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Asia, live in Gateshead

Despite initial hiccups, band triumph on return to the UK

Veteran chart toppers return from 28-date US trek to complete second leg of UK tour. Here’s what we learned

No amount of experience can trump a dodgy connection They might have sold in excess of 35 million albums, played every corner of the world and boast a combined age of 218 but even Asia can’t contend with a broken bass amp. Just as Carl Palmer is poised to usher in Sole Survivor, reality bites for the wide-eyed Brummie – old buddy John Wetton can’t play a note. As it becomes clear there’s no quick fix, the odd Geordie wag baits the band and it’s then that the experience kicks in. Palmer emerges from behind his kit, senses the opportunity to take centre stage and warns one cheeky punter he’ll be on the next bus home if he maintains his demands for a drum solo. Making the best out of a bad situation, the good natured banter creates an instant bond between band and fans. It’s just as well, as those same gremlins ruin I Know How You Feel.

Steve Howe is rapidly becoming Steve Who? It’s fair to say Sam Coulson isn’t the biggest draw on an Asia tour, with legendary founder members John Wetton, Geoff Downes and Carl Palmer still in their pomp. Yet those grizzled cynics who rolled into the Sage bemoaning Steve Howe’s absence are quickly scoffing huge portions of humble pie as the 27-year-old proves the old adage that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough. When Steve Lukather turned down Wetton’s invitation to swap one AOR behemoth for another, Coulson got the call and he combines understated cool with some of the fastest fingers in rock. He’s already shared a stage with Paul Gilbert and Walter Trout and never looks out of place in the company of Asia’s greats.

The album isn’t actually dead just yet It really comes as no surprise that the big hits are best received by the relatively subdued — if admiring — masses, and Downes uses seven of his nine keyboards to finish with a flourish on Heat Of The Moment. Open Your Eyes and Only Time Will Tell receive equally rapturous rounds of applause but Asia’s most recent material comfortably holds its own in the face of chart-topping standards and FM radio favourites alike. Wetton and Downes deliver a vocal tour de force on the intro to Valkyrie and Gravitas, the title track from Asia’s 13th full studio album.

If Carlsberg did drum solos…_ _…then Carl Palmer would play them. Never have so many concertgoers eschewed a toilet break, quick text conversation, trip to the bar or the chance to listen in on Sheryl Crowe playing the main hall to spend more than five minutes in the company of a drummer. It would be possible to hear a pin drop if Palmer actually paused for breath. He doesn’t. Instead he beats seven bells of hell out of his sparkling Ludwig kit, caresses his Paiste cymbals with the soft touch of a father cradling his favourite child and even finds time to flip his Pro-Mark sticks. Drummers of the world, accept defeat.

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What the band says:

Jon Wetton – “It’s true we sounded out Steve Lukather to become Asia’s guitarist a while back but Sam knows he quickly became our number one choice. He might be the new boy in the eyes of the fans but he’s part of the family as far as we’re concerned. He’s a great player. We love it here – it’s like a mini Royal Albert Hall.”

Carl Palmer – “Am I excited to be back in the North East? It doesn’t matter where we play – it’s irrelevant to me that we’re in Gateshead tonight. It’s all England in my eyes. And these people are all Asia fans, wherever we are and wherever they’re from. It’s a place to play the music we love in front of people who love the band.”

Geoff Downes – “I’m pleased we’re back on home soil after the American tour. It’s difficult to follow the fortunes of Cardiff City from afar but I’m already looking forward to my first home game against Rotherham. I’m pleased we’ve been given the opportunity to play some more new music and as long as John and I are writing songs we’ll continue to release new material.”

Sam Coulson – “I’m living the dream. It’s a cut above what I’ve done before. I spent a decade or so as a working musician and a guitar teacher but to play with one of the biggest bands in the world and tour America is very special. I know my mum and dad can’t wait to come out and see me when we play Wolverhampton!”

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