Forty years ago, a very unusual concept album entitled Tales of Mystery and Imagination Edgar Allan Poe, was released by The Alan Parsons Project. Founded by Alan Parsons and Eric Woolfson, the project was essentially songwriters Parsons and Woolfson, aided by a cast of musicians that would change with each passing album. Parsons, fresh from his award-winning engineering/production work with the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Paul McCartney, Al Stewart, Pilot and the Hollies, combined pop sensitivities with the popular long-form progressive rock themes of the 1970s. The result was an album of songs based on the stories of Edgar Allan Poe set to ambitiously constructed musical set pieces. (The System of) Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether and The Rave were signals released from that album.
In the next ten years and nine albums, there would be seven more top 40 hits and millions of records sold, yet only one live performance before Parsons and Woolfson split. That’s right, only one live concert. The APP was a studio creation, crafting popular soft rock ballads and pulsating instrumental tracks. The cast of the APP would change from album to album, and song to song, although a core group of musicians were heard on many of the albums. While Parsons and Woolfson were talented musicians and craftsmen, neither were traditional lead singers, in fact, they would only take the lead on three songs.
While the APP would create a vast musical tapestry of memorable songs, they would fail to create a lasting image or provide an understanding of just what the project was. Popular music is as much about marketing and image as it is about the music, yet the APP would be all music and no image, yet 40 years later, the Ameristar concert hall was packed with fans who did remember and who could sing the songs.
Alan Parson, in his late 60s and looking as mysterious as he did in his early promotional photos, stood at the back of the stage, on a riser, where he played both guitar and keyboards. Surrounding him was a seven-piece band, who took turns singing lead vocals and who recreated those intricately produced records. Truly, the concert was about the music, as there were no smoke machines, laser lights, video screens or preening rock stars. Parsons only addressed the crowd a few times, introducing the band and offering only a few tidbits about the songs. He took the microphone sparingly, singing lead on three songs, while allowing his band to switch off in the limelight.
Computers and keyboards allow the densely produced songs to be played onstage, something that Parsons and Woolfson did not have the ability to do 30 years ago. Today, we take for granted the wizardry of modern technology. Eight musicians flawlessly performed their song list, a 90-minute time machine that transported us back to younger days and stories about mystery, pyramids and robots.
Set list: I Robot, Damned If I Do, Don’t Answer Me, Time, Psychobabble, I Wouldn’t Want to Be Like You, The Turn of a Friendly Card (Part One), Snake Eyes, The Ace of Swords, Nothing Left to Lose, The Turn of a Friendly Card (Part Two), Limelight, Days Are Numbers (The Traveller), Old and Wise, Prime Time, Sirius, Eye in the Sky
Encore: (The System of) Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether, Games People Play