When AOR supergroup Asia came to Japan in March last year, all seven dates of their tour sold out. The excitement was, perhaps, forgivable: It had taken the band’s original lineup more than 25 years to get here.
When they formed in 1981, Asia were a wet-dream combination of musical prowess and questionable taste. Between them, vocalist/bassist John Wetton, guitarist Steve Howe, keyboardist Geoff Downes and drummer Carl Palmer had served time in some of the biggest bands of the 1970s, including King Crimson, Yes, Emerson, Lake & Palmer and, er, The Buggles.
As Asia, they shucked their progressive-rock tendencies in favor of more radio-friendly fodder, leading Rolling Stone magazine to dub their music “pure commodity.” The group’s eponymous 1982 debut album was a massive hit, eventually going quadruple platinum in the U.S. and spawning such notable karaoke fodder as “Heat of the Moment” and “Sole Survivor.”
However, the success was to be short-lived. When the following year’s “Alpha” failed to do such robust business, things quickly grew acrimonious. Wetton left the band in October 1983, to be briefly replaced by ELP’s Greg Lake when Asia played at the Nippon Budokan in December that year. In a brilliantly rock ‘n’ roll gesture, Lake read most of the song lyrics off an autocue during the concert.
You’d go cross-eyed trying to follow Asia’s multiple personnel changes since then, and the return of their original lineup is shadowed by a rival outfit, Asia Featuring John Payne, one of the many members through the band’s revolving door. Still, the Four Original Members of Asia, as they’re sometimes referred to, are keen to prove that things are back to business as usual. This month saw the release of a new album, “Phoenix,” that picks up almost exactly where they left off in ’83, complete with heavy reverb, power riffs and synth fanfares galore.
And, just to show that they know on which side their bread’s buttered, there’s even a shout-out to Shibuya in the lyrics.
Asia play May 8 at Fukuoka Civic Hall ( 771-9009); May 10 at Osaka Koseinenkin Kaikan ( 6341-4506); May 11 at Chukyo Daigaku Bunka Shimin Kaikan, Nagoya ( 241-8118); May 12 at Tokyo International Forum ( 3402-5999); and May 13 at Shibuya CC Lemon Hall ( 3402-5999). All shows cost ¥7,500-¥8,500 and start at 7 p.m. (5 p.m. on May 11). For further details, visit www.udo.jp/artist/Asia/