Supergroup Asia was synonymous with the progressive rock movement in the early 1980s, but with the release of “Gravitas” the band is still finding ways to stay relevant more than 30 years later. For the first time, the group will bring its unique sound to State College.
The original band was formed in 1981 by singer John Wetton (King Crimson), guitarist Steve Howe (Yes), keyboardist Geoff Downes (Yes) and drummer Carl Palmer (Emerson, Lake and Palmer). Asia’s self-titled debut album was a critical and commercial success, but the band only released a few records before its lineup changed. John Payne took over for Wetton, and several guitarists and drummers have come and gone. That all changed in 2006, when the four original members got back together.
“Originally we reunited for 14 days for the U.S. tour to see how it would go,” Wetton said. “We felt there was a huge amount of unfinished business from 1983. Then I had a heart operation (and) they canceled the tour for that. While recuperating, I was writing and Geoff was writing, which became ‘Phoenix,’ the first album of the reunion.”
In less than a decade, the band has released four albums, including “Gravitas,” but this record marks another lineup change. Despite Asia’s renewed success and creative energy, Howe decided he had too many commitments, leading to his departure from Asia in 2013. Preliminary work on the new album already was underway at the time, so a new guitarist was needed immediately.
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“We got this young guy, Sam Coulson. He has a hard edge to his playing. He’s a blues player and younger than the rest of us,” Wetton said. “Musicians are notoriously bad communicators. But with Sam, he’s a fairly straightforward guy. One of the big factors for him is that he doesn’t drink, smoke or do drugs. He’s a very clean guy and that’s what we wanted.”
While there are a set of fans who always clamor for the original music, the band hasn’t been afraid to try new things.
“There’s a pocket of resistance. Some people might say we are too commercial,” Wetton said.
With the “Gravitas” tour coming to the State Theatre, guests can expect to hear a mix of the new album and classic songs from the band’s discography. But anyone who can’t make it to the show next week shouldn’t expect this to be their last chance to see the band.
“There are new songs always coming. If you’re a songwriter, you know the songs never really stop coming,” Wetton said. “There’s certainly another album left in us, that’s for sure.”