The Alan Parsons Live Project, 29th October 1999
Muffat-Halle, München, Germany
By Dirk Rombauts
The Time Machine
For my first "real" Alan Parsons concert, I travelled all the way from Antwerp in Belgium to München in the south of Germany. Crazy? Not so crazy if you know that during a stay in Vienna in Austria last summer, I made many friends from Austria and Germany, so I combined the concert with a visit to one of those friends. And by the way, I have heard of people who travelled all the way from Australia to attend a Fish fan convention - talking about crazy?
Anyway, I was talking about my first "real" Alan Parsons concert. Two years ago in 1997, I saw Alan Parsons at the Night Of The Proms in Antwerp, but that doesn't really count since they only played three songs there: Sirius/Eye In The Sky, Brother Up In Heaven and the unexpected but more than only heartily welcomed Games People Play.
The concert-hall looked a bit like it had been a church in former times, but all the high windows were shielded to keep the sound inside. The sound was in fact very good throughout the concert, even on the second row where I stood - but that had probably more to do with additional speakers oriented to reach the first rows than with actual acoustics. To help passing the time (the concert started 35 minutes late), guitarist Ian Bairnson's effects-rack had a small display scrolling a message "twang twang - strum strum ---- it all happens here". Nice to read one time, but a bit boring after an hour. But it is the idea that counts, no? The stage itself was a bit of a dissapointment: it was designed by Roger Dean, who does most of the Yes-artwork and their stages, but the "special things" consisted of three black curtains behind the stage with some strange patterns on them in glittery silver colour. Not nearly as flashy as the photographs I've seen for instance from the "crystal stage". The answer to the unasked question is undoubtedly: money.
A few minutes past nine, the lights in de house finally dimmed, and a sweet tune began to play - soon a voice began to talk about how space and time are linked together: Temporalia. The intro-tape went on (it was rather long, but certainly not boring) with large parts of The Rise And Fall Of The House Of Usher, interleaved with fragments from other Alan Parsons (Project) instrumentals. Mike Myers made the occasional "Dr. Evil"-comments about time machines. When Mike Myers said "Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to demonstrate the power of the Alan Parsons Project", the band came on stage to an enthousiastic greeting from the audience, and started off with The Time Machine.
After this instrumental, Alan Parsons promised us (in German) to play more songs from the new album later on, but first they would play some older songs. First of those was Can't Take It With You, where Neil Lockwood came on stage with much waving to the audience. This is not the most beautifull APP-song in my opinion, but I rather like it because of the funny lyrics (well I think they are funny), and this version rocked - a constant factor in the first half of the concert.
Next song to keep up the pace was Breakdown, one of my favourite I Robot songs (I would have liked The Voice even more but that was not to be ...). This one also rocked, and Neil Lockwood did his little dance-steps, which reminded me of the way Fish moved about during What Colour Is God on the Sunsets On Empire-tour. When they neared the end of the song, I could tell from Alan Parsons' face that they were up to something - and indeed, Alan Parsons made a bowing nod, whereupon the band stopped playing and the bass-player continued with "tum tum tum-tum-tum": The Raven! They played the starting melody of the song, and then somehow skipped the "vocoder"-part and proceeded to the "And still the raven ..."-part. We all dutyfully sang the N-word together with Neil Lockwood: Neil Lockwood is someone who knows how to put on a good show, and he does a great job on it. Ian Bairnson on the other hand is someone who does not know how to put on a good show, and by nature does an even greater job on it - as was apparent throughout the whole concert, especially during his solo later on.
After the applause for The Raven, the band continued with a song I didn't recognize immediately. Only when Neil Lockwood began to sing, it dawned on me that it was in fact What Goes Up... Another one of my favourites, in a rather rocked up version - maybe a bit too much rocked up but who cares? The atmosphere was great, the band and the public were enjoying themselves and that's what live music is all about.
