Alan Parsons and his supremely talented band played the Nokia Club in Los Angeles, performing in town for the first time in 6 years on June 11, 2015. The group was at the absolute top of their game, driving through a set list that included many of their hits recorded over the years as The Alan Parsons Project, and in particular highlighting one of their most popular albums, The Turn Of A Friendly Card (1980). It’s going to be difficult to express just how amazing this concert was without leaving a bit of the journalist aside and instead sharing these thoughts as a devoted fan of Alan Parsons and all of his work over the years. So here goes, starting with some background.
Alan Parsons is the well-known audio engineer, record producer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who began his career as a music engineer with the likes of The Beatles (Abbey Road) and Pink Floyd (Dark Side of the Moon) and went on to engineer and/or produce award winning artists Ambrosia, Al Stewart, Steven Wilson and others too numerous to detail herein. Alan and collaborator Eric Woolfson began a career as The Alan Parsons Project (APP) with their definitive progressive rock release Tales of Mystery and Imagination (Edgar Allen Poe) (1976), followed closely by I Robot (1977). These records are diverse, eclectic masterworks of the genre, and they belong in every quality music collection. Many of us selected our stereo equipment back in the day by spinning one of these albums to test out record players, amps and speakers such was the amazing production and sonic quality of the recordings. As APP went on, they released one great record after another: Pyramid (1978), Eve (1979), The Turn Of A Friendly Card (1980), Eye In The Sky (1982) and on, in all ten albums, each demonstrating the strength of the Parsons/Woolfson songwriting team, and showcasing their musical talents and those of their many collaborators. These included orchestral arranger Andrew Powell, long time guitarist Ian Bairnson, drums from Stuart Elliott, bass and vocals from David Paton, and numerous vocalists including the late, great Chris Rainbow, Colin Blunstone, and Eric himself. The project ended in 1990 after Alan and Eric made a brief foray into musical theater with Freudiana. Eric continued with musical theater until his untimely passing in 2009, and Alan went on present their music live, while releasing and touring four solo records in the 90’s and 00’s.
The Alan Parsons Project maintained a focus on bringing beautiful melodies and vocal harmonies to their compositions. Along with some rockers, Eric and Alan wrote and recorded many achingly beautiful and sentimental pop tunes and with Andrew’s orchestral arrangements, the songs were rendered with lush and dramatic colors. This was definitely prog-pop and contemporary music of its time, for fans with a heart, which left some harder prog-rock zealots behind, while rewarding those who followed. I’ve found that everyone from several generations near mine know the name Alan Parsons, and can identify, for instance “Eye In The Sky,” but many have less an idea just how many hits they would recognize. One reason for this is that Alan and Eric never toured to support this work, save for a show in 1990 just before they split. The first time I was able to see the band was touring to support Alan’s excellent second solo record On Air (1996) when a new band was assembled with lead vocalist P.J. Olsson.
For this latest concert, Alan Parsons and his musicians were all in a great spirit, reproducing the sound of the APP records with pinpoint accuracy but also with some improvisation, and room to demonstrate virtuosity. The band are: Alastair Greene (guitar), Dan Tracey (guitar), Guy Erez (bass), Danny Thompson (drums), Tom Brooks (keyboards), Todd Cooper (lead vocals, saxophone, cowbell J), and long time vocalist P.J. Olsson. The band showcased the following numbers from throughout the years:
“I Robot” / title track
“Damned If I Do” / Eve
“Don’t Answer Me” / Ammonia Avenue
“Breakdown” / I Robot, “The Raven” / Tales of Mystery and Imagination
“Time” / The Turn Of A Friendly Card
“I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You” / I Robot
“Days Are Numbers (The Traveller)” / Vulture Culture
“The Turn Of A Friendly Card” (suite) / title track
“Psychobabble” / Eye In The Sky
“Do You Live At All” / new track – single w/Fragile
“Limelight” / Stereotomy
“(The System Of) Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether” / Tales of Mystery and Imagination
“Old And Wise” / Eye In The Sky
“Prime Time” / Ammonia Avenue
“Sirius,” “Eye In The Sky” / title track
“Don’t Let It Show” / I Robot
“Games People Play” / The Turn Of A Friendly Card
This set included something from almost every APP album from 1977-1987, along with Alan’s new single “Do You Live At All.” Vocals took center stage as six of the eight performers sang multi-part harmonies atop crisp instrumentals throughout. Alan, Alastair, and Dan took lead vocal on one or more tracks while P.J. and Todd tackled more of the songs. On this night, P.J. in particular stunned the audience with fantastic, heartwarming lead vocals on “Time,” “Old and Wise,” “Don’t Let It Show” and others, each performed with poise and emotion. Additional lead vocalist Todd Cooper nailed several key tracks including a highlight of the evening “Psychobabble,” which shone light on Guy’s bass plus Danny’s powerful backbeat, and another classic, “Limelight,” peppering others with lilting sax solos, and even some cowbell! Dan sang on the funky hit “I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You” displaying attitude and chops during the memorable guitar bridge. The centerpiece of this tour is the multi-part suite “The Turn Of A Friendly Card” which gave the band additional time to stretch out, including more layered keys from Alan and classical piano from talented player Tom Brooks.
Alan presided over all of this as master of ceremonies – singing, playing keyboards, acoustic guitar and addressing the enthusiastic audience. Club Nokia was a great venue for the show – intimate while being sizable enough for the large band to resonate. It is part of an entertainment complex in downtown Los Angeles that includes a much larger arena – as Alan dryly noted between songs, “the place is called Microsoft something – we’ll play there one day, when we get big.” During another break Alan noted that all the APP albums were available in the lobby in vinyl format, known to younger fans as “those big black CDs!” and made a pitch for quality music formats, such as his new single available in WAV format, as those MP3’s “just make the music sound awful.” On this night the music sounded fantastic and the performance was stunning, befitting this man of many talents, Alan Parsons, and his marvelous band.
*apologies to Danny Thompson, the band’s excellent drummer -no closeup captured!