Asia takes audience back to the ’80s

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First Posted: 9/30/2014

Three-quarters of the progressive-rock supergroup Asia made it feel like 1982 all over again at the Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs on Sunday.

The British band consisting of original members John Wetton (lead vocals and bass), Geoff Downes (keyboards and backing vocals), Carl Palmer (drums and percussion) and newcomer Sam Coulson (guitar) rocked the Keystone Grand Ballroom for just about 90 minutes Sunday, proving the group’s debut album still holds up well more than 30 years after its release.

The original line-up, including guitarist Steve Howe who bowed out in 2013 to focus on other projects including his on-again status in the group Yes, has been back together since 2006. Unlike the band’s 2006-2007 reunion tour, which made a stop at Wilkes-Barre’s Kirby Center, this time there were no nods to the group members’ pasts in bands such as Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Yes, King Crimson, and The Buggles.

And even though the band released its most recent record “Gravitas” in March, Sunday’s performance was all about past Asia triumphs, with six of the 14 tunes played coming from 1982’s self-titled debut, which spent nine weeks at the top of the Billboard 200 and was that year’s biggest-selling album.

They came out of the gate strong with top-notch performances of the first album’s “Soul Survivor,” “Wildest Dreams” and “Time Again,” with Palmer, now 64 and still able to make a fine racket on his drum kit, adding a gong to his arsenal for the last one.

The band followed with “Valkyrie,” the night’s only selection from “Gravitas,” then Wetton announced it was time for a little flag waving as he and Coulson grabbed acoustic guitars for 1985’s “Voice of America.”

Wetton showed off his still formidable vocal chops on “The Smile Has Left Your Eyes,” accompanied for the most part solely by Downes’ piano (the full band played a bombastic coda to the ballad from 1983, perhaps the only misstep of the evening). Palmer emerged from behind the drums to announce the next number, “An Extraordinary Life” from 2008’s “Phoenix.”

The band followed with a great performance of 1990’s “Days Like These,” then Downes, whom Palmer called the “King of the Keys,” was featured on the instrumental coda of the first album’s “Cutting It Fine.”

Coulson – who was born five years after the band’s debut record was released – did a fine job both recreating Howe’s parts from the recorded versions and adding his own flair to each number. He was especially good on 1985’s “Go” (Mandy Meyer, formerly of Krokus, played on the original version following Howe’s first departure) and 1983’s “Open Your Eyes.”

Wetton ribbed Coulson a bit by asking, “Who was around in 1983?” before a spectacular version of that year’s Top 10 hit “Don’t Cry.”

Palmer then took over for a seven-minute drum solo that brought most of the crowd to its feet, and the rest of the band re-emerged for a great rendition of “Only Time Will Tell” from the first album.

Following the aforementioned “Open Your Eyes,” which again brought the crowd to its feet, Asia finished up with its signature song “Heat of the Moment,” as more than a few audience members crowded around the front of the stage to dance and sing along.