Sunday, August 4, 2019

Asia Featuring John Payne

SO let's talk about Asia. Back in the early 1980s, it was pretty obvious the international music scene was changing. Rock ruled the roost through the '60s and '70s, and that was just fine with me. But there were other forces at work here, and it was clear to me that many of my favorite bands were soon going to be falling by the wayside. (If you'd have told me I'd still be seeing bands like Yes and The Who playing live in the year 2019, I'd have had you committed.)

I've always tried to keep up with new music though. I never wanted to be that guy who insists that every band after 1975 sucks. And besides, there were some trends going on that I liked. Much as I loved progressive rock, it was clear, even to me, that there were times it had gotten kind of silly and pretentious, and I thought a move back to shorter, poppier stuff might be a healthy thing. And I liked some of the trends going on at the time -- synthesizer music you could dance to (not that I ever dance), experiments with Celtic rock, bands that had a sense of dress style, etc. So I picked about five bands who were somewhat successful around 1982-1983, and predicted that these would be some of the bands that would carry music forward, and maybe even become the new Who's, Pink Floyd's, Jethro Tull's, etc. I later added a sixth.

The bands I chose were Eurythmics, A Flock of Seagulls, Dexys Midnight Runners, Quarterflash and Asia. (I later added Echo & The Bunnymen). These were the artists I had forecast to be the coming superstars. Of course, it didn't quite work out that way. And The Amazing Kreskin, Miss Cleo and all of my other fellow psychics have been teasing me about it ever since.

I put Asia in there, thinking this could be the band to carry the flag of prog rock through the next decade. I loved their self-titled debut album, and you couldn't deny their pedigree! John Wetton, Steve Howe, Geoff Downes and Carl Palmer -- these were men who had accomplished something in the world of music. Unfortunately, there was a huge drop off in quality -- and sales -- with their second album, Alpha. If you listen to it today, you'll find there are a few decent songs on there, but it sounds really dated. And by the third album, Astra, they had already started playing musical chairs with the band members, and the band went straight down the tubes.

I lost track of them after that. Hell, who wants to be reminded of embarrassing predictions. (I also thought Kirsten Gillibrand would be the next Democratic Presidential nominee, and you can see how well that one's going, too.) And there was nothing I was hearing about their music that was compelling enough to make me give them another shot. I'm sure they were touring during all of those years, but it never even entered my head to go and see them.

Then, a weird thing happened. About two-and-a-half years ago, John Wetton passed away. And not too long after that, I started thinking about my bucket list bands. Perversely enough, now that Wetton was gone, I regretted not seeing him with Asia, and I started thinking that if I got the chance, even without Wetton, I'd go see this band. (I even picked up a couple of their albums I'd never heard before. And one of them, 2012's XXX was actually pretty good.)

Now Denise is going on an '80s cruise early next year. And originally, I was going to go with her. And Asia will be one of the bands playing the cruise. (Well, one of the Asia's. Hang on, I'll explain shortly.) So when me going with her fell through, I was kind of bummed.

Then, early in 2019, I learned that Asia featuring John Payne would be appearing at The Patchogue Theatre. I hadn't followed Asia closely over the years, and I'd never heard of John Payne. But I figured he must be the guy they'd taken on once Wetton had died. Then I looked into it a little, and discovered that Payne had been in the band as early as 1991, and later had been replaced again by Wetton in 2004. A little wheeling and a little dealing later, (as I eventually learned), and Payne and Geoff Downes had come to an agreement that Downes would keep the name "Asia," but Payne would have the legal right to continue on as "Asia featuring John Payne".

(These double band things are confusing. Yes has done it more than once, and as I detailed on this blog last year, Styx has done it, too. In fact, of all bands, even Gene Loves Jezebel, who I'm going to be seeing in a couple of weeks, did it because the two effing twin brothers who founded the band together couldn't get along, and nobody was kind enough to bang their fool heads together, and say, "Now listen up, you two knuckleheads!")

In any event, if this was all the Asia I was going to see, I'd take it. I fully planned to buy a ticket. (Although ticket sales were pretty sluggish early on. A few weeks after the show had been announced, they were lucky if they'd sold ten tickets. I told you last week how The Patchogue Theatre burned me once by cancelling that Runa show. So I started to bet with myself that this show would be cancelled, too.)

A few weeks later, it was announced that the other Asia, the one with Geoff Downes, Billy Sherwood and Carl Palmer, would be coming to Long Island as part of Yes's Royal Affair Tour. They had added Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal as their vocalist and guitarist.

