Bethlehem PA – The man, the myth, the legend, Alan Parsons playing his ONLY east coast appearance (to date) fifteen minutes from my back door. A dream come true, right?
As Sarah Palin might say, you betcha! But I had no idea just how much of a dream come true it would be.
I am not going into Parson’s history, save to say you have heard his work. You may not have heard his voice, or his playing unless you have purchased his recent rerelease remastered series of most of his catalog. You HAVE heard his work BEHIND the recording console. Need further proof?
Read on and be amazed…
You’ve heard his work if you have heard anything from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon (ugh!) or The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,Abbey Road or Let It Be. I didn’t want to go into his history, but I have to say from his time as a tape operator for EMI at age 19 to proving himself worthy of being an assistant engineer at Abbey Road Studios under Sir George of Martin, all these albums and many more have been at the golden touch of Alan Parsons.
With regard to his namesake work, you have heard “Sirius” from Eye In The Sky in more places than I care to recount (sporting events, advertising, P. Diddey sampling…) as well as a string of hits through the late 70’s to the late 80’s, odds are we may hear a good portion of these at the show at Lehigh University’s Zoellner Arts Center, Baker Hall hosting Parsons lone right coast tour stop.
Admittedly, this event is tinged with double sadness, yes, it is 9/11 and we are rapidly approaching the one-year anniversary of the death of Alan Parsons Project co-conspiritor Eric Woolfson who passed away from cancer in December of 2009. Ironic that this takes place the day after the network takeover of the cancer telethon Stand Up To Cancer.
We must look to the positive, this is far too exciting an even to let some sad memories dampen it.
This is a mighty exciting experience for the photographer of this blog, and my best thing to ever happen to me, as she went to university for sound engineering. So both your intrepid blogger and photographer have a vested interest in this show. We are seeing a mutual (that word again) “idol”.
Maybe icon would be more appropriate.
I am instructed to meet Lehigh University’s Lynn Farley in the lobby to escort my best thing to ever happen to me to the press area. She will only be allowed to take pictures for the first three songs, then she will join me in our much coveted seats.
According to the Parsons websitehttp://www.alanparsonsmusic.com/index.php, the line-up for the show is as follows:
Parsons: Guitar, Vocals, Keyboards, Percussion
P.J. Olsson: Vocals, Percussion
Manny Focarazzo: Keyboards, Vocals
Danny Thompson: Drums
Guy Erez: Bass, Vocals
Alastair Greene: Guitar, Vocals
And after the show, I was fortunate enough to meet with tour manager Brent who told me the newest addition (to the band) was
Todd Cooper: Vocals, Sax, Percussion.
The show was billed as the Alan Parsons Live Project. The excitement builds. Previous to this show, we have encountered people who have said they were trying to get tickets and couldn’t get them! When we met Ms. Farley (a lovely, friendly and engaging woman) she told me that this event was sold out! I was commended by Ms. Farley for getting the tickets as early as we did.
If memory serves, I think I mentioned in an earlier blog that this was a hot ticket. I had hoped you listened to me and got tickets… As anticipated during our brief time in the lobby (after our customary concession stand visit) people came from far and wide for this.
The stage is set, the venue is gorgeous, acoustically tuned, cleaned, primed for action as you can see.
While I wait, I may as well diatribe about my “first-show-of-the-tour” syndrome. I have this position that if you see a band on tour, you should try to wait for shows in your area that are in the middle of the tour schedule (if possible). In the beginning of the schedule, usually the band is still working the bugs out. As they hit they hit their stride, this usually comes in at about the early middle of the tour. By the end of the tour the vocalists are worn out, musicians are tired, and so on.
As the time for the show draws near, I manage to get the attention of one of the road crew and give him my card. Dan was his name. The venue is starting to fill up like one that has sold out. My best thing to ever happen to me is poised and ready to bring you as many photos as she can during her three song limit.
I am impressed with everything so far. If the music performed is half as enthusiastic as the demographically older crowd, this show will be dynamite.
Eric would have been pleased.
