Michael Z. Williamson
  • My Review of 'A Walk Down Abbey Road'

    I’ve seen the instant hush descend on a crowd of 5000 people when Steve Howe puts down his pick and his Gibson and reaches for his classical guitar. I’ve seen Neil Peart’s 10 minute long, bombastic solo of drums, African percussion, glockenspiel, marimba and chimes over a dozen times. I’ve held Stuart Hamm’s Kubicki bass in my grubby hands. I’ve sat on the edge of the stage as Southern Comfort on the Skids raunches through a bluesy performance of “Liquored Up and Lacquered Down” as Mary’s hair comes undone and cascades six feet to the floor. I’ve seen Eric Johnson scream out liquid Texas rock on his Fender Strat… Last Friday, I saw what may be most impressive rock act of the 200 or so I’ve seen:

    Babysitter: $20
    Two tickets: $60
    Enough gas for a 400 mile round trip: $25

    Seeing classic Beatles tunes performed by Jack Bruce of Cream, Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad, Christopher Cross and Alan Parsons minus his Project: Priceless.

    “A Walk Down Abbey Road.”

    My wife and I caught this at the Columbus Zoo Amphitheater, with less than 2000 spectators. We sat on a rolled up sleeping bag at the base of a sycamore tree about 30 feet from the stage. With the weather warm and calm, the air redolent with wildlife, the venue would be hard to beat.

    The band, along with session players Steve Murphy on drums, John Beck of Alan Parsons’ band on keys and Godfrey Townsend of the John Entwistle Band (no relation to Steve Townsend) on guitar, came out and played a solid, four song set to get started. It was twangy, classic Fab Four, well rehearsed but still fresh. Parsons joked about “Please don’t feed the band,” (it’s a zoo, right?) and Cross explained how you know you’re old when a sixteen-year-old asks for your autograph for her grandmother.

    Then they broke into individual sets. First was Mark Farner, with his incredible, cheerful stage presence, tacky 70s pseudo-Native American rocker’s garb and rich, throaty guitar and vocals. To his lead, Bruce and the session players did “Some Kind of Wonderful,” then “I’m Your Captain.” He was clearly having a blast, his enthusiasm was infectious, and Alan Parsons played an electronically enhanced penny whistle during the outro chorus. Farner followed that with a distorted, twisted version of the Beatles’ “Taxman.” Next was Christopher Cross. Chris is going bald. He needs to face it and lose the baseball cap. It doesn’t affect those searing vocals. He strummed twelve string through “Sailing,” and it sounded as good as I expected. What I didn’t expect was for him to pick up an electric for “Ride Like The Wind.” That’s _him_ playing the solo on that track. I never knew. Powerful, passionate and precise. I’m not familiar with the Beatles song he played. It’s a bouncy, cheerful sounding thing, made liar by the depressing lyrics. He said it was Paul’s favorite Lennon song. Twisted. I like it. Jack Bruce was wearing 60s style pajamas, white with dark blue splotches and a few lines. Hideous. None of these guys know how to dress. Then again, you see Bruce for the bass and the vocals, not for the sartorial inelegance. He rocked. “White Room” was first, with Farner on rhythm and Townsend on lead. His voice is still recognizably Bruce, and I have to wonder how he got that tone out of his vocal cords when he was only 20. He was playing a fretless bass with about a 3 octave neck, and soloed all the way up to high tenor. It’s easy to understand why he was the inspiration for Chris Squire and Geddy Lee (damn, could we get all three of THEM on stage together?). He didn’t stop with the riffs until the rest of the band got tired. Townsend did a great job of keeping up with him. “Sunshine of Your Love” was next, with his strings feeding back through the monitors. He came out into the audience for about 5 minutes of solo. He may be in the range of 60, but he has more energy than most 15 year olds. Then he sang a great, moving “All The Lonely People.” Alan Parsons, despite his penchant for horrid yellow shirts and white sweatpants, is a genius. Specifically, he’s the genius who put this together. He’s also the genius whose first gig was recording “Abbey Road” for the Beatles. After the Beatles, he recorded Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.” Then he became the genius who created the envelope-followed synth and the azimuth co-ordinator and started “The Alan Parsons Project,” which was strictly a studio outfit that used literally dozens of musicians. Almost every song was a different lineup, but all are quintessentially Alan Parsons. He recorded, mixed, produced and co-composed it all. His only liner credits are for sequencer programming, backing vocals and acoustic guitar.

    So after the obligatory “Sirius” intro, the band continued into “Eye in the Sky.” Alan stepped up to the mike. I had this gut-wrenching moment of “Yes, but can he sing?” Update: Alan Parsons can SING. He was as good live as anyone else on this gig. Apparently, the only reason he had session singers for the Project was because they were flawless rather than merely good. Cross then joined him for “Games People Play.” Crisp, clear, penetrating vocals and instruments, as Alan Perfectionist insists on. Then he sang the Beatles “Help.” I had a Twilight Zone moment. He sounded a LOT like McCartney. I could close my eyes and barely tell the difference. Singing a song he originally recorded. Conspiracy theory: this was during the time when McCartney was allegedly dead and they hadn’t found a replacement yet. Did he…?


    After that, they all returned to the stage and started a four acoustic guitar set of “Norwegian Wood” with Bruce on vocals, “The Things We Said Today,” (I think that’s the title) with Farner, “If I Fell in Love With You” with Parsons again, and “Love is to Share” sung by Cross. Then was a touching tribute to George Harrison sung by Godfrey Townsend, also playing guitar on “Here Comes the Sun.” He, too can sing closely to the original. Jack Bruce wailed “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” as Farner squawked out the guitar. Cross did a great “We Can Work It Out,” then Cross and Townsend did “Shoulda Known Better” while Parsons played harmonica.

    Eight Days A Week” (All). “Ticket to Ride” (Cross). “I Feel Fine” (Cross). “It’s Your Birthday” (All). “Revolution” (Farner). Then an encore of “Back in the USSR,” by Farner and Cross, “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” by Cross and “Lullaby,” by Bruce.

    The audience ranged from 16ish Goths and neo-punkers to X-gen rockers to 60ish 60s fans. They were polite, enthusiastic and proved my theory that you don’t need a gallon of beer, a quart of rum, a couple of hits of Ecstasy and a pipeful of pot to enjoy a concert. There were several standing ovations (most of them for Jack Bruce, a couple for Alan Parsons), but no standing and screaming. There was considerable dancing on the shredded wood-covered ground, but visibility was great.

    This is the second year that Alan Parsons has put this together. Last year featured John Entwistle of The Who and Ann Wilson of Heart. It seems likely he’ll do it again. Unless someone resurrects two Beatles, it’s going to be hard to top. Drive 200 miles if you have to, but don’t miss it.

    © 2002, Michael Z. Williamson.