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Original Asia, House of Blues, Las Vegas

Last night we went to see "(The Original Members of) Asia" at the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay.

I was looking forward to this one. We left work earlyish and parked and at about 5:30pm once again there was no queue for the buffet. I'm telling you, every time we go there there's no queue - except when we're with someone, and we've told them not to expect a wait on line... Unfortunately neither of us enjoyed the buffet as much as usual. For me it was probably the raw garlic clove I chewed up early on. I thought it was roasted, but mastication had well and truly taken place before my brain got the message: crunchy? I should have spat it out (there was no chance of grossing out any of the other patrons - at least any more than they already were. Eating crab *is* messy, OK? The damn things don't like being eaten, they fight back) but like an idiot I thought I should swallow. What can I say? I try to be tidy.

Anyway, it burned all the way down. Perhaps it wasn't garlic. Or maybe garlic is now toxic, for me. I have no idea. The burning was soon replaced by a powerful need to throw up. Dinner not going well, then.

L suggested getting some bread to settle the stomach, which was a great idea. Perhaps it was that, perhaps it was the walk to the bread station, either way when I got back I felt better.

None of the other dishes at the buffet appealed after that. The coffee there is always good though. And they had biscotti... What could be bad!

Ok, so this is supposed to be a concert review...

The HOB was close to sold out, which was fun. From what I've been hearing, most of their dates are selling out, but then they are touring smaller venues to "test the waters" and it's always more fun to play to a full house. (In Vegas especially. Ho ho. Is Poker joke, dontcha know.)

We were sitting way up at the back, almost at the lounge level. There were a lot of hard-core fans around us, which was fun. We had a great view down onto the stage.

The original line-up of Asia was (and is now, I guess) Steve Howe on guitar (formerly of Yes at the time), John Wetton on bass and vocals (formerly of Roxy Music, King Crimson, U.K., and the occasional solo album), Geoff Downes on keys (formerly of The Buggles, and Yes also, briefly), and Carl Palmer on Drums (from ELP of course).

That's a pretty stellar line up of prog-rock royalty, and in 1982 it was a given that I'd like the album - Roger Dean cover and all - but I don't think it was guaranteed that the rest of the western music-buying world would also seem to like it. A #1 album and all that. Kind of embarrassing for the Yes/ELP fanbase, heh. That kind of mega-success pretty much blew the band apart during the tour behind the hastily recorded second album in 1983. The band has limped along in various incarnations since then with Geoff Downes holding down the keyboard position.

So 23 years later, who can blame them for burying hatchets and putting a tour together. I feel kind of sad for the other guys who were in Asia up until now - apparently they are salvaging the music they were working on for the next Asia album and doing their own thing. I'd be pretty bitter if I were them.

On to the performance itself, which was awesome, considering their age and that they hadn't been playing together regularly since 1983. "25th Anniversary Tour", well that's stretching it. It's only their third year playing as a band. </snark>

No really, it was awesome. They played every track from their first eponymous album from 1982, every track a winner in my book. Some tasteful acoustic renditions of selected tracks from album #2, and four "surprise" tracks, one each from previous bands that each of the guys had been members of. I kind of wish I hadn't been reading the reviews of previous concerts, because they weren't surprises to me.

"Fanfare for the Common Man" was ripping. Mr Howe added some very tasty licks to the conventional trio arrangement. I thought at first Geoff was using a sampled GX1 patch because it sounded so like the "real" thing, but I think it was just a really closely programmed patch - sounded great except that he didn't seem to have the top octave and some of the chords at the upper end were inverted or something.

"In the Court of the Crimson King" was an odd choice but it seemed to go over ok, the audience chanting along to the Ahhhhhhhh Ahhhh-a-ahhhh bit (if you know the song...)

"Roundabout" was a brave choice, I think, but again they pulled it off in my opinion. Palmer was great, nice drumming. Lisa said she missed Chris Squire's bass and yeah, I kinda agree.

Finally, "Video Killed the Radio Star" seems bizzare, but... again, this really rocked. Cool. Geoff donned the trademark silver jacket and shades that were iconic of The Buggles. I bet it wasn't the same jacket, though, because Mr Downes is looking portly these days.

Throughout the entire evening, Carl Palmer really pounded out the rhythm. That man is a machine, and he gets better with age. He did a nice, concise drum solo of the kind that we'd seen earlier in the year on his solo tour, although I think this one was better.

Steve Howe played with more energy and animism than I've ever seen. Bouncing around, kick and ducking and jumping around. He pulled off all the guitar parts from the album with ease, no shortcuts that I could see. Very impressive. He stuck to the bare mimimum of guitars, using a Gibson Artist model (with symmetrical scratch plates) which as far as I know he has not played in public anywhere since 1983. He had several of these back then, deliberately sticking with the one guitar model for Asia, rather than the arsenal of different axes he brings to Yes concerts.

Geoff Downes reproduced the necessary tones from a line-up of 6 keyboards, mostly Roland gear I think. At least one V-Synth for sure. And I think there was a VP-550 as well, because as well as Vocoding, he seemed to be reinforcing his backing vocals nicely, in a natural and non-vocoding fashion. Other reviewers have said there were backing tapes being used for vox, but I don't think so. The only time maybe was during "Only Time Will Tell" which kind of had John Wetton singing two parts which isn't really possible without sample triggering at least.

John Wetton was in fine voice. He usually sings flat (at least on most of the live albums I've heard on which he is featured) but not tonight. Yes, he's matured and deepened with time, but he can still sing. His bass playing was disappointing though. He's know for a distinctive and powerful bass style but I really couldn't hear it.

Nonetheless, a really good show. I would see it again if it comes through town again. Future plans for the group have not been revealed, although I heard a radio interview where someone called in to complain that they weren't hitting Northern California on this tour, and one of them, I think Steve, said that next year they'd be sure to cover more ground. He sounded quite clear and positive. I guess YES aren't getting back together anytime soon then.

Still, with these guys clearly anything can happen.