Alan is keeping us waiting according to my cell phone. Just as I scribble this the PA goes silent and a voice comes on to tell us to kill all communication devices and then begins to list them by brand name, being specific and all-inclusive. I put mine on vibrate as my number is the contact number for my alarm company. Sorry Alan, I have to protect my home studio as well as other possessions, I’m sure HE understands.
The PA goes down again and Lehigh University’s Liz Scofield (forgive any misspelling) announces that this show is the opener for their fourteenth season. What a way to kick it off!
After another innocuous round of various PA music comes and goes, the opening notes to “I Robot” from the album of the same name play through the PA to signify the opening of the show.
HERE WE GO!
The band takes the stage, with Parsons coming out last. The audience goes nuts! Including me.
The first few bass notes were lost, but Parsons keys come through crystal clear. The guitar is also a little lost. But I am grooving already. That first-show-of-the-tour syndrome might be debunked tonight. Parsons and Focarazzo trade off keyboard leads. The dynamic is up up up and they break at the end for a three note/chord ending.
Immediately the sequencer starts for “Damned If I Do” from the album Eve. Olsson pumps up the audience before doing an amazing resemblance to original vocalist Lenny Zakatek.
This could be a greatest hits show for yours truly night.
Parsons dons a hollow-body guitar for this, but the Greene outdoes original guitarist Ian Bairnson! Olsson has a little trouble hitting the last lines highest note, but the crowd does not notice or care. Olsson then goes over to help out Focarazzo for the dynamic at the end.
After objectifying the women of Pennsylvania, and acknowledging the appreciative crowd in PA, he confesses to marrying a woman from the commonwealth. He introduces “Don’t Answer Me” from Ammonia Avenue. Woolfson had done the vocals originally, Parsons did them live, awesome!
Almost all band members are doing backing vocals on the choruses and the song sounds near album perfect. Olsson was a tad late to the mic to join in the backing vocals during the second verse.
I love live performance.
Cooper comes from nowhere to play the Mel Collins sax part perfectly! Not bad for a “first timer”.
As the song winds down, a clap-along break is introduced during the outro. The audience would spend a lot of time clapping along throughout the night.
“The System Of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether” from Tales Of Mystery And Imagination is pulled out of long term retirement. They are rocking this relic and the house is enthralled.
The hands start clapping along for what the set list refers to as “Luciferama”.
Since there is no orchestra of Andrew Powell present, this is turned into a power jam. Parsons comes front-of-stage for this number, which I assume is a cross between “Lucifer” from Eve and “Hyper-Gamma Spaces” (I THINK) from Pyramid. Right as the mutation from song to song occurs, Focarazzo fills the hall with strings as the drums intro the powerful break in the song(s). Right to the sudden stop, the band are spot-on!
“Breakdown” from I Robot is trotted out and sound great! They are powering the dynamic up and down, the vocalist Cooper ad libs during the solo, but I missed the backing vocals.
Focarazzo pulls out the Powell-esque horns for a bleed into Tales Of Mystery And Imagination’s “The Raven”. Sans the vocoder, both vocalists belt out the chorus. When it comes to the end break of “Nevermore nevermore never” all vocalists are needed to compete with the massive sound coming from the instruments.
During the introduction for the next number, Olsson diatribes about its influence on him as a youngster and implores that we stand up and cheer for the man in the back row center, Parsons himself.
That influential song of Olssons is also a favorite of blog contributor Billy James, “Time” from Turn Of A Friendly Card. The cymbals cut through too much but otherwise, once the rest of the instruments join in, the spirit of the song is high.
Surprisingly, and to Focarazzo’s credit, Parsons spends this song and a lot of others on guitar. Focarazzo is good as now he is playing piano with one hand on one keyboard facing away from the band and the other hand is playing strings on a keyboard facing the audience.
Cooper and Erez provide the counter harmonies. They perform the song perfectly to the grind down ending.
