It was a rather weird situation. In September 2001 a press release on the Alan Parsons fansite The Avenue announced that the producer behind the Alan Parsons Project and three 'solo' albums had parted with his old mates Ian Bairnson and Stuart Elliot. Since Parsons had moved to the USA it had become unpractical to continue a cooperation. Parsons announced that he would be working with 'contemporary' artists instead, which eventually resulted in the release of A Valid Path last August; a more electronic driven album showing a whole different (and not always convincing) side of Mr. Parsons.
Then, strange enough a 'reunion tour' was announced, including a gig in Holland in January 2004. The tour was to feature many old members of the Project, so we quickly bought tickets, only to find the gig being cancelled again a few weeks later. Seemingly tickets had gone on sale without confirmation about Parsons' participation.
And then a new tour was announced with a completely new line-up, nothing near the line-ups of the Live Projects of the nineties:
Parsons on Acoustic Guitar, Keyboards and Vocals, Godfrey Townsend on Lead Guitar and Vocals, Steve Murphy on Drums and Vocals, Manny Focarazzo on Keyboards, John Montagna on Bass and Vocals, and P.J. Olsson on Vocals. So again it was off to the box office.
After hearing the new album I first began to doubt my decision to go to this gig. Although being a nice electronica album, A Valid Path was not what you would expect (or hope) from a new Alan Parsons album. I also feared that P.J. Olsson, who failed to impress me on the CD, was going to do all lead vocals on stage. I was also worried that this was turning into some kind of Kraftwerk-like gig with just keyboard players on stage doing electronics while boring the audience to death. Then, on the bright side, I noticed some setlists of recent gigs on some websites and saw some very interesting choices of songs. So, with renewed hope we were off to the 013 venue in Tilburg for quite a few surprises.
First (unpleasant) surprise was seeing the merchandise stand and noticing that the price of a T-shirt has now rissen to the incredible price of 25 euros ! Hell, T-shirst used to be cheaper than albums ! Second surprise was walking into the concert hall and finding the ascending steps filled with seats. Seats in the 013. What's next ? Sure, I've been to some other seated Live Project shows, but I certainly hadn't expected to find them here. Nevertheless, it was a bit of a relief though. Nowadays I'm starting to feel 3 hours of standing in my bones and muscles. I think I'm getting old ....
Third surprise was finding that all the band members actually sang. Including Parsons himself, in the songs Damned if I Do, The Eye in the Sky and sharing vocals with P.J.Olson on We Play The Game. Seemingly he had liked singing on the latter track on the new album so much that he had an urge to do more on stage. And he didn't do bad either. He surely isn't the best singer you've heard but it did make the performance quite special. The bass player sang two songs (Days are Numbers and I Wouldn't Want to Be Like You), the drummer sang some of the more rockier tunes (e.g. Breakdown), the guitar player sang Prime Time (which also included a splendid extended bluesy guitar and keyboard interplay, turning it into one of the highlights of the evening), and then there was P.J. Olsson ....
Well .... P.J. Olsson. The fourth (unpleasant) surprise. Rarely have I seen such an annoying element on a stage. Dressed in torn jeans an a yellow T-shirt he skipped and jumped around the stage like a little schoolgirl. Leg always bend as if he really needed to go to the toilet urgently or he would be singing, stamping his foot like some spoiled kid. Sometimes he would wander off stage but at other times he would linger about without having something to do, sitting on the steps to the elevated platform where Parsons himself stood, doing nothing, just being a rather distracting element.
I do admit that he did quite well singing some of the songs in the 'higher' regions like Time or Don't Let it Show, but he misses the rawness and front man skills of a Chris Thompson or Neil Lockwood for the heavier tracks like Standing on Higher Ground.
A very nice (fifth) surprise was the setlist and the renditions of the songs. The band played only three songs from the new album; Return To Tunguska, More Lost Without You and We Play the Game. Return was one of the highlights of the show, while the other two might also be better than their album versions, now that they were played by a full band with real drums. Most of the other songs the band played had been played before during previous tours. As far as I'm concerned some of these songs could have been replaced by tracks from Try Anything Once or On Air, which were completely ignored in the setlist. On the other hand, not having seen the shows of the Time Machine tour it was good to hear the renditions of the Breakdown/The Raven Medley, What Goes Up and Games People Play. The setlist also included a few real surprises: I Robot, Damned if I Do and Don't Let it Show. As a matter of fact, fans of the I Robot album must have had a great night, with no less than 4 songs performed. And even though not the whole setlist was new and fresh, it was a nicely balanced set nevertheless. And most importantly not the electronic performance I had feared it to be.
The band didn't play all songs as note for note copies of the album versions, which is a good thing. Lucifer and Mammagamma were played as a medley, as the Live Project did in the nineties and as can be found on the Alan Parsons Live album. The Raven and Breakdown were also combined. I Wouldn't Want To Be Like You included a break where the full band stopped playing before picking up again a few seconds later and Prime Time included the aforementioned extended solos. The band also seemed to have a lot of fun incorporating classical tunes in their songs, like for instance the melody of Let it Be which ended Don't Answer Me or one of Eric Clapton's riffs in another song.
A few minor complaints should be made. First of all, the band used quite a few samples which at times were also quite loud, like the over-present 'Phil Spector' loop in Don't Answer Me. This resulted in the feeling of watching a band which was doing their utmost to play along with the samples and made some songs feel a bit fabricated. Also, because of the lack of a sax player the solos in Don't Answer Me and Old and Wise were replaced by guitar solos. A bit of a shame, but a better choice than trying to simulate sax solos on keyboards, like some bands do. Also, I normally like the extended intermezzo of the live version of Psychobabble but this time the psychadelic fiddling by the guitarists didn't do much for me.
During some of the instrumentals there wasn't much too look at on stage and I really missed the added atmosphere of a good light show and projections. The latter were completely absent during the show, which I consider a big letdown since Parsons' music lends itself very well for video projections. Also, with the exception of some of the new songs (e.g. Return) the light show wasn't all that exciting either.
When the band was introduced to the audience there were a few laughs. First, when he was introduced to the audience, resulting in a round of appluase, drummer Steve Murphy stood up and quickly took a flash photo of the audience. Also, Alan Parsons was introduced by the bass player as 'out fearless leader'. Come to think of it, Parsons was much less static than during previous shows. He would actually come down from his elevation and approach the audience whenever he was playing acoustic guitar ! A bit of a surreal sight.
All in all a good show, but not brilliant. A decent evening of entertainment. I do think that this isn't the tightest live band Parsons has put together and I really missed the melodic play of Ian Bairnson. Also, I wouldn't mind if they would get rid of P.J. Olsson and get a vocalist that blends in a bit better with the rest of the rock band.