Archive for August 2010
1982. I was in 6th grade at Southwestern Intermediate School in the middle of nowhere Virginia. Heat of the Moment was the number one song dominating the charts. Asia was huge already and everyone knew them. We were in some class and someone had a boom box with this song playing and one of my classmates, Kevin F., was playing along to the song on his desk. Kevin was a drummer. For as much as I was into music, I never really thought about playing an instrument until that day in class when I asked Kevin t show me what he was doing. Just as simple as that, he showed me what Carl Palmer was doing on the drums. I wanted to be a drummer. Right then. Boom. It took 2 more years before my parents actually bought me a drum set, but I finally got there. And thanks to Kevin taking 10 minutes to show me “how” to play something, a new chapter…a very important chapter of my life had begun.
For all of the following school years after that, I constantly heard, “Sean, stop banging on your desk!” “Sean, stop tapping your feet!” “Sean, stop tapping those pencils!” and so on. The drums became a way of life for me between 1984 and 2000 when I was forced to give them up due to permanent hand injuries due to drumming. I loved playing the drums and still miss it every day. Fortunately I was able to pick up the bass in 2000 and able to continue on as a musician (yes, drummers are musicians too!).
So basically it was because of Asia and Kevin that I ended up playing drums. Sure, something else probably would have happened to get me there, but that was, as I remember it, the catalyst. So…blame them!
It’s also a big reason why the debut Asia album sits so very near and dear to my tiny black heart. It’s one of those albums that I can never grow tired of, no matter how many times I hear it. Their follow-up album, Alpha, wasn’t too bad either, but the debut is the one.
Being that I was also a YES fan, thanks to my older brother, it gave me an interest in Asia. Steve Howe is a great guitarist.
When I found out a month or so ago that Asia was coming here on their Omega Tour with the original lineup, there was almost no way that I could or would miss this show. I bought tix the instant they went on sale and ended up 7th row on the left side. My friend John ended up scoring front row on the same side the day before the show. Curses! Haha. But whatever. I was there and that’s all that mattered. The guy I play bass for, Doug Morrison, also wanted to go so I ended up getting 2 tix.
The show was at the Paramount Theater here in Austin and I had only seen one other show there, Return to Forever, which was quite awesome in its own right. We get to the venue around 7ish and the band was slated to start at 7:45PM. We were both a little tired from playing a gig of our own the night before. I was checking out the merch and ended up buying the shirt for their current tour as it had the tour dates on the back. One thing I noticed after I bought it was that the band’s name was nowhere on the shirt. Odd. No biggie, I know what it is and that is all that matters.
So finally the lights go down and they open up with I Believe from the Omega album. Everyone stands up to applaud them coming on stage and then we all sat for pretty much the remainder of the show. Kind of odd sitting at a rock show, but oh well. The Paramount is an old theater and the seats aren’t very comfortable, but we suffered through it.
Asia plays songs from the debut, Astra, Phoenix and Omega. The overall sound mix wasn’t that great in my opinion. It may have been because we were 7 rows back from the mains on that one side, not sure. The drum mix got better though the night but his snare was still pretty quiet. Wetton’s bass was almost silent. I even put in earplugs to see if it would help but it didn’t.
The band looked good. I mean these guys are all in their 60s now, so you don’t expect too much. Steve Howe looked like he was about 104 years old, almost like a combination of The Cryptkeeper and Dr Jim from Taxi combined. His playing was great. Nice to see those old fingers still doing those fast runs. He was solid as a rock. He wasn’t very animated but then again he never was. He was playing a double cutaway Gibson semi-hollowbody through 2 Line 6 amps. It was cool that the band took a break and he sat down and did an acoustic solo which included Ram, a great little acoustic number of his.
John Wetton was playing an old black Gibson Victory bass through a 1×15 Ampeg combo amp. Like I said before, I never really heard much of what he was doing but saw some flashes of his talent in the runs that he was playing in a few tracks. I liked that he rarely looked at the bass, he knew what to do and where. He was, however, using a teleprompter and relied on it quite often. I’m not the biggest fan of those things in general, but hey, I guess he’s gotta do what he’s gotta do. His voice was stellar. I don’t think they tuned down at all and he was hitting almost every high note with relative ease for a 60-something year old dude.
