During the Alan Parsons Project's hit-making heyday, as it turned out high-concept albums like I Robot and such richly produced singles as Eye in the Sky, the group existed only in the studio. So a new tour for the Alan Parsons Live Project offers American fans of those works, as well as other '80s hits Time and Games People Play, the rare occasion to hear them in a concert setting.
The tour consists of six Florida dates, beginning tonight in Fort Pierce, as well as shows in Las Vegas and Napa, Calif. "It never ceases to amaze me that people pay good money to come and hear music made in the late '70s, early '80s," says Parsons, 64, who was billed as producer, engineer and composer on the Project albums, while Eric Woolfson, who died in 2009, handled vocal duties. "We've done so little in North America lately. It's all been South America, Europe and the Far East," Parsons says. "It's not an extensive tour, but it's nice to be playing America again."
Late bloomer: Parsons didn't take to the road until 1995, after he had released his first album as a solo act, called, perhaps fittingly, Try Anything Once. "It would have been a lot more difficult had we chosen to do it earlier," he says. "We rely a lot on keyboard and sampling technology that simply didn't exist in the early days." It took the development of MIDI, a protocol that allows communication between electronic equipment, to make live performances feasible for him. "You could store sounds, you could recall sounds. Until then, it had been really difficult to do that. You'd be fighting to get back to where you were, twiddling lots of knobs to find the right sound for each song. It would have been completely unworkable."
Pay no attention to the man behind the mixing board: The Alan Parsons Project did stage one live performance, in 1990 at one of Belgium's Night of the Proms concerts, which combine pop and classical music. Neither Parsons nor Woolfson was among the featured musicians. "I actually was at the front-of-the-house console, mixing the onstage band, as part of the entertainment," Parsons says. "I would make announcements, introducing songs and the band." Eventually, though, he did join the onstage players for a couple of songs. "The interest in me at the console lasted about five minutes. Then the audience took their attention away from me and looked at what was going on on the stage."
A 'Sirius' surprise: Some fans are still surprised to learn that Parsons isn't the primary singer of his music - that would be P.J. Olsson, one of the six musicians who accompany Parsons on tour. "People find it very hard to understand that the artist is not the performer," Parsons says. "I've added to the confusion now: When I do play live, I do perform. I've even done lead voicing. So my tune has changed a bit since the early years." For some concertgoers, even the ones familiar with the radio hits, there's a bigger surprise: the performance of Sirius, an instrumental from 1982's Eye in the Sky album that the Chicago Bulls used to introduce players during the NBA team's championship run of the 1990s. "You can see them looking at each other, going, 'I didn't know that was the Alan Parsons Project!' " Parsons says. "Of course, they're used to hearing it every week on sports games."
The great gig in the studio: During the 1960s, a teenage Parsons played guitar in a British blues band before landing a job at London's Abbey Road Studios that changed the course of his career. "When I walked up the steps of Abbey Road for my first day at work, I said, 'This is what I'm going to do. I'm going to make something of this,' " he says. "Pretty much, at that moment, I said, 'I'm going to give up the band and do this.' I decided to be a listener rather than a player at that moment in time." Before launching his own Project, Parsons made his name working as an engineer on The Beatles' Abbey Road and Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon albums and producing '70s hits for Al Stewart (Year of the Cat) and Bay City Rollers spinoff band Pilot (Magic), among others.
Beyond the road: Parsons calls the Live Project's tours "my bread and butter now," but he continues to produce, having worked on recently new albums by Porcupine Tree singer Steven Wilson and ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro. He also offers master classes in recording sessions at studios around the world. Later this year, Sony Music plans to release a multi-disc set featuring the 10 Alan Parsons Project albums released between 1976 and 1987, plus additional material. "There's actually a whole album that was never released, which has become sort of a mysterious enigma, called The Sicilian Defence," Parsons says. "That's going to be put out with the box set as a bonus disc."