Alan Parsons Project | 09.10.09

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parsons2.jpgThe dinosaur act does the world a favor by not trotting out "our new stuff, so we hope you like it." I never do. I came for the hits, and the lads of the Project did provide.

 

 

 

 

 

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Photo: Byron Kerman

 

Bottleneck Blues Bar, Ameristar Casino, St. Charles, Mo.

Quick! Name a song by the Alan Parsons Project. You're humming the chorus to "Eye in the Sky" right now, aren't you? Either that, or you're stumped. The APP music's only sin was its tastefulness. They never had bombastic singers, or ripping guitar solos, or mindlessly time-changing proggy peregrinations, or any of the other excesses of their decades, the 70s and 80s.
    
They did have hooks -- hooks you will recognize if you listen to their "Essential" hits album (there must be two dozen recognizable songs on the thing. The same thing goes in concert. The dinosaur act does the world a favor by not trotting out "our new stuff, so we hope you like it." I never do. I came for the hits, and the lads of the Project did provide.
   
The six-piece, comprised of the affable/phlegmatic Parsons and journeymen of various ages, took the stage to the synth-strumental of "Lucifer," and it was a reminder of what was.
   
This is the APP at its best - a bottomless well of AM hits of the 70s and FM hits of the 80s, half of which take you on a groovy headphone trip ("I, Robot"), the other half being cruisers that make highway driving a sweet and funky interlude ("I Wouldn't Want to be Like You"). Parsons can be as mellow as green tea ("Time"), or on occasion, kick out a rocking glory-jam ("Games People Play"). You remember the songs, you just don't remember the band and its awkward name.
   
At age 60, Parsons has no ostensible reason to focus on touring, but he does. He could rest on his laurels as a ballyhooed engineer (he's worked with the Beatles and engineered Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon for maximum headphone-druggy impact), or count what must have been obscene royalties from the Chicago Bulls' use of the song "Sirius" to introduce the team at the United Center during the team's glory days with Michael Jordan.
   
But whether for love or money, tour he does, and he gives a modest corps of fans a treat at every show. From the mellow stargaze of "Damned if I Do" to the trucker's paean of "Breakdown" to the cold 80s synth of "Prime Time," Parsons and co. excel at variety, longevity, and always, those hooks.
The crowd at the Ameristar Casino pledged their troth to the man. There were nearly as many standing ovations as songs. A sober evaluation does leave a few questions, though.
   
Namely, for those who know APP, "Where is Eric Woolfson?" Parsons' main songwriting collaborator and one of his distinctive lead singers (Parsons himself sings rarely), Woolfson and his breathy countertenor are missed in concert. Various band members take turns on the songs, and it's cool to see everyone getting into the act. Their voices, however, do not always match the recordings. Hearing a voice that does not belong to Woolfson singing the elegiac "Time" or one that is not Lenny Zakatek's driving the irresistible shuffle of "I Wouldn't Want to Be Like You" is still a hot dish, but not exactly like mom used to make.
   
Zakatek is long-gone from the fold, and Woolfson, for whatever reason, eventually left too. The touring band's lead singer, whose name escapes me, dressed in Peter-Pan-tight jeans and a turquoise blouse. He might have gotten away with his effete look and goofy dance steps if he could imitate Zakatek or had a winning voice of his own, but I didn't hear it. (I was more impressed by the drummer. Anyone who can sing and drum at the same time is beyond my understanding.)
   
Parsons' presence was the first requisite, and onstage he adopts the humility and imperturbability of a walrus in winter. He concentrates on the guitar, occasionally fiddling with a keyboard or singing. Notably, he stands in the back behind the other guys.
   
His humility is evident after the concert, too, when he and his mates sign autographs for all comers at the merch table. The intimacy of the ritual and of the  show itself, in a small venue, gives those who appreciate Parsons' talent and place in the classic-rock pantheon a chance to commune with a low-candescence star. And that's the kind of attitude, backed with a solid performance that tacks the ticket stub to the bulletin board after the show. Good memories. | Byron Kerman


Set:

Lucifer
Damned If I Do
Don't Answer Me
Breakdown
La Sagrada Familia
Time
I Wouldn't Want to Be Like You
Psychobabble
Prime Time
Don't Let It Show

Encore:
Sirius
Eye in the Sky
Games People Play

Play it Next Time, Eh?:
I, Robot
You Don't Believe
Mammagamma
What Goes Up
 

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