Asia rises again with ‘Phoenix’

Fans will have to forgive John Wetton for a recent no-show.

The ex-King Crimsonite, who finally plays the Fillmore Monday, had intended to tour the States last August with his 1980s super-group Asia, which had reunited after gaining notoriety as “The 40-Year-Old Virgin’s” favorite band.

He was in July rehearsals with his bandmates — guitarist Steve Howe, drummer Carl Palmer and keyboardist Geoff Downes — and ready to hit the concert trail.

But he wasn’t physically prepared, to his own surprise. At the conclusion of a routine checkup, his doctor ordered an MRI, CAT scan, which yielded results that prompted an angiogram. Upon reading those results, Wetton says, the doctors told him, “We have to operate. Really quickly. You’re just about to go.”

The next day, the rocker was “cracked open like a lobster” for open-heart surgery. Originally scheduled for a quadruple bypass, he skipped by with only a triple.

The tour, of course, was off. But there was one thing Wetton could do to pass the hours — compose. So the Brit sat down at his piano and began writing thoughtful dirges such as “Nothing’s Forever” and Extraordinary Life.”

Asia’s new album, the aptly titled “Phoenix,” doesn’t sound very different from its synth-fueled 1982 standard “Heat of the Moment.”

But thematically? Hey — don’t fear the reaper, Wetton says, who’s singing stronger than ever. He says, “Lot of references on this record are about my close shave with death, and how important it is for me to live every day at a time now. Because I came awfully close to meeting my maker last summer. Awfully close. So I might as well make the most of what I’ve got.”

The frontman is also pleased that “Heat of the Moment” has become such an eternally campy classic that it will, in all likelihood, outlive him. It not only meant the world to Steve Carell’s geeky “Virgin,” it also weaseled its way into “The Matador” and even an episode of “South Park.”

“And the greatest thing about having Cartman sing ‘Heat’ in front of Congress was that all the kids that I know think it’s much cooler than being on ‘The Simpsons’” Wetton says. “I probably sign off on that song a dozen times a year for various things, and then occasionally one will really hit. The song is just a part of pop culture now, and I’m grateful for that.”

IF YOU GO

Asia

Where: Grand Ballroom, Regency Center, 1290 Sutter St., San Francisco

When: 7:30 p.m. Monday

Tickets: $41

Contact: (415) 841-8497 or www.ticketmaster.com

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