t put together by managers because somebody was bankrupt. We knew there would be some financial remuneration, but we really felt like we needed this for ourselves as well. “I think, hopefully, we’ll be more appreciative of this opportunity now — and I think it is an opportunity, one we’ve waited a long time for.” If you go
Asia performs at 8 p.m. Friday (July 6th) at Rockin’ on the Riverfront at the GM Renaissance Center Riverfront Plaza in downtown Detroit. Admission is free. Call (313) 567-3126 or visit www.gmrencen.com.
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