Supergroup returns to Penn's Peak Thursday
Asia, featuring original members (from left) Steve Howe, Carl Palmer, Geoffrey Downes and John Wetton, will perform at Penn's Peak in Jim Thorpe Thursday evening.
By now, it is obvious that the reunion of the four original members of Asia has taken on a life of its own.
To borrow the title of one of the British supergroup's songs, it has been beyond their wildest dreams.
"I don't think anyone envisioned it," said Asia keyboardist Geoffrey Downes, in a phone interview from Alexandria, Virginia, prior to the soundcheck for a concert on the band's current tour, which includes a stop at Penn's Peak in Jim Thorpe Thursday night. Doors open at 6 p.m., with showtime at 8 p.m.
In fact, this is the fifth tour for the reunited Asia since it reformed in 2006, which means the founding members have now been back together longer the second time around than they were when they first burst on the music scene in the 1980's. The reunion has also produced two albums, "Phoenix" (2008) and the newly-released "Omega".
"We formed in 1981, and the original line-up only lasted until 1984, so we've extended that by a couple of years now," said Downes. "We've been back together for five years, so people know we're very serious about what we do, and we're not doing it just to make a quick buck."
Asia originated with its members coming from other British progressive rock bands. Guitarist Steve Howe came from Yes, as did Downes, who was also a member of the new wave duo The Buggles ("Video Killed the Radio Star"). Lead singer and bassist John Wetton played with King Crimson, U.K., Uriah Heep and Roxy Music, and drummer Carl Palmer was one-third of the trio of Emerson, Lake and Palmer.
Asia's self-titled debut, released by Geffen Records in 1982, was an immediate smash, spending nine weeks at number one on the Billboard Top 200 Album Chart and generating the hit singles "Heat of the Moment" (which reached #4 on the Billboard Hot 100) and "Only Time Will Tell" (#17). The band's videos also saw heavy rotation on the then-new MTV network.
Asia's shorter, catchy songs were radio-friendly and contrasted with the often complex compositions of its prog rock predecessors.
"We did have chemistry," Downes explained about Asia's creative process. "At times some people believed we were put together by record execs and manufactured everything, but we worked very hard to get the right sound that we were satisfied with. It just doesn't happen by magic.
"We wanted to do accessible music but still instill it with musicianship. Carl and John were in bands that were notorious for long, 15-20 minute tracks. All of us wanted to do things that were concise and still had those elements in it."
The sophomore album, "Alpha", hit number six on the Top 200 and included the hits "Don't Cry" (#10) and "The Smile Has Left Your Eyes" (#34), but then Wetton was gone from the group. Wetton returned later, but Howe soon departed and was replaced by Mandy Meyer of Krokus by the time Asia recorded its third album, "Astra" in 1985.
From that point, Asia only hit the Hot 100 twice more, with "Go" (#46) from "Astra" and "Days Like These" (#64) from "Then and Now" (1990).
Downes had kept Asia alive through the years, working primarily with vocalist John Payne; the duo even played an acoustic show at The Palace Restaurant in Lansford.
In 2006, the timing was right for a reunion, and the reformed quartet was billed as "All Four Original Members of Asia". In addition to the Asia hits, the members performed songs from their previous bands, such as "Roundabout" by Yes and ELP's reworking of Aaron Copeland's "Fanfare For the Common Man".
Now, with two new albums, the band can concentrate on an evening with Asia, old and new, rather than performing solo highlights.
"We've revised that concept," said Downes. "We've played that card before. Now, we have two new albums under our belt, as well as our older material. This is now very much an Asia show."
"Omega", which was released in May, has the hallmarks of the classic Asia sound but updates it for the present. "Finger on the Trigger", "Holy War", "I Believe" and "Don't Wanna Lose You Now" stack up well against Asia's signature hits.
"This is very much the start of a new chapter of Asia," mentioned Downes. "We're in a good place, the four of us. As long as it develops that way, we want to keep going with it. We're older and wiser, but the enthusiasm is still there on stage."
The title of the album does not mean things will soon be over for Asia, however.
"This is an independent collection of songs, and there is no concept. The title has more to do with our second album being called 'Alpha'," said Downes. The one-word title is also something Asia used for most of its albums.
"The songs fit in with the older stuff. We didn't try to redo what we did in the past. We tried to reinvent ourselves. That keeps us fresh. We're not just regurgitating the same stuff year in and year out. We've tried to develop and move ahead.
"It's hard to get away from the fact we sound the way we do. We have our own individual sound for our four members. John's voice will always sound like John Wetton, but we are more than the sum of our parts," added Downes.
Asia's members are committed to keeping the band moving forward.
"We've all got different things we do as well, and everyone's space is respected, but once we get together as Asia, we are very much focused on that," admitted Downes. "In many ways, we are carrying on the legacy of Asia and how people will remember it."
An Evening With Asia will be held at Penn's Peak on Thursday, Aug. 5. Tickets are $40 for the Pit (standing room only) and $35 for regular reserved seating. Tickets are available online at www.ticketmaster.com, at Ticketmaster outlets, including Boscov's and Gallery of Sound, at the Penn's Peak box office and Roadies Restaurant. Call (866) 605-PEAK for information.