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Asia: Symfonia-Live In Bulgaria 2013
Released 24th February 2017 (Frontiers Music)

14th February 2017

brian boyle
Brian Boyle


On January 31st 2017 music, and in particular Prog and AOR, lost one of it's most loved voices. John Wetton's work with Asia produced a catalogue of memorable songs that continue to have a resonating effect on their hugely dedicated following. And as bittersweet as this release might be to some, to many it will be an emotionally beautiful tribute to an incredible musician.

This isn't your average run of the mill live album with a doctored recording from a souless arena. Recorded in 2013 during the Sounds Of The Ages festival in the enchanting llnd Century Roman Theatre in Plovdiv Bulgaria, it served as a unique setting to witness this legendary rock band. And they weren't alone, joining the band for the last six songs was the Plovdiv Philharmonic Orchestra who conducted by Levon Manukian added an enthralling stamp of class to some gilt edged rock songs.

But for the first eight tracks it's Wetton, Palmer, Downes and Coulson. John Wetton was quoted as saying about this show, along with the European tour and an appearance at the Sweden Rock festival that "the band never sounded better". Well never was a truer word spoken. 'Sole Survivor' still sounds fresh as a daisy thirty-five years on, with Geoff Downes exquisite prog ivory tickling still as majestic as always, but it's Sam Coulson's searing guitar solos that leave you gasping.

'Face On The Bridge' properly ignites the album, and as great as the studio version sounds, its left cowering in the corner by it's live superior. There can be no doubt that Wetton was one of rock's greatest bass players. Before Asia he earned his stripes slapping the long neck with King Crimson, Uriah Heep and Wishbone Ash and vocally he wasn't too shabby at all.

There might be inevitable sounds of wear and tear but on 'My Own Time' and 'Holy War' he sounds bloody great, and that unmistakable rasp immediately transports you back in time to Asia's glory days. And that's pretty much what you get for the rest of CD1. 'Days Like These' and 'Open Your Eyes' are both knocked out in style with all four members' collective talents positively glistening.

I must admit on receiving this album, I bypassed CD1 and immediately went straight for the orchestral collaboration. To say I wasn't disappointed is a humongous understatement. Rock bands teaming up with orchestra's is a tried and tested project that rarely fails to let you down. Take Metallica and the Scorpions flirtation with the strings; their already powerful armoury of songs grew further in stature when loaded with orchestral arrangements and it's no different here. At times it feels like your hearing these amazing songs for the first time. 'Only Time Will Tell' and 'Don't Cry' totally transcend to a completely new level, sounding joyously reborn.

And if 'Heroine' and 'The Smile Has Left Your Eyes' tugged heavily on your heartstrings before, these sublime versions will thoroughly rip them out.

It's no exaggeration to say their signature tune, 'Heat Of The Moment', is one of the most recognisable songs ever written. Even people with only a passing interest in music probably couldn't resist cranking up the dial upon hearing it mount the airwaves. Well this climactic performance will make you want to blow your speakers to kingdom come.

A fitting end to a stunning live album but unfortunately it's tinged with sadness for obvious reasons. John Wetton left us with a stack of great music that will continue to hold relevance for years to come.

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Sole Survivor
Time Again
Face On The Bridge
My Own Time
Holy War
An Extraordinary Life
Days Like These
Open Your Eyes
Only Time Will Tell
Don't Cry
The Smile Has Left Your Eyes
Wildest Dreams
Heat Of The Moment

John Wetton - Bass/Lead Vocals
Geoff Downes - Keyboards
Carl Palmer - Drums
Sam Coulson - Guitars

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