Alan Parsons and his band kept things rocking at the Chumash Resort on June 14, 2024. | Photo: Zeb Norris

Alan Parsons took an unusual route to the stage, starting his career not as a musician, but as a recording engineer and record producer. One can catch a glimpse of him in Peter Jackson’s Beatles documentary Get Back, working as a “tea boy” (British parlance for a tape operator), a capacity in which he also served for The Beatles’ Abbey Road album. Following that, he famously engineered Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon, and produced hit albums for Al Stewart among others. In 1975, using studio musicians to realize his own musical ambitions, he launched The Alan Parsons Project. A longtime resident of Santa Barbara, Parsons brought his latest tour to the Chumash Casino Friday night in grand style. 

A fanfare introduced “Standing on Higher Ground,” and the show was off and running. It quickly became clear that this band was not content to simply re-create the songs as heard on the records. While Parsons’s reputation means he can attract top-notch players, the live sound of the band isn’t as restrained as the studio versions. What were simply synth stabs on the record were potent punches of sound from the stage, enhanced by basic-but-effective lighting pulses, and the crowd signaled their appreciation with gusto.

The Project’s catalog is a distinctive mix of almost Floydian prog-rock and sensitive ballads. The second song, “Don’t Answer Me,” was one of the latter, sung by Parsons himself and delivered beautifully with a tasteful sax solo and rich harmony vocals from six members of the seven-man band. While he did play guitar and sing, Parsons, perhaps more comfortable being “The Man Behind the Curtain” in the studio, was more a regal presence on a central riser than the front man … but there can be no doubt that the musical vision is his.

A tangy, picked bass riff introduced “Psychobabble.” The album version of this track is frankly a little tepid, but the band brought it to life and made it actually rock. Next was the hit “Time,” a sentimental ballad with a challenging vocal part. The original version was sung by Parsons’s partner in the Project, Eric Woolfson, who wrote most of the Project’s material. But PJ Olsson proved himself an even better singer. Had he not hit the high notes, the song’s poignant flow would disintegrate, but he nailed them all with power, conviction, and emotion. Sax player and guitarist Todd Cooper then took the lead vocal for a medley of “Breakdown/The Raven” and proved himself a capable singer too.

Alan Parsons at the Chumash Resort on June 14, 2024 | Photo: Zeb Norris

At this point, I was convinced that though Parsons’s current band members aren’t big-name players like on the records, they definitely have the goods. The songs that got airplay on rock stations, such as “I Wouldn’t Want to Be Like You,” rocked way harder than the album versions, punched up by the whole band’s approach … and in no small part thanks to lead guitarist Jeff Kollman, who brought an unexpected yet welcomed edge to the proceedings. “One Note Symphony,” from Parsons’s 2019 solo release, “The Secret,” brought Cooper back to the lead vocal mic to sing one note … that was utilized in an impressive array of chords, bringing to mind modern prog-rock masters Porcupine Tree, whose leader Steve Wilson has worked with Parsons in the studio.

When the encore arrived, the audience was invited to the front of the stage for a formidable rendition of The Project’s biggest hit, “Sirius” (well known as the team intro music for the Chicago Bulls), and “Eye in the Sky.”
As one might expect from an engineer of Parsons’s pedigree, the sound was pristine throughout the hall, and the Samala Ballroom proved a comfortable and worthy live music venue. I had expected a competent performance of some old favorites, but was delighted to instead get an exciting, full-on rock concert. Bravo!

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