I bought tickets to that show right away, and this made me uncertain as to whether I wanted to catch this alternate version of Asia at the Patchogue Theatre. I went up on YouTube and listened to Payne sing a couple of Asia's biggest songs. And I'll be honest with you. I was not impressed. (In fact, I did another one of those Beavis and Butt-head takes: "Uh oh. What's this?" Payne sounded kind of gravelly to me -- he's got a rock voice, but it has none of the beauty of Wetton's vox. So I really wasn't sure if I should bother.

So I didn't go. OK everyone, thanks for reading. ...

Ah ha ha ha! Geez, how funny would that have been?! Of course I went. In the end, what decided me was that the venue is so close to my house. I can be at the Patchogue Theatre in less than 15 minutes. And also, it wasn't that expensive a ticket. While I chose to sit upstairs last week and save a few bucks to see Jon Anderson, here I could indulge myself and sit in the second row without breaking my bank account. (As you can see, tickets still weren't exactly flying out to the public. In fact, last week at the Jon Anderson show, they announced that everyone in attendance that night could buy tickets to Asia at half price. I was a little chagrined, since I'd already bought my ticket, but not too much so, since, like I said, my full-price ticket was for the second row.)

So on to the show! (At this point, I'm picturing all of my readers as a bunch of dusty old skeletons crouched over their laptops, like the poor little old lady sitting next to Stryker in the Airplane! movie.)

I left the house a few minutes earlier tonight, in hopes that this time, I'd have time to buy a bottle of water before the show started. I hit the area near the theater a few minutes later, and despite my prediction Friday night, this time, there was no need to park in my ophthalmologist's parking lot. Partially because the show wasn't as crowded as last week's Jon Anderson show, and partly because this show was on a Sunday night instead of a Saturday, I was easily able to find a spot in the Theatre's parking lot. (Downtown Patchogue has become the place to be on a Saturday night. At least, that's what the parking situation suggests.)

There was no line at the box office, so on the way in, I purchased one more ticket to Wednesday night's showing of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. (I'd picked some up last week for my daughter, her boyfriend and myself, but later learned that my son would like to go, too.)

As I had last week, I breezed into the lobby with no one to stop me, although this time, I saw there were ticket takers there for the admission into the main auditorium. (However, they weren't letting people in yet, even though it was 7:35.)

There was a merch table in the lobby that had some kind of a sign that mentioned John Payne and Lou Gramm of Foreigner. So I started thinking maybe Lou Gramm was in this version of Asia, which would be pretty cool. (When I saw Hank Stone last week, and mentioned I was coming back this week for the Asia show, Hank asked me who else was playing in the band, then kind of laughed at me when I did a Jackie Gleason "Homina, homina, homina!" I had no idea who else was in the band.)

I waited on a very short line this week, and bought my bottle of water. Then I hit the Men's Room, did what I had to do, and grabbed a seat in the lobby. A few minutes later, they started letting people into the theater proper.

Now I have to tell you that the Patchogue Theatre's seating chart lies. If you look on the seating chart, it appears that the second row juts out one seat longer than the first row, meaning there would be open leg room in front of the aisle seat in the second row. It tweren't so. It wasn't really that big a deal -- unlike some venues, the leg room isn't too tight normally. (And as it happened, the six seats to my left were all empty, so it's not like I was in a very tight space.) But it was mildly annoying, since I'd bought that particular seat due to the imaginary extra leg room, and I'll be sitting in the exact same seat for another show later in the year. (Unless that pull a Runa on me and cancel it!) (Do you guys get the idea that I never forget?)

Anyway, I settled comfortably into my seat and waited for the show to start, wondering idly to myself if Lou Gramm was in the band tonight. (Spoiler Alert: He wasn't!)

Before too long, the Executive something-or-other of The Patchogue Theatre came out to make some announcements, and to introduce the band. I looked around, and the attendance was better than I had expected. The balcony looked pretty empty. (And I didn't even want to know what kind of wildlife was up there this week, as it had been a strange enough crowd last week for the more popular Jon Anderson show.) But in all, I'd say the theater was somewhere between one-half to two-thirds full, and was probably closer to the upper estimate than the lower one. (Yes, I'm pretty sure they did outdraw Supergenius' Friday night crowd, although it looked for awhile like maybe they wouldn't.) And the crowd that was there was pretty into it. They weren't as out-of-their minds psyched as they had been for Anderson, but they were certainly a warm and open-to-be-entertained audience.

