“The show in the glorious Roman Theater of Plovdiv, with orchestra, along with the massive Sweden Rock Festival and the shows in the Uk and the European tour thereafter, were the first dates of the new chapter of Asia—and in my opinion, the band has never sounded better.” Words from Asia bassist and vocalist John Wetton about the gig in 2013 that was filmed for this multi-format release. Hopeful words for the future of a band held in such high regard by fans and peers alike. Sadly, Wetton succumbed to cancer and passed away before the next chapter in the Asia story began with the much anticipated US tour with Journey. The ex King Crimson band member, and successful solo artist, leaves behind him an incredible body of work. It’s easy to forget just how massive Asia were in the 80’s. The self-titled debut album, released in 1982, was a massive success. 4 million album sales in America, 10 million worldwide. Fuelled by the hit singles ‘Only Time Will Tell’ and ‘Heat Of The Moment’, which were perfect for the blossoming MTV network, these were heady times for the prog “supergroup”. In reality, Asia were way more AOR than prog, hence the amount of units shifted in America. Break-ups and reunions followed, and although the same heights were never reached, the fan base was/is still rabid.
Always a powerful live attraction, the serious muso side of Wetton, Carl Palmer, Geoff Downes, and Steve Howe worked in tandem with some sublime moments of perfect pop rock. New guitarist, Sam Coulson had some big shoes to fill when Howe stepped down in 2013. Although this live release is bereft of any tracks from the only studio album that he played on, 2014’s ‘Gravitas’, his work stands out immensely, especially on ‘Only Time Will Tell’, where his subtle playing nestles in nicely alongside the masterful keyboard work from Downes. As the album title suggests, ‘Symfonia’ sees Asia playing alongside an orchestra for the second half of the show. The Plovdiv Philharmonic, conducted by Levon Manukian, appear as the band begin to reel off their greatest hits, and the addition of strings and horns greatly enhances them. ‘Don’t Cry’, and the beautiful acoustic ‘Heroine’ are perhaps the two best examples. Wetton is in fine voice throughout, and seems to be in a great place after his battles with alcohol and open heart surgery. It’s tragic that, after surviving two massive battles, a third claimed his life, but there is plenty here to rejoice in. ‘The Smile Has Left Your Eyes’ is as gorgeous as ever, and the show-stopping ‘Heat Of The Moment’ serves as a timely reminder of how crucial Downes was to Asia. Carl Palmer?… one of the top five drummers in the world, period.
As ‘Heat Of The Moment’ winds down, Wetton says to the crowd “God bless, look after yourself, we’ll see you again”. A real bittersweet moment to end what has become a fitting tribute to an icon of prog rock.
‘Symfonia’ is available now through Frontiers Music.
Review: Dave Stott