A sequenced intro fired up “We Play The Game” from A Valid Path, a song Parsons would later admit is not familiar to most, including me (if you can believe that). Add that one to the shopping list. Parsons returns to keyboards. While I am not familiar with the tune, it is mesmerizing. I have nothing here to critique. The band is super-tight and once again, Greene solos incredibly.
I had wondered how the orchestra and vocals would be covered, the cost prohibitiveness of trotting out an orchestra only recently being tested by artists like Peter Gabriel and Serj Tankian. Parsons and company have that covered quite well, right to the tight end of “We Play The Game”.
“Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You” also from I Robot follows it up. Everyone claps and the song is done slightly faster than the album tempo and it ROCKS! Sung by the Greene, this further proves they have the vocals covered. When not singing, Greene solos the hell out of the guitar.
If you weren’t there, sorry you missed it.
But those of us familiar with the arrangement are thrown a curve as they trick us by putting in a bass solo by Erez after the guitar solo. Not the verse as we are accustomed to. The bass solo evolves into the dreaded wah-bass solo.
That live animal again!
Not the album version, but BETTER!
Parsons then informs us that we are in for a treat. Never before played live, the surprise is “One More River” from Pyramid. Parsons provides the French horn glides on keyboards, right to the half-time tempo break. This is album perfect.
Cooper grabs the sax and wails that lead! Must be the first time live as they had a slight hiccup into the second half-time tempo break, but they pull it together.
“Don’t Let It Show” again from I Robot is offered. Note for note perfect. Yeah, I miss Paton, Zakatek and this song’s original vocalist Dave Townsend, but Live Project vocalists Cooper, Olsson, Parsons and the others are doing these songs justice while adding their own personalities to them.
During the end solo, Parsons and Olsson lead the crowd with hand claps right to the end of the song as the tempo steadily increases faster and faster.
I can’t write this fast, amazing!
An audience member behind me taps me on the shoulder and asks if I can see the drummer, as he is outstanding. Not only can I not see him from my vantage point, but I have not “seen” a show in the three years I have been writing this blog. My head is usually down as I do my best Ernest Scribbler impersonation (Monty Python reference, the man who wrote the killer joke).
Parsons then announces that the “Turn Of A Friendly Card” suite is next, as it is a fan favorite heavily requested by fans to be included on the Essential Alan Parsons Collection album. Another one I don’t have as, well, it would be redundant. Greene deliveres a lovely acoustic guitar solo during “TOAFC Part One” then he slips on an electric for “Snake Eyes”. This is a well-rehearsed band, very well mixed and getting tighter as the night goes on.
Greene is on fire.
I notice there is a lyric sheet music stand at the feet of the center vocalist mic stand. Doesn’t matter, these guys are taking on the entire suite, progressive music is alive and well and robust in the hands of Parsons and Co. After the powerful instrumental “The Ace Of Swords”, Greene slings back on his acoustic guitar.
Parons takes the lead vocal for “Nothing Left To Lose” originally done by Woolfson. The backing vocals are sweet on this.
Parsons takes over the guitar while Greene switches back for a reprise of “Snake Eyes”, another electrifying solo. The band rocked so hard, the Focarazzo’s mic stand collapsed! Dan the crew-member had to readjust it.
The suite ends with “TOAFC Part Two”. How appropriate that they play a medley about gambling a mere few blocks from Bethlehem’s new Sands Casino?
Cooper and Focarazzo take the place of Andrew Powell’s orchestra until Cooper solos. Then and inferno-hot solo by the Greene to rival the gas line explosion in San Bruno (too soon?). Accomplished musicians all.
Screw Pink Floyd.
The intro strains of “Psychobabble” from Eye In The Sky have the audience once again clapping. A far more lively version than the album, and I prefer Cooper’s vocal to Elmer Gantry’s original. During the cacophony break, the band members take all kinds of measures to over-stuff the break with more strange noises than the album ever had. I mean odd-ball stuff here. Scratches, scrapes, sirens, laughter samples, I LOVE IT!!!