Neil Lockwood left the stage and drummer Stuart Elliott (it seems to be common fashion these days for drummers to bleach their hair: first Fish's drummer Squeaky Stewart and now Stuart Elliot) started the next piece with "tiditidi ta tam tiditidi ta tam", Lucifer which had a surprising power, resulting in a dancing crowd. I was hoping they wouldn't simply play Lucifer but the Luciferama-medley, and as the end of Lucifer neared, I watch Alan Parsons closely to see if he would again give some kind of signal. And so he did, starting off Mammagamma. I've heard this medley dozens of times on the Live-cd, but it's still something special to witness it live.
Another "bass-introduced" song followed: Psychobabble. Throughout the concert, the bass-player remained largely anonymous, but here he had a bit of a solo-spot, altering the bass-riff just-so-slightly to make the chance noticeable but not annoying. Did I already mention they rocked? Psychobabble is in fact a typical example of a song that never was very famous in terms of chart-success, but nevertheless started to lead its own life during concerts: Neil Lockwood left the stage halfway through the song, leaving room for some serious weird stuff: a lenghty instrumental intermezzo, with Ian Bairnson sliding and tapping quite literally every fret on his guitar. Spooky! Neil Lockwood came back to finish to song, and went off again for the next song, while his mike stand was replaced by a larger one.
That next songs was Out Of The Blue from the new Time Machine-album, and with a glass of white wine in his hand, Spandau Ballet-frontman Tony Hadley came on stage to sing this song. To be honest, my first impression of Mr. Hadley was rather negative: too much of a star-attidude radiating from him (and why did he stick out his tongue to the public?), almost if he felt too good to sing a song for that simple band hardly anybody knows anymore.
During the next two songs Tony Hadley blent better in with the band, but maybe that was just because they played two Spandau Ballet songs: True and Gold, with Neil Lockwood on acoustic guitar and the audience on backing vocals. With these three songs, Tony Hadley had made his "special guest appearance" and left the stage (with his glass of wine of course - it still wasn't finished at the end of the concert).
Back to the regular Alan Parsons-songs, but somehow the "schwung" was a bit out of it. There certainly were some great moments in the second half of the concert (most of them courtesy of Mr. Bairnson), but I felt there was something lacking. This was reflected in the behaviour of the public, who did not continuously dance and clap anymore, but only occasionally. One of those occasions was Prime Time, where Ian Bairnson did an amazing solo - it's great fun to see him playing, because his face is completely synchronized to his guitar: whenever he plays a note on the guitar, you can see that note on his face. If you have ever seen him playing from close up, you know what I mean. For his solo, Ian Bairnsons received what would certainly have been a standing ovation if the public had been sitting down instead of standing up. It was heart-warming to see how grateful Ian Bairnson was for so much applause for his humble playing - or what he thought to be humble playing.
Next song was another of those "I know it but I can't name it"-songs: Stereotomy. Good to hear live, and although it was not played in an exceptional way, the crowd did a lenghty "hey hey" shouting after the song. The crowd was still shouting when we heard two jetplanes flying overhead, introducing the only On Air-song of the concert: Can't Look Down.
Ian Bairnson left the stage for the next song, and a familiar sound filled the hall (I don't know if it was a tape or played live): the orchestral intro to Old And Wise. A bit of a pity that Neil Lockwood flubbed the lyrics: he sang "there are shadows surrounding me" first and in the second stanza "there are shadows approaching me". Moreover, I can't get rid of the feeling that there was also something wrong with the other lyrics, but I had a similar feeling when I heard this song at the "Symfo 1999"-concert, so maybe I should check out the lyrics myself. The sax solo was brilliantly played by Ian Bairnson - I'm not so much a fan of saxophones, and I always felt Old And Wise would have been better without the sax part, but Ian Bairnson let it sound like it was an essential part of the song. Well done!