The drummer and the keyboard player came out together, and started playing an instrumental intro. The keyboard sound was kind of chunky and cool. Shortly thereafter, the guitarist and John Payne himself came out, and joined in on the guitar and bass. Payne was fairly dapper, in a royal blue Captain Hook coat, with red-and-black velvet-looking pants and curly-toed black shoes. If they ever make a movie about him, I suspect he'll be played by Russell Brand. (This led my mind to picture him breaking into a cover of Aldous Snow's "African Child".) Lou Gramm was nowhere to be found.

You're probably expecting me to trash these guys. (I don't know how you could ever think I'm the kind of person who would do a such a thing. I'm hurt. I really am.) But if you were, then you're wrong.

I still don't love Payne's voice, although I think it was better seeing him live than sitting home and watching a YouTube video. But it's a little growly, a little gruff, certainly not in John Wetton's style (or class). However, Ron Thal's voice isn't really in that class either, and his version of Asia was quite enjoyable. Likewise for Mr. Payne's band.

Musically, they're really quite a good little four-piece. Beside's Payne's bass, you have Moni Scaria on lead guitar (and backing vocals), Jamie Hosmer on keyboards (and backing vocals), and Johnny Fedevich on drums. I was particularly impressed with Hosmer, but I don't want to short the other guys. They were all excellent.

Also, Payne himself is quite a good frontman, amiable in spite of his English reserve. Throughout the night, he told little anecdotes, and exhibited a dry, but never mean, sense of humor. Also, he was clearly quite happy to be playing a nice looking venue in front of a decent-sized audience who appreciated the kind of music that he likes to play. He even said as much.

Now seated in front of me were two young women. (Actually, I'd put them in their late 20's or early 30's, but still young for the audience who attends these kinds of shows.) They were both kind of pretty, and were clearly into the concert, smiling and moving to the music. And although the theater had made an announcement that videotaping was strictly prohibited, at various times in the evening, one or the other of these women would take some footage with her cell phone. And every time Payne saw this, instead of getting cranky about it, he would totally light up with a big, happy smile, and start mugging for the phone-cam. Something about this was very human, and really made me like him.

As is my habit lately, I had printed out a couple of sample playlists for the band, although they weren't exact because this version of Asia seemingly likes to mix it up a little. The songs were mostly the same, but the order was different. They certainly played all the ones you'd expect, though. I could list them out for you, but I'm a lazy bastard, so here's a link: www.toobadtheydidn' (And actually, I'm not really that lazy, because who do you think put the playlist up on in the first place?)

In any event, the band did one full set and a one-song encore (which of course was "Heat of the Moment"), and then the show was done. All in all, it was a pretty short night. I'd have suggested they start the show at 7 and include an opening act. I know prog rock bands are pretty sparse around Long Island (unless you go with a cover band like Wondrous Stories, which wouldn't have been a terrible idea.) But I'm thinking they could have found some local original band, one that wouldn't be a terrible fit. A band that could have filled out the evening a little more, and maybe even helped with the attendance. A band like ... I don't know, stay with me here ... Supergenius?!!!! In all honesty, though, I won't really say I felt cheated, and most of the crowd seemed content enough as well.

Mr. Payne promised to be out to meet people by the merch table shortly after the show, as he put it, after he'd had a chance to "change his socks".

I scooted up the aisle, and of course, hit the Men's Room on the way out. Now over the years, I've become something of a Ninja Master at the quick, one-handed pee (because I'm usually holding my program and my bottle of water in my right hand). There was no crowd, so I was in in a flash, a quick zip, tinkle, tinkle, tinkle, flush, a fast one-hand wash in the sink, and I was done. After exiting the Men's Room, I saw people milling around the merch table, and sure enough, Payne was there already, seated and talking to be people, looking as though he'd been there all night. I have to say, I was pretty impressed with his speed, and with his fan-friendliness.

Anyway, I was home in ten minutes, and already filling out my setlist online. All in all, it was a perfectly pleasant evening. It wasn't the best concert I've seen all year, but it was also far from the worst.

So who's the better Asia? I'd still have to lean towards the Geoff Downes guys, because they can throw in a few wrinkles that these guys can't -- a Buggles tune for Geoff Downes, an ELP song for Carl Palmer, etc. But it's a tighter battle than you would think. If you're in the mood for some Asia music, Asia featuring John Payne will give you a perfectly entertaining evening. They did it for me. So good on them!