Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, the popular music of that time was an eclectic mix for certain. The politically driven folk type songs of the 60’s were being replaced with a fun mix of Motown disco and R&B, a new wave of synthesized pop, Southern and hard rock, a cross over at times from country radio and adult contemporary to the top 40, heavy metal and punk rock bands, and a taste of what we commonly refer to today as rap. During this time we also saw an influx of pop and rock from across the pond. These English artists brought to us some amazing music, and a culture all their own. Vinyl albums were purchased for their artwork, and listened to from start to finish introducing listeners to not only the popular music, but the B side which many times was as good if not better than those songs chosen for release by the record companies. It was a pleasure being able to grow up during this era and be open to listening to so many genres of music. Trying to pick just one favorite during this time period is near to impossible. However there are several favorites that come to mind, one being Asia.
I can remember well the summer I wore out my first Asia album. It was the summer of 1982 and I was just getting ready to begin my senior year at GHS. This was their first album, and as Asia hit the charts, each single released climbed the charts with record speeds. It was one of those albums that you could listen to from start to finish with the first song being as awesome as the next. There was something about the arrangements of synthesizer and percussion, mixed with the greatest lyrics and strings that made this rock and roll, classic and timeless.
I had a chance to speak with Geoff Downes from Asia prior the show about their longevity in the business, their newest album Gravitas, and touring in America. We spoke of how New York seems to be the point of origin each time they kick off a tour. They’ve played the Turning Stone several times now. We also spoke of the huge success of their initial album Asia, that earned them two Grammy nominations. They were so excited with how America embraced them and the wonderful memories that went along with their initial tour. Since that day they’ve had the opportunity to travel world wide sharing their music with their fans and building memories as they toured. The first album set the bar high and held to encourage them to continue in their unique sound over the course of the next 30+ years as they played together. Even as they worked on solo projects and collaborated with other bands, they found themselves reuniting and continuing to record album after album. In 2013 the stress of touring with two bands at the same time, lead Steve Howe to the decision to retire from Asia and dedicate 100% of his work time to Yes. John Wetton returned at that time, and they immediately began recording Gravitas. Asia continues to play to audiences all over the world, some new fans, and many tried and true fans. They enjoy bringing their music to everyone, and spoke of how appreciative they are to still be able to play to their fans night after night.
I spoke to Geoffe about Roger Dean. Roger Dean was asked originally to come up with the album art for their self-titled debut album. The unique dragon he designed seemed to epitomize everything they were trying to accomplish with their music and became a signature look. We agreed that people tend to buy the albums not only for the music but for the wonderful artwork that came on the exterior. Geoffe pointed out that although the artwork is still here on CDs, it’s not the full size effect they used to be able to give listeners along with the vinyl. What they used to be able to offer to the listener was an entire package of their music, an experience. So as one would listen to the album they could scour the album, look at the lyrics, and experience the entire album in a unique way. They continued to feature Roger’s artwork on album after album, personally one of my favorite things about this group. They know when they’ve got something right, and they just continue to do that. Geoff and I agreed we could have talked for hours about all the experiences they’ve had over the years, but I thanked him for sharing his time and hung up with even more anticipation for the show the next evening.
As Asia took the stage the following night, I couldn’t help feel an excitement seeing one of my all time favorite bands for the first time play hit after hit, and found myself still knowing all the words and all the notes that were coming next. Their unique sound of percussion, electric guitar, keyboards, organ, synthesizers, and vocals meld perfectly together to bring you the unique rock sound that sets them apart from other bands of the time. Their songs can be heard over and over again still today in television, movies, and this timelessness is what gives them music longevity.
To watch them live was an experience. Geoff floored me with his ability to play his 9 piece keyboard rig simultaneously, while John Wetton and Carl Palmer hit the notes with such preciseness you wondered if it was live or Memorex. The newcomer Sam Coulson added an edge with his electric guitar and solos and proved to me that Asia will withstand the test of time with new life, new music, and new fans as time goes on. The new album they are touring with, Gravitas, means dignity, seriousness, or solemnity of manner. Although it has a few of these serious traits, I think once you give a listen, you will agree that it’s purely magic, and proof that great music is timeless.
Setlist: Sole Survivor>Wildest Dreams>Time Again>Valkyrie>Voice of America>The Smile Has Left Your Eyes>An Extraordinary Life>Days Like These>Go>Don’t Cry>Drum Solo>Only Time Will Tell>Open Your Eyes> Heat of the Moment