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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Asia

Live Acoustic

Review by Greg Olma

When Tesla released Five Man Acoustical Jam back in 1990, who would have thought that a new type of performance would emerge within metal and even prog?  MTV had a whole series of unplugged performances that worked so well that they released them on CD.  Even Kiss got in the game and used it to unveil a reunion.  Asia is not one of the bands that I would have thought would strip back their music to do an acoustic set because their tunes were always grand, epic (in a pop single way), and full sounding.  I wasn’t sure if removing  that studio gloss would take away all of the charm that an Asia track brings to the listener.  Thankfully, a release like this puts all those concerns to bed because Asia manages to perform many of the songs in a slightly different way while still maintaining the core identity.  While Geoff Downes remains the mastermind behind Asia here, John Payne handles the lead vocals on the disc. I was always a fan of acoustic versions because I feel that a good song was a good song whether or not it got the full studio treatment.  Asia proved that their tunes were good no matter the rendition,  thus proving my point.  I recommend Live Acoustic to non-Asia fans, as well, because these new versions of classic tunes does take away some of the poppy-ness that turned away so many prog fans.

This review is available in book (paperback and hardcover) in Music Street Journal: 2020  Volume 4. More information and purchase links can be found at: garyhillauthor.com/Music-Street-Journal-2020.

Track by Track Review
The Heat Goes On

Things start off with a track that previously had a big sound and driving rhythm. Here the tune takes on a more muted, but very rhythmic approach.  Payne does a great job with vocals, and the music has a stripped down sound while remaining very enjoyable.

Different Worlds
I like this version more than the original because it has a certain emotional performance that I find the studio rendition lacks.  There is space between the notes on this performance, and while the original has a very full sound, this stripped down version really showcases the song.
Back In Town
The original version is quite heavy, but this one has a bit of a country feel to me.  I don’t know if it is the guitar strumming, but it has that country pop feel when stripped back to acoustic.  While I like the original a lot, this one is good in a different way.
Summer
Payne’s performance on this track really spotlights why he was a great fit for the band.  They really break this tune down to something that only vaguely resembles the original, but it works perfectly.
Don’t Call Me
The tune starts off slow but about a minute into the song, it starts to resemble the original.  Even though it is acoustic, they really make the track sound full. and it is probably my favorite on the disc.
Military Man
Aria had a few standout cuts, and this was one of them.  It makes sense to bring out the better tracks, but this is one that I think misses the mark.  The original had a great rhythm and catchy chorus. In this performance, though, they stripped too much out of the tune, and I feel it doesn’t work.
Downes Solo
Geoff Downes' solo spot is always entertaining, and he even dedicated “Video Killed the Radio Star” to his old Yes mate Steve Howe.
Arena
Where “Military Man” failed, this tune succeeds.  The percussion really make this song move along at the original pace. While it has some differences, this performance keeps it close to the studio version.
Only Time Will Tell
One of their biggest hits gets the acoustic treatment, and it works quite well.  Payne does a nice job with the vocals, and the keyboards give it that distinctive sound.
Feels Like Love
The original definitely lends itself to be done acoustically because there is not much going on in the background.  I really like the lead guitar work provided by Aziz Ibrihim, and the song stays true to the studio version.
Who Will Stop The Rain
If I had to pick a favorite song by Asia, I would have to pick this one.  I don’t think that anyone could make a bad version of it because a good song is a good song.  This acoustic rendition very much resembles the original, and they do a great job with it.
Sad Situation
This is an example of changing up a song but still making it work.  The original has an epic sound, but when they removed all the multi-layering, the bare bones of the track are still good.  Payne does a great job throughout the show, and this tune is no different.
Heat Of The Moment
If you were around in 1982, you could not escape this song.  It was on the radio constantly and it was never my favorite song by them.  I enjoy it when I see them perform it live but it was never a highlight like it is for so many fans.  I like this version much better (even with Payne flubbing the vocals in one spot), and there is such an organic feel to this performance that is missing from the original.
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