An overactive smoke machine. Sounds from a robot-themed album. An engineering mastermind on a riser, dressed in a Cookie Monster-blue blazer, strapped with a guitar, and surrounded by the Queen City’s finest classical musicians.
And this was just the first set.
So began an evening with the endlessly inventive sound of the Alan Parsons Live Project, which joined the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra to navigate its namesake’s progressive-rock catalog over two sets Friday evening inside a packed Kleinhans Music Hall.
Parsons’ journey to Symphony Circle isn’t what anyone would consider a straight line. At 19 years old, he notched an assistant engineer gig at Abbey Road studios the week The Beatles’ “White Album” was released. He stuck around for “Let It Be” and “Abbey Road,” before eventually making his own engineering imprint on the Pink Floyd masterpiece “Dark Side of the Moon.” .
The soundboard wizard then formed the Alan Parsons Project with his manager, Eric Woolfson, then spent their 1976 debut album, “Tales of Mystery and Imagination,” inventing interpretations of the work of Edgar Allan Poe, including a five-part, 16-minute ode to his short story “The Fall of the House of Usher.”
Not exactly a seamless transition from engineering one of the greatest albums of all time, but it served as a springboard to critical and commercial success throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, with hits like “Eye In The Sky” and “Sirius” delighting the decade’s keyboard enthusiasts.
For anyone who wondered how Parsons and his current collection of musicians would mesh these accolades with the instrumental capabilities of the BPO on Friday, they merely needed to sample Parsons’ symphonic-supported tracks and note the creative competence of the man himself. His career has been constructed with the ability to weld an encyclopedic list of sounds together to form a dazzling union. Friday night’s Kleinhans performance was merely his latest example.
Joining guest conductor Tom Brooks amid a haze of smoke, Parsons led the evening’s attendees through the intro instrumental of “Luciferama” and the Manny Focarazzo-handled keys of “Damned If I Do.”
Featuring the versatile vocals of P.J. Olsson aside scorching Gibson licks from guitar hero Alastair Greene, the tune provided the perfect example of what the eight-piece Live Project could do.
When he stepped to the forefront, the band gelled around him. Parsons carried the harmonious boardwalk do-wop of “Don’t Answer Me” before the song was lifted by Todd Cooper’s saxophone solo. On the building pace of “Nothing Left to Lose,” the Live Project transitioned from Parsons’ tender start to the tune’s reggae taste, all before Greene’s frenetic fret work fueled the tune into first-set finale “Turn Of A Friendly Card (Part 2)” and a standing ovation.
But when taking the entire night’s product as one, second-set standouts like the string-led “Silence and I” and the aforementioned crowd favorites “Sirius” and “”Eye In The Sky” allowed the BPO to make Parsons’ pieces even more multi-textured than they were first conceptualized.
Alan Parsons Live Project with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra
Friday night in Kleinhans Music Hall