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Asia - Fantasia: Live in Tokyo
Film lovers may know the name David Geffen as being the "G" in the SKG part of Dreamworks. But I first became aware of him decades ago in his guise as first an agent (there are hilarious stories of one his first clients, Laura Nyro, forcing him to wear a leash while she walked him like a dog in Central Park), and, later, a recording company executive. Geffen pioneered the concept of the "corporate band," supergroups assembled from the pieces of former big chartmakers. Such a beast was Asia, cobbled together from the remnants of Yes, ELP and, perhaps a bit anachronistically, King Crimson. Though Asia never really developed the artistic innovation of their members' forebearers, and had less of a cultural and chart impact than might have been hoped, the band had (and still has) excellent musicianship, if it's clad in rather pedestrian songwriting that exhibits little of the flair that fans of the former groups of these players might have expected.
The fact is sometimes things look better on paper than they actually end up being in reality, and my personal reaction to Asia bears that out. Looking at the personnel--Geoff Downes, Carl Palmer, Steve Howe and John Wetton--you'd think you'd be getting a virtual goldmine of progressive rock. Instead, Asia deals largely in clichés and surprisingly lame songwriting (their biggest hit, "Heat of the Moment," included here as the big finale, is a prime example). When the band actually does "cover" versions of some of their former bands' hits, like Yes' "Roundabout," you're immediately taken by the much more impressive craft of those tunes (even if John Wetton's growling rock vocals can't match Jon Anderson's pure sine wave tenor). That's part and parcel of the problem with Asia--fans of these masters' previous outings are going to be constantly in comparison mode, and the comparisons unfortunately aren't very flattering.
What this 2007 Tokyo concert preserves is some outstanding musicianship, even if it's never very exciting. Each of these great performers gets their chance to show off a little, and they all sound fantastic, especially Howe, who is certainly one of the most underappreciated guitarists of his generation. But it's all for naught, sadly. The songs themselves just kind of lie there and die slow, agonizing, three-chord deaths.
The audience is polite and quite restrained (especially for a rock arena crowd), perhaps due to their, ahem, Asian upbringing. But even that goes to the fact that this music is simply not very inspired. It's technically brilliant, flawlessly performed, but has the emotional pull of stainless steel. The concert is well filmed, if too much of it is bathed in a hellish red glare (intentional irony, perhaps?). The band obviously has a sense of humor, entering to the strains of Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance No. 1," but if that's supposed to be a not so subtle hint that they're in the same league as that vaunted British composer, I for one am not buying it.
Fantasia Live in Tokyo looks very nice indeed in a crisp, enhanced 1.78:1 AVC transfer. Colors, saturation and contrast are all top notch if, as stated above, too much of the concert is bathed in red. There's excellent close up coverage of each of these musicians (if an occasional miscue on camera usage--when there's a drum solo, we should see the drums, not the keyboards). Detail is sharp and precise and I noticed no compression artifacts at all.
Three excellent soundtracks are available, a standard LPCM stereo, and the nicely robust DD 5.1 and DTS HD-MA 5.1 choices. The 5.1 mixes nicely utilize surround channels for various instruments and the occasional crowd semi-uproar. Separation is top notch and the recording captures the filigree of the instruments' interweaving very nicely. If only the music itself were more captivating.
A nice 40 minute interview segment with each of the band members is included, giving a little background on Asia's history and some personal anecdotes.
This is a band that has "should have been" plastered across its actual accomplishments like a sort of sad disclaimer banner. Never rising to the heights of Yes or ELP (or King Crimson, for that matter), Asia shows that something put together by corporate bigwigs may have all the right elements on paper, but ends up lacking that indefinable element of inspiration and emotion that can't be predicted by a contract. Fans of the group (and they are legion) will no doubt love this BD as a great document of the original band doing a lot of Asia's best-remembered tunes, but I can't imagine even them wanting to revisit this very often, so I recommend they, as well as any passingly interested people out there in the public at large, Rent It.
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet