Asia: Axis XXX - Live San Francsico

The supergroup’s unfussy yet substantial concert release.

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Both in terms of the performance and the way it’s been shot, Asia’s new tour film is a little sedate, and this works to everyone’s advantage. While so many live releases tend to put the emphasis on the multi-camera action, and lots of unnecessary cuts to emphasise pace, here everything is a touch more natural. As a result this is actually enjoyable, almost relaxing, although never to the point where you feel too comfortable.

The band ease into the unmistakable Only Time Will Tell and Wildest Dreams, setting the tone for what follows. John Wetton is in fine voice and is a laidback presence upfront. He’s never really been a ‘showman’ per se, but ultimately that’s a strength, which allows Steve Howe’s virtuosity to shine through while Geoff Downes pumps out keyboard soundscapes, and Carl Palmer assiduously does his thing behind the kit. What strikes you immediately is that each member is in their own zone, and the crossover between the musicians comes through the songs, not due to any false bonhomie or intra-band horseplay. Asia show their prog leanings because the music is pushed right to the fore, while there are precious few arena rock quirks. Inevitably, they all get a solo spotlight, with Howe being particularly inventive on acoustic guitar as he plays Pyramidology and The Golden Mean. Wetton and Downes team up for a duo rendering of Don’t Cry and much of The Smile Has Left Your Eyes, with the rest of the band returning as the latter reaches a crescendo. Palmer links Holy War and An Extraordinary Life with acrobatic, fully armoured percussive plunges, before Here Comes The Feeling and Open Your Eyes complete the main set. The encore builds up around Sole Survivor, with an extended definition of Heat Of The Moment proving suitably climactic, as Wetton urges the crowd to chant the chorus over and over again. The filming concentrates almost exclusively on the band, with few cutaway shots of fans. All of which means this has more continuity than many DVDs released these days. Moreover, there are no onstage gimmicks, which allows the music and the musicians to be the dominant focus. In this sense, it’s an old school live film, but that suits Asia, who’ve never hidden behind visual bluster. Axis is a low-key but nonetheless entertaining celebration.