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Friday, January 20, 2012

Asia: Live In Moscow


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.

3 comments:

  1. I was a bit surprised to read that there were overdubs on this particular release, because it still sounds quite thin. Particularly Downes. This makes it's clear that he needs his studio trickery if he's to sound anything more than generic. He started having a keyboard showcase in Yes and then would do one after "Cutting it Fine". Here, he does a nice job of turning "Video Killed the Radio Star" into an instrumental ballad. But then he just plays a few snippets of "After the War" and "The Heat Goes on", and he needs prerecorded backing tracks to do it (as he did, and would again, with "Cutting it Fine"). Some virtuoso.

    And Pat Thrall might have been Asia's worst guitarist ever. The guy is a hack. All he wants to do is 70's type shredding, whether it's called for or not, like trying to rip up "The Smile Has Left Your Eyes."
    No subtlety or variation in guitar sound at all. Glad he didn't last beyond the tour.

    The setlist is pretty good, I agree. The King Crimson songs, although simplified (Thrall trying Fripp's parts? I don't think so!) "Kari-Anne" (actually a product of the same sessions that produced "Summer (Can't Last Too Long)") is a throwaway.

    I have the same edition that you do, although later ones leave out "Kari-Anne" and include "Wildest Dreams", "Days Like These" and "Praying for a Miracle", and, another big surprise, a version of U.K.'s "Rendezvous 6:02."

    From their "official bootleg" series, the first show from the tour has surfaced. It was recorded live in a TV studio in Nottingham for a video called "Andromeda". The CD is only a full notches above bootleg sound, and the lack of overdubs is apparent, particularly on synths and backing vocals. The best moment there is a simplified version of "..Smile..", with just Wetton's acoustic guitar and a synth. Thrall stays out of the way, which is what one wishes had had done a lot more of.

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  2. Poor George will never admit in this life that he actually LOVES Uriah Heep. Heep may be his favorite band. And he doesn't understand why. It's ok, George, most Heep fan's can't put their finger on it either, but it's something like this: I don't know what I saw in her but, damn, I'll never for get that one night we spent in the backseat as long as I live. Then you badmouth her to your friends, but you know...oh you know... it was the best you ever had.

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    1. That's a pretty mean view of humanity.

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