Then it was back to The Time Machine: they would play only two more songs from that album, bringing the total of Time Machine Album to four (five if you count Temporalia on the intro tape), but that was no problem for me, because I don't like the other songs from the new album so very much (they have grown on me, but still ...). I had expected they would play No Future In The Past, but instead they did Press Rewind, also one of the better songs from the new album. The chorus of the song was repeated a few times at the end, making it a kind of sing-along-song, in sharp contrast with the next song, Very Last Time, a very quiet song with only vocals and piano. Judging from the Time Machine-liner notes this is a song that means much to Ian Bairnson, but it didn't work very well live.
No time to worry, because after Very Last Time Alan took us back to "the first album" - "the Mystery Tales one" he clarified when there failed to be an enthousiastic response from the audience (who were probably a bit confused because I Robot has also the status of "first album" - but that's actually a matter of record label technicalities). (The System Of) Doctor Tarr And Professor Fether, followed by an introduction of the band members (lengthy applause for an again very grateful Ian Bairnson) and the almost inevitable main set-closer Standing On Higher Ground. Great song live, but somehow this rendition didn't came across as much as one would expect judging from the version on the Live-album.
The public started yelling for a "Zugabe" even before the band had left the stage, and after a suitable time (long enough to make it feel like a "real" encore) the players returned to stage. Of course everybody knew which song they would play, but still it came as a surprise when Alan Parsons started in broad stage-light the Sirius-loop (I'm quiet sure it was a loop this time and not live as on the Night Of The Proms in Antwerp): I would have expected a darkened stage, lots of smoke, humming synthesizers and only then the loop, but no: "ze vielen met de deur in huis", like we say in Dutch. With everybody jumping and clapping and occasionally waving as to direct Ian Bairnson when to batter his guitar, this instrumental flowed into Eye In The Sky.
After that song, Tony Hadley's large mike stand was brought back on stage, thereby giving away wich song would be next. And indeed (again with a loop, I think): Games People Play. I thought it sounded a bit strange with Tony Hadley's vocals (he still had his glass of wine), but all in all a satisfying version (with an extra keyboard solo during the Pink Floyd-like interludium). This song concluded the concert (the roadies started clearing the stage even before the last song was finished!), and as the band left the stage, an outro tape was played (but I didn't pay close attention to it as we were desperately shouting for a second encoure, which we didn't get).
Overall comments: very good concert with a number of rather unexpected favourite songs. It "rocked a fat one" during the first part but after Tony Hadley's mini-set the schwung was a bit out of it. It's a delight to see Ian Bairnson playing - on his own he makes up for all the stage presence that all the other players (including Alan Parsons) except Neil Lockwood lack. Neil Lockwood is a good singer (with a tendency towards the John Miles and Lenny Zakatek songs it would seem) and a good entertainer (hampered a bit by the fact that not he but Alan Parsons is the "front"man - who was actually standing at the back of the stage). Stuart Elliott did his job without any flaws, but it's hard for a drummer to get into the spotlight like a guitarist (unless your name is Bill Bruford). Dick Nolan, the bass player, did his job likewise, without drawing the spotlights (he even stayed on the same square meter the whole concert). John Beck, the keyboard-player, pulled of a few nice riffs here and there, but on the whole he was most noticable because he looked like he was completely stoned (maybe he really was ...). And last but not least Alan Parsons did the "additional everything" which made him sometimes look a bit out of place.
Intro tape (Temporalia - The House Of Usher/Snippets from AP(P)-instrumentals/Dr. Evil)
The Time Machine
Can't Take It With You
What Goes Up
Out Of The Blue (*)
I Wouldn't Want To Be Like You
Can't Look Down
Old And Wise (***)
Very Last Time
(The System Of) Doctor Tarr And Professor Fether
Standing On Higher Ground
Sirius/Eye In The Sky
Games People Play (****)
Alan Parsons - rhythm guitar, keyboards, percussion, backing vocals
Ian Bairnson - lead guitar, sax on (***)
Stuart Elliot - drums and percussion
Neil Lockwood - vocals except on (*) and (**), acoustic guitar on (**)
John Beck - keyboards, backing vocals
Dick Nolan - bass guitar
Tony Hadley - vocals on (*), (**) and (****)