Review by David Waterfield, photos by Mark Lloyd
Saturday night in a windswept Wolverhampton saw the welcome return of Asia to the Midlands. The band are entering a new phase following the departure of original member Steve Howe last year and the release of their excellent new album Gravitas in March. The band’s new recruit, 27 year old Stourbridge-born guitarist Sam Coulson (jokingly introduced by John Wetton as being from West Bromwich, to a chorus of boos from the crowd!) has brought a vitality and freshness to Asia and has given the band a harder edge to their sound.
The evening’s set is a good mix of the old and the new, with familiar well-loved classics standing shoulder to shoulder with strong material from recent albums. A double salvo of ‘Sole Survivor’ and ‘Wildest Dreams’ kicks off proceedings in fine nostalgic style but four of the next five songs are newer ones, with a moving ‘I Know How You Feel’ a particular standout. The arrival of Coulson has also allowed Asia to introduce songs from their criminally underrated 1985 album Astra into their live set and it was refreshing to hear an acoustic rendition of ‘Voice Of America’ (dedicated to Brian Wilson) and one of my personal favourites, the surging, riff-driven ‘Go’.
The current Asia line up seems to be a band at ease with themselves – and with each other – and that warmth and camaraderie transmits to the stage. John Wetton is in fine form throughout; his rich, melodic, powerful voice sounding as good as ever. The life-affirming ‘An Extraordinary Life’ remains one of the band’s crowning achievements and by way of contrast it’s followed by ‘Gravitas’, an embattled plea for dignity amidst irretrievable relationship breakdown. It’s an absolute belter of a track featuring a superb solo from Coulson and it came across very well live.
Drum solos can sometimes be the cue to head to the bar but not when it’s Carl Palmer! No one was going anywhere during his electrifying solo. I happened to be standing three rows from the front and it was fascinating to watch a master musician at work from that close up.
The crowd sang along, as they had most of the night, to the band’s timeless classics ‘Only Time Will Tell’, ‘Open Your Eyes’ and ‘Heat Of The Moment’ that concluded the show and with no encore Asia leave the Wolverhampton audience calling for more. There was an enthusiastic and good sized crowd at The Wulfrun Hall but the venue was by no means full – which is disappointing – but those that stayed away missed out on an excellent night of great music in the company of a truly great rock band.
1. Sole Survivor
2. Wildest Dreams
3. Face On The Bridge
4. Time Again
6. Finger On The Trigger
7. I Know How You Feel
8. Voice Of America
9. The Smile Has Left Your Eyes
10. Keyboard Solo (‘Cutting It Fine’ end section)
11. My Own Time (I’ll Do What I Want)
12. An Extraordinary Life
14. Days Like These
16. Don’t Cry
17. Drum Solo
18. Only Time Will Tell
19. Open Your Eyes
20. Heat Of The Moment