ASIA: LIVE IN MOSCOW (1991)
1) Time Again; 2) Soul Survivor; 3) Don't Cry; 4) Geoff Downes – Keyboards; 5) Only Time Will Tell; 6) Rock And Roll Dream; 7) Starless; 8) Book Of Saturday; 9) The Smile Has Left Your Eyes; 10) The Heat Goes On; 11) Go; 12) Heat Of The Moment; 13) Open Your Eyes; 14) Kari-Anne.
Later in the decade, having officially settled in the elite center of Crapsville, Asia started releasing something like a dozen live albums per year, so that the grateful fans could savour every tiny nuance of their magnificent power ballads. But in the early 1990s, they were still focusing on the studio, which makes their first venture into live album territory worth at least a brief separate mention. Besides, as a certified Muscovite, I just couldn't ignore this one, could I?
The fact is, of course, that in 1990 the Soviet Union had only just opened its doors to Western acts, and each big live show from an established rock act was a major «happening». This is how old has-beens like Deep Purple and, God forgive me, Uriah Heep made their huge cult followings in Russia — they were among the first acts to probe Russian territory, and, like any efficient pioneer, their efforts were rewarded. (I am guessing that when Ian Gillan strikes ninety and gets to be wheelchaired on the stage to rasp out the old hits in a range of exactly one note, Russia will be the last place where he will still be able to sell out a stadium).
I do not know whether Wetton and Co. understood, on that fateful day (November 9, 1990), that the wild screaming, coming from 40,000 members of the audience at the Olimpiyskiy complex, was not so much for them personally as it was for them as «symbols». I suppose they did, as I have no reason to doubt their human intelligence (no matter how songs like 'Kari-Anne' would like me to think otherwise). But in any case, it was reasonable enough to commemorate the event, plus Wetton probably did not want his Russian-learning efforts to go to waste (nothing special, though, everybody can be trained to say spasibo with an awful English accent).
In any case, this «edge» is necessary, because, taken out of context, the performance is not at all impressive. Not a single song presents any interesting developments over the studio version. Wetton sings well, but occasionally either flubs a note or two or steps too far away from the mike. The lack of Howe is quite noticeable: temporary replacement Pat Thrall is good at generic speed runs and Rambo-style guitar-god posturing, but he cannot even reproduce the exquisite Yes-style bits during the climactic chorus-back-to-verse transitions on 'Only Time Will Tell' (hmph). And Geoff Downes gets to have a lengthy piano/synth solo improv piece, as if he were Rick Wakeman — but last time I checked, he still wasn't.
These are the bad news. The good news is that, overall, the setlist is respectable — yes, they do play 'The Heat Goes On', and they even manage to make it rock with an impressively wild (for Asia standards) organ solo. I could do without the overtly sentimental hits like 'The Smile Has Left Your Eyes', but they are in the minority, and to sweeten the deal, Wetton throws on a couple of his old highlights from the King Crimson era — probably to placate the few «true» progressive rock fans in the audience while the rest are still impatiently waiting for 'Heat Of The Moment'. Strange enough, neither 'Starless' nor 'Book Of Saturday' sound way too out of place on the album — probably because, without Fripp, they are somewhat effectively Asia-nized (still sound like specific hotspots for Wetton, though).
One new studio creation is tacked on at the end — a particularly dumb «love rocker» titled 'Kari-Anne', which, unfortunately, is not a re-spelled cover of the Hollies' 'Carrie Ann', but an entirely new song that you can dedicate to your loved one only if you are living under highly strenuous social conditions; it boldly paves the way to Payne-era Asia, and how. My advice is to just ignore it and concentrate on the live show — or, better still, not concentrate on the live show either, because there is honestly no need for this record unless you do research on Western cultural influence on late-Soviet and post-Soviet Russia. In that respect, the decibels generated by a 40,000 strong Russian crowd assembled from all corners of the SU are far more important here than the ones generated by this sad memento of mainstream Eighties' spirit.