Alan Parsons Live Project

Bergen PAC, Englewood, NJ

The Alan Parsons Live Project 
Bergen Performing Arts Center
Englewood, NJ - 2/22/19
Photos and Review - Rebecca Wolf

Standing perched atop a platform towards the rear of the Bergen PAC stage, Alan Parsons appeared a formidable force. The intense expression on his fully bearded face, along with his mane of hair, large stature, and long, bright blue scarf, assured he would not go unnoticed amongst the group of musicians on stage. However, Alan Parsons did not seem to want to be the focal point of his band nor the band frontman. Holding down the fort from the rear and occasionally stepping forward to join forces on the front lines, it was obvious that although the name of the band/performance is, The Alan Parsons Live Project, the band members functioned completely as a collaborative effort during the performance.

This is surely born out of the roots of the band, 45 years ago in England, and the roots of Alan Parsons himself. Parsons began his professional career in the music industry, not as a musician (though skilled as both a musician and composer), but as an audio engineer and producer. Parsons had been assistant engineer on the Beatles’ albums Abbey Road and Let It Be, as well as engineer on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, when he met songwriter, composer, pianist, and singer Eric Woolfson.  Woolfson believed there was a way to combine their talents, with Parsons producing and engineering the songs written and composed by the two. It was the duo of Parsons and Woolfson who became the core members of The Alan Parsons Project, which remained together from 1975-1990.  

Throughout the tenure of the band, Parsons and Woolfson were accompanied by several consistent band members, as well as various studio musicians and vocalists. The band frequently consisted of musicians from the bands Pilot and Ambrosia, who were produced by Parsons.  Guest vocalists often shared lead vocal duties, and were chosen to compliment the mood of a particular song. However, many of the group’s hits, including, “Time”, “Eye in the Sky” and “Don’t Answer Me”, were sung by Woolfson. 

While the band gained support and recognition throughout the late 70s and the early 80s, their  popularity in North America was always greater than in Parsons’ home country. The band released 10 studio albums, and in the U.S. the singles, “Games People Play”, “I Wouldn’t Want to Be Like You”, “Eye in the Sky” and “Time” were on the Bilboard Hot 100. “Don’t Answer Me”, which reached the top 15 on U.S. charts in 1984, was the band’s last successful U.S. single.  Throughout the original incarnation of the band, only one live show was performed (in 1990 as the group was breaking up), as Parsons and Woolfson mainly viewed themselves as writers and producers, and creating on stage the complex instrumentation produced in the studio was too technically challenging. 

After the group disbanded in 1990, Parsons released four albums under his name between 1993 and 2004. Woolfson released two concept albums, in 1990 and 2003, before he passed away in 2009.  In 1993, a new line-up of the band began touring, with Parsons performing acoustic guitar, keyboards and vocals, along with various musicians/vocalists, playing under the name Alan Parsons. This incarnation of the band was later renamed The Alan Parsons Live Project, which it remains today.
The Alan Parsons Live Project hit the tour trail in 2019 in anticipation of the arrival of Alan Parsons’ new studio album, The Secret, due for release on April 26th, with guest vocalists including Lou Gramm, of Foreigner, and Jason Mraz. The Secret has been described as a return to the progressive, pop rock sound that The Alan Parsons Project was originally known for. Upon first hearing the song “Miracle” Mraz reportedly commented that he “loved it” …. ‘It sounded like a track off of Eye in the Sky, as if no time had passed.’ Throughout the two plus hour performance at the Bergen PAC, the packed house was fully enthralled by the musical performance before them. While at some shows flashy stage lights help draw an audience into the performance and hold their attention, nothing beyond the musicians and vocalists and their beautiful collaboration was necessary to create this wonderfully special and engaging performance.

Currently joining Parsons on stage to showcase the music of the original Alan Parsons Project, along with the new music of Alan Parsons, are a group of extremely talented musicians. Singing lead in The Alan Parsons Live Project since 2003, P.J. Olsson has performed alongside many well-known artists over the years. As well as writing and producing his own music, Olsson writes for other artists, movies, and TV, and collaborated with Parsons on his forthcoming album. Olsson’s voice was beautifully textured and strong, changing tones with the mood of each piece.  There was a haunting quality to his vocals as he sang “Time”, which seemed to cast a spell over the room, leaving chills at the song’s end.  Also contributing incredible vocals, as well as showcasing phenomenal saxophone skills was Todd Cooper, newest addition to the band. Looking dapper in his fedora, blue suit, and bolo tie, Cooper’s passion was evident in both his sax playing and his singing. Singing “Limelight”, as fans waved their cell phones lights (with permission from Parsons, who’d admonished fans earlier for watching through their phones), Cooper’s voice felt smooth, warm and engaging. His enthusiastic smiles, broad hand gestures and movements about the stage, were an added display of his passion for the music.

As impassioned in his musical performance as the aforementioned performers was the band’s lead guitarist and vocalist, Jeff Kollman. Kollman was eye catching on stage with his “rock-and-roll” energy and appearance; however, it was surely his skills at the guitar that were the most eye catching and impressive. His guitar solo in “Games People Play”, along with the sax solo of Cooper, brought a level of spirit and energy to the stage and the crowd, who wanted the show to go on, even after this encore. Rounding out the front line of the stage were bassist/backing vocalist, Guy Erez and guitarist/backing vocalist, Dan Tracey, both jamming on their guitars, and passionately singing throughout the performance. With Tracey, Erez, Olsson, Kollman, and Cooper, singing and playing their instruments, the talent stretched clear across the front of the stage. 

Supporting this line of musicians from their posts behind, though equally as essential, were drummer Danny Thompson, and keyboardist Tom Brooks. Brooks, playing with the The Alan Parsons Live Project since 2010, carried the rhythm of the band, from the high energy songs, with the strong drum beats, to the quieter songs, with a softer rhythmic flow. Keyboardist Tom Brooks, a Grammy Award winning producer, arranger, engineer and keyboardist, added additional layers of sound, melody and texture to the music.

Standing at his helm for much of the performance, Parsons alternated between playing his acoustic guitar and keyboards, as well as contributing to the vocals. Speaking to the crowd on a few occasions, he referenced his music from the past and spoke with a sense of modest pride about his new music from The Secret.  While Parsons’ appearance, including his colorful shirt, vest and scarf might have given the impression of a man who is bold or forthcoming, his communications displayed a persona of quiet strength.  On a few occasions, Parsons descended from his perch, to the thrill of his fans, and joined the front line.  Strumming his acoustic guitar and singing lead on “Eye in the Sky”, Parsons’ voice ranged from a deeper gravelly sound to a higher smooth sound…all with a beautiful tone and softness.  

As enthused as the fans were at having Parsons performing front and center, Parsons bandmates appeared equally pleased to be sharing this time and space with the man and the magic behind the music.  This was not surprising considering the humbleness Parsons displayed and his apparent desire to share his musical legacy and the stage with his band members  If given the opportunity to see The Alan Parsons Live Project I’d say grab it, as you too will be thrilled to hear the unique, sometimes intriguing, inspiring, and energizing, but always beautiful music of the band. And, you will be equally thrilled to see the band’s unique, intriguing, inspiring and wonderfully humble leader, Mr. Alan Parsons.
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