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Asia charts its own place on the musical map

  • JOE PLASKO/TIMES NEWS Carl Palmer drives the beat for Asia at Penn's Peak Thursday evening.
    JOE PLASKO/TIMES NEWS Carl Palmer drives the beat for Asia at Penn's Peak Thursday evening.
Published August 06. 2010 05:00PM

Asia has been defined as a supergroup, since it is comprised of members from other British progressive rock bands.

Fans of the genre sometimes don't reserve the reverence for Asia that they do for Yes, King Crimson, Roxy Music and other bands that preceded it, but Asia continues to chart its own path and shouldn't take a backseat to anyone.

The secret to Asia's commercial success, upon the release of its multiplatinum debut album in 1982, is that the quartet create a whole even greater than it's the sum of its formidable parts.

The original foursome reunited in 2006 and is still going strong, releasing its second album since its reformation ("Omega") and making its third appearance at Penn's Peak in Jim Thorpe Thursday evening.

To make its point, the band avoided doing some of the songs of its members' other bands, making this truly an evening with Asia, as it was billed.

Asia has always had a knack for producing anthemic rock, complete with all the vaunted musicianship of its famous predecessors.

Singer and bassist John Wetton remains in fine voice, teaming with keyboard player Geoff Downes to create the harmonies that emebllish Asia's songs. The duo teamed for some of the evening's more intimate moments, stripping two hits from the band's second album "Alpha" down to their core.

"Don't Cry" became a sing-along that engaged the audience, and "The Smile Has Left Your Eyes" was no less compelling, although the rest of the band joined Wetton and Downes to bring it home with a flourish.

Downes is the unsung hero of the group, standing behind a bank of eight keyboards and producing the layers that provide an almost symphonic feel to Asia's musical mix.

Guitarist Steve Howe and drummer Carl Palmer are renowned on their instruments, and each demonstrated their remarkable chops while still playing within the ensemble.

Howe, like Downes a member of the Yes legion, retains his guitar god status. He produced concise runs and solos that still catch one's attention. His solo turn on acoustic guitar displayed his knack for six-string dexterity without overstating his case.

Palmer remains one of the best and most entertaining drummers in captivity, and one can have a lot of fun watching him pound out the percussion. His powerful work propels Asia's compositions beyond the ordinary.

Palmer's drum solo was something to watch. It lasted only three minutes, much less than some of his double-digit long efforts in Emerson, Lake and Palmer, but no less compelling.

He juggled his drumsticks, actually getting one to dance alone on a cymbal, as well as ripping through some synthesized percussion and bashing away on his double gongs. The solo, which came during "The Heat Goes On" produced plenty of heat and earned Palmer a standing ovation.

Asia's latest compositions from "Omega" fit in well with its more familiar material. In fact, the band opened with "I Believe" and also managed to fit in the catchy "Holy War" and "End of the World" , as well as Howe's "Through My Veins" without losing anyone's attention.

The band didn't ignore its comeback album, "Phoenix", either, representing it with "Never Again" and "An Extraordinary Life."

"Open Your Eyes" from "Alpha" was a highlight, concluding with a full-fledged jam, and "Go" remains an underappreciated effort from the "Astra" album.

The rest of the set was primarily focused on the hits from that self-titled debut album that originally put Asia on the musical map. "Only Time Will Tell", "Sole Survivor", "Time and Time Again" all retain their appeal in their live form.

The encore included 1990s "Days Like These" as well as Asia's first hit, "Heat of the Moment", which is a microcosm of what the band does best, which is blend its talents into an accessible form.

Asia proved that it is indeed a super group in reality, not just on paper. Here's hoping Asia can keep it going into the foreseeable future the second time around.

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