Members are bent down, fiddling with pedals, monkeying with instruments on stands, twisting knobs… Then Erez and Thompson maintain the status quo while there is chaos all around. When the bass and drums build the dynamic, a single keyboard melody cues the band to return to the arrangement for the guitar solo and third verse (blended for the live version) bringing the song back to coherence.
Something new for any artist, but not a surprise for an engineer-turned-producer-turned artist, Parsons details that he has been busy for the past two years working on his now-famous “Art And Science Of Sound” instructional series, available on DVDs at http://www.artandscienceofsound.com/ and the song that was made during that workshop, “All Our Yesterdays”. Jungle-style drums start off and are quickly joined by flanged keyboards and piano for a this mid-tempo ballad. The chorus picks up the tempo slightly.
Dan the crew-member has taken away a spare guitar from the stage. I fear the end is near. This IS a chance for Greene to stretch out. The vocals are doubled by Olsson backing Parsons. Then a modulation in the chorus a la Barry Manilow changes up the dynamic. Crew-member Dan has brought the spare guitar back, maybe not the end yet.
This, like “One More River” was the first American live performance.
“Prime Time” from Ammonia Avenue is next, vocalized by Greene. The backing vocals including Olsson, Cooper and Parsons are beautiful, but Greene lead vocal could be louder. It eventually gets there. For this song, Greene replaces Woolfson and Bairnson. Again, a livelier version than on disc. Greene tortures his Strat.
Then the band brings the dynamic down to a sustained bass note and build up slowly, as we are treated to a piano solo.
The worst part of this show are the, as Robert Fripp would call them, boobies getting in and out of the rows. I am on an aisle seat and the boobies come and go, one reeking of marijuana. Where are the Bethlehem police when you need them?
After that nice piano and drum interplay break, another blistering solo from Greene. He then cues for a crazed three-fingered-maniac-solo ending.
Parsons then introduces the band.
One all-too-familiar note introduces something I hope they are tricking us about, something I HOPE isn’t coming…
But it is. “Sirius” from Eye In The Sky. You’ve heard me go on about this track. I hope the mics pointed at the audience hear me exclaim “This isn’t a football game!” P. Diddy isn’t here…
The first few trademark notes were lost in the guitar solo, they’d better be following this with “Eye In The Sky” for my trouble.
Parsons does Woolfson’s vocal. Quite well I might say. Sorry I’m not writing much here, I’m too busy singing along with the crowd. But I am not dancing with them in the aisles.
Parsons comes up front to jam with the rest of the front line. They end the song with a power chord blow out. They leave the stage with the crowd wanting more. My best thing to ever happen to me tells me she learned from the sound man pre-show that there will be one encore at least, two if the crowd are receptive.
The hungry east coasters were more than receptive.
That encore is “Old And Wise” from Eye In The Sky. A very loud piano is in the mix. An appropriate encore. The songs woeful lyrics act as a longing goodbye to a most appreciative crowd. Cooper takes the original Mel Collins sax solo off the scale! Right up until the rolling chord ending.
After Parsons tells us we’ll see him next time, they break into “Games People Play” from Turn Of A Friendly Card. Olsson’s mic is hit or miss on the verse vocal.
For the first time in the show, we hear Parsons guitar by itself. Green’s solo is a little buried, but then a sax solo takes its place. This song is high energy for the finale. Another rolling-crazed-burn-down-ending seals the show.
Parsons shakes front-row hands, Thompson throws sticks, and the obligatory band bow. They exit the stage, lights go up and people filter out. This has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience that may have been their first show of the tour, but they played like it was the last! Well rehearsed, a tad wobbly in the mixing but those are, again, the pratfalls of live performance.
I would like to thank Lynn Farley of Zoellner, her assistance with the photo pass and seating was highly contributory to this exhilarating experience.
From here, I get a few days rest and am off to cover Todd Rundgren doing theTodd/Healing show at the Keswick Theater on September 14. As far as 9/11, I’m going to remember the day Alan Parsons put on one of the best progressive rock shows I have seen in a long time.
What terrorists? What Quran burning?
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