Oh, Mr. Roboto, we hardly knew ye
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Alan Parsons — the Project is live

Alan Parsons Live Project

  • Thursday, September 13, 2018, 7:30 p.m.
  • Humphreys by the Bay, 2241 Shelter Island Drive, San Diego
  • $60

A little over 20 years ago, when a bunch of Hit Parader contributors pooled writeups for a 20 Best Debut Albums of All Time feature, I took a lot of flack for doing mine on the Alan Parson Project’s 1976 opus, Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Alan Poe, which I credited as a prophetic boon to both prog rock and techno music. Even then, house DJs were sampling bits from the entire Parsons discography, and it’s worth noting that the Poe album contained one of the first mass market songs to center around a digital vocoder (think prehistoric Auto-Tune), for “The Raven.” At that time, the notion of a Parsons Project tour seemed unthinkable (though they did perform a one-off concert in 1990). The music was too complex and multitracked, with far too many contributing musicians to round up for a road trip, including increasingly busy members of bands whose own records Parsons produced like Ambrosia, Pilot, and John Miles. Parsons ditched the Project moniker for his releases after 1987 and hasn’t put out anything new other than live albums since A Valid Path in 2004, but new stage tech has enabled him to become a steady presence on the road with his Live Project ever since its release, with his next San Diego date looming September 13 at Humphreys. If that means he’s been cruising on the fumes of his back catalogue for well over a dozen years now, well, that only means he started off the trip with one huge tank of gas back when he fired up Tales of Mystery and Imagination.

Styx — a musical coat of many colors

Styx

Few bands this side of Fleetwood Mac have tried on, and discarded, as many musical coats as Styx, from their early days as cosmic prog hippies to classical pop crooners to FM rock staples to, somewhat regrettably, jumping the shark in the early ‘80s with a rock opera about singing robots or something (I don’t know if anyone ever did figure out Kilroy Was Here). Like the aforementioned Mac, the addition and subtraction of members is what tends to shift the band into new territories, but since their most epically successful period was the era fronted, for better or worse, by their increasingly operatic frontman Dennis DeYoung, that’s the territory they’ve been attempting to reclaim ever since, with soundalike replacement vocalist Lawrence Gowan taking over at the dawn of the 2000s. The new lineup (minus founding drummer John Panozzo, who died in 1996) seemed mostly uninterested in recording new material, other than a couple of brief stabs in 2003 and 2005 (both mostly ignored), instead spending the next decade playing county fairs and classic rock reunion tours that kept their brand alive in much the same way that putting bread in the fridge keeps it from getting moldy for a few more days. That seemed a shame, especially since Gowan was a successful songwriter and solo act before joining (Styx setlists frequently include his song “A Criminal Mind”), so it’s brave and to their credit that they took a chance last year to release a new full-length, The Mission, a concept production about going to Mars that defied expectations by becoming their highest charting U.S. studio album since Kilroy. Yes, another rock opera, but thankfully more rock and less opera. Expect to hear Mission tracks peppered amongst their greatest hits at California Center For the Arts on September 30.

Greensky Bluegrass — enveloped in adoration

Greensky Bluegrass and the Lil Smokies

Tickets go on sale Friday, June 22, for Greensky Bluegrass at Observatory North Park on November 9, where the five-piece jam band invites tapers to document what’s sure to be a genre-hopping, improv-heavy night of acoustic anarchy. There’s an endless selection of concert samples online, if you need a demonstration of the Deadhead-like obsession of their devotees, which seems well deserved, given the attention to presenting a full-on multimedia variety show, made all the more spiffy with state-of-the-art lighting. Setlists introduce audiences to inventive interpretations of everyone from Prince to Aerosmith, U2, the Rolling Stones, Bob Marley, Pink Floyd, Willie Nelson, the White Stripes, and Bruce Springsteen, in addition to their always inventive originals. The fans, known as Campers, can be as colorful and entertaining as the band, seen frequently in projections behind and alongside the musicians as they