Geoff Downes really looks the same as he always has, just a little chubbier (I feel his pain!). He had the usual 3 stacks of keyboards surrounding him and his playing was fine. He also handled all of the backing vocals. Some were synthed but most were raw and he sounded great. He’s a fine keyboardist.
Finally…Carl Palmer. In general I’ve never really paid attention to him as a drummer other than what he did on the first album to inspire. It surely wasn’t because of his “badassedness”. My opinion of his playing changed a bit last night. Even as a drummer, I usually didn’t care much for drum solos. I never did them in bands I was in and most of the time would get bored seeing them by other bands. There were always a few exceptions. Carl Palmer became one of those exceptions. His solo was tasteful and entertaining. He did a lot of jazz stuff, which is what I prefer to see in drum solos. Super fast quads and triplets and blistering double bass is just so cliché. Carl played traditional grip on his left hand the whole night and during his solo he threw in some cool Buddy Rich licks, both aurally and visually. It was pretty cool. The dude has some chops. I just wish the drums were mixed a bit better. But…nice work, Carl. By the way, Carl looks like Richard Mulligan from the TV show “Soap”. Pretty funny.
One thing I noticed was the interaction (or lack thereof) of the band members. I’d see Wetton and Downes make eye contact a few times and I’d see Palmer and Downes smile at each other a bit. But there was no eye contact between Howe and Wetton, not even once. I sensed a little animosity. It may also be because Howe seems like he is blind nowadays. He was wearing some thick glasses.
We found out before the show that there was a no camera policy for this night. No biggie. People were still snapping shots with their camera phones (me included). By the last 2 songs, everyone seemed to be taking pictures and Howe seemed pretty annoyed by it. He made some funny faces to a few folks who got up and walked to the stage to take pictures and actually took one guy’s camera and acted like he was taking pics of the crowd. People were laughing but I don’t think Steve was doing it to be funny at all. I was also surprised that the show didn’t sell out. The venue isn’t that big and there were several empty seats.
Overall the show was better than I had expected. The band took a 15 minute break mid-set and the whole show was over at 9:45PM. I was very glad that I went and it was worth the ticket price for sure. So…Thanks Kevin. Thanks Asia.
Here’s the setlist:
- I Believe
- Only Time Will Tell
- Holy War
- Never Again
- Through My Veins
- Don’t Cry
- Steve Howe Guitar Solo
- The Smile Has Left Your Eyes
- Open Your Eyes
- Time Again
- An Extraordinary Life
- End Of The World
- The Heat Goes On
- Carl Palmer Drum Solo
- Sole Survivor
- Days Like These (encore)
- Heat of the Moment (encore)
I’m at a loss for words (pun intended) on trying to review this album. Anyone that knows me knows I always have words, especially when it comes to talking about music. But this is a little bit difficult. But now I am reviewing an album by my all time favorite band ever…EVER! There is no other band that could be #1 for me, it’s just not possible. But for the sake of my adoring public *cough*, I’ll try to scribble out some drivel for your voracious reading palettes.
I don’t need to go back into the annals of The Metal Files and rehash my love for Maiden, it’s all there for you to peruse on your own. But for as much as I have loved them since 1984, I have not been so blinded by fandom to think that they can do no wrong. They’ve released their share of shit over the years. What? You want that list? It’s ugly and many will disagree, but here goes:
- Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (I can tolerate it better now than when it was released, but I detested it for years upon years)
- Fear of the Dark
- The X-Factor
- Virtual XI
- Dance of Death
Did you notice that The Final Frontier didn’t make the list? Look again, it’s not up there. Don’t get me wrong, this album is not ‘awesome’ or ‘great’ or ‘brilliant’ or even ‘ground-breaking’, but it is quite a solid album…with some warts. It’s the album that I expected after A Matter of Life and Death, which I loved.
I heard 30 second clips from each of the songs about a month ago and noticed something going on with either Bruce’s voice or the production of his voice. It sounded raspy, unclear and low in the mix. I honestly thought Maiden leaked rough mixes as a joke to fool their adoring public. I was wrong. Bruce sounds tired on this which is a bit surprising as he sounded great on the tour. While I don’t hear any auto-tuner done on his voice, it is pretty clear that much of his vocals were punched in. There are too many areas where even the mighty Air Raid Siren would physically not be able to catch his breath if he tried to sing some of this stuff straight through. And that’s not a big deal, bands have been recording vocals like this for decades.
When first seeing the tracklistings and the lengths of the songs, I knew what we were going to get; lots of intros and outtros and long repetitive choruses. We get some of that on this record for sure, but it doesn’t seem as much of the repetitiveness as we’ve seen on recent recordings by “Ron Maiden and the Dixie Chickens” (aka Iron Maiden).
Something I noticed on this album and the last one is the “absence” of Steve Harris. Sure you can hear him in the intros and in the main parts of the songs clanking along on his P-bass, but where are the signature ‘Arry bass runs? I just don’t hear them and have missed that in recent years. There are some areas where Nicko’s right foot still lets you know that he’s a bad mofo, but some of his fills seems to lack the energy and creativity that my favorite drummer used to have. Yes, he’s always been “Mr. 4-on-the-floor”, but it seems to happen way too much on this album.
While it pains me to say this, my favorite track on the album was penned by Jannick Gers: The Alchemist. It’s the shortest song on the album clocking in at a mere 4’29″. It’s also the most energetic and upbeat song on the record. Everything else is mid-paced with a few bursts here and there. But still, get Jannick out of the band already! Sure he’s been there for 20 years now but make him go away.
Adrian Smith has writing credits on 6 of the 10. Some of his stuff in the classic Maiden era were Maiden’s best songs. He’s a talented guy and I loved his solo album, but what I am hearing on here doesn’t have the classic “H” feel to it. Of course, this isn’t your father’s Maiden either.
Dave Murray gets some credit on The Man Who Would Be King. Upon my first listen to that track, I thought to myself, “Self? This one must’ve been written by Dave Murray.” It just seems like a Dave song, I don’t know any better way to explain it. Neither good nor bad.
I’ve read some other reviews of this album where people are giving accolades to the closing track When The Wind Blows. It’s 10+ minutes long, Maiden’s 3rd longest song ever. In general I don’t care for it. I don’t like the way that the guitar follows the vocals or vice versa. But the last few minutes of this song give us a flash of classic Maiden.
It took me a few listens but I realized something…this album reminds me a lot of one of their older albums…No Prayer For The Dying. I’m not sure exactly why it brings back memories of that album but it does, sans the retardedly goofy lyrics of NPFTD. Since Dance of Death, Maiden has been plodding along, playing it safe. It’s worked well on some songs, on others not so much.
All in all, The Final Frontier isn’t terrible and I’ll spin it several more times before this week is over, but it won’t rank up there in my favorite Maiden albums, not even close. Still, it’s better than what some of the other “classic” metal bands have been putting out in recent years (Nostradamus anyone?). If you’ve liked Maiden’s stuff since Brave New World (or anything from the Gers era), then you will not be disappointed. If you only care for the pre-1990 stuff, don’t bother with this. It will be a waste of time for you.
6.5/10 is my rating. It could have been a lot worse, and like anything else, it could have been a lot better. I guess I really wasn’t at a loss for words…big ‘orra!
I really can’t remember how I happened upon this band. I do know that I owned their early era vinyl stuff for quite a long time when Matt McCourt was singing for them. I never really liked that stuff that much except for the song Evil In Me. Not to mention Deen Castronovo’s drumming on that stuff was pretty good. But overall those first 2 are a bit average. Not bad, but not great.
And then came Reign of Terror. Holy crap! From beginning to end this album is great. Sure, some of it gets a little tedious in the lyrics department, but the music overshadows it by a mile. Deen is all over this on the drums and Jeff Mark’s guitar work is stellar. Another thing that helped this album a lot was the addition of a new singer, Michael Furlong. He always reminded me a little bit of J.D. Kimball of Omen. Sort of raspy, but clear.
My top picks on this album would be Call of the Dar, Siberian Vacation and Streets of Berlin. As stated earlier, there’s not a bad track on here and I never skip any of it.
A reissued version came out a few years ago with bonus tracks but I have yet to hear them.