[Review] Asia Live: 09-XI-90 Mockba (1991)

A surprisingly solid live performance from Moscow featuring new guitarist, Pat Thrall.

Kronomyth 5.0: Better red than dead.

An Asia recently risen from the ashes crept behind the red curtain (in the hallowed footsteps of Uriah Heep perhaps?) and for two sellout dates in chilly November held the Muscovites enThralled. John Wetton, his voice still limber with the last fleeting traces of youth, conjures the old ghosts again with moving clarity: “Time Again,” “Sole Survivor,” etc. Geoff Downes and Carl Palmer are serviceable but sound a little thin in the final mix, standing perhaps a step back from the reconstituted Wetton as he carves his way through the hearts of the freezing faithful. New guitarist Pat Thrall is prone to occasional histrionics, a beserker from the age of thin metal when agility was often disguised in a Poison’d blade, but he stays faithful to the groundwork laid down by Mr. Howe.

Sadly, my American-made disc (we put the “y” in “quality”) contains a glitch that renders tracks four, five and six unplayable (as well as the tail end of “Don’t Cry,” though you won’t hear me complain about that). So when the show resumes on my player, I’m suddenly transported to the ancient lands of King Crimson for fine (but wholly inappropriate) renditions of “Starless” and “Book of Saturday.” I’m more willing to indulge Wetton the history lesson on his lonesome, but dragging Asia into the exercise sells their catalog short (surely “Wildest Dreams” or “One Step Closer” would have been more warmly received). However, I’ve underestimated Crimson’s international (and generational) seepage in the past, so perhaps the Muscovites crave some scrap from this dusty feast as much as the Japanese do.

Downes brings the program back to the land of Asia with “The Smile Has Left Your Eyes,” treating fans to both part I and part II! I had no idea there was a part I, let alone a part II, but here you get the sleepy first treatment and a second treatment that’ll rouse you like an alarm clock. It’s an inkling of things to come as Asia turns up the heat with “The Heat Goes On” and “Heat of the Moment” (not to mention the blazing drum solo from Palmer in its midst). The band lingers over “Open Your Eyes” with the touch of a departing lover and treats us to a new track, “Kari-Anne,” as a parting gift.

As these shows attest, for two nights in November anyway, Moscow was the hottest place on earth. There’s no denying that, to American ears, hearing music bridge the gap between wide ideological differences (noting that I’m more of an anarchist than anything) is a potent reminder that music knows no boundaries and pledges no fealty to the philosophies of history’s bored intellectuals.

The Songs

1. Time Again (John Wetton/Geoff Downes/Carl Palmer/Steve Howe)
2. Sole Survivor (John Wetton/Geoff Downes)
3. Don’t Cry (John Wetton/Geoff Downes)
4. Keyboard Solo (incl. Video Killed The Radio Star) (Geoff Downes incl. Geoff Downes/Trevor Horn/Bruce Wooley)
5. Only Time Will Tell (John Wetton/Geoff Downes)
6. Rock And Roll Dream (John Wetton/Geoff Downes)
7. Starless (John Wetton/Robert Fripp/Richard Palmer-James)
8. Book of Saturday (John Wetton/Robert Fripp/Richard Palmer-James)
9. The Smile Has Left Your Eyes (Parts I & II) (John Wetton)
10. The Heat Goes On (incl. Drum Solo) (John Wetton/Geoff Downes incl. Carl Palmer)
11. Go (John Wetton/Geoff Downes)
12. Heat of the Moment (John Wetton/Geoff Downes)
13. Open Your Eyes (John Wetton/Geoff Downes)
14. Kari-Anne (John Wetton/Geoff Downes)

The Players

Geoff Downes (keyboards and harmony vocals), Carl Palmer (drums and percussion), Pat Thrall (guitar and harmony vocals), John Wetton (lead voice, bass guitar, grand piano, acoustic guitar). Produced by Asia; executive producer Bob Carruthers.

The Plastic

Released on compact disc and cassette in 1991 in the US (Rhino, R2 70377), Europe (Cromwell/Essential, ESSCD 174), Japan (Cromwell/Warner, WPCP-4623) and Thailand (Cromwell/Warner, 76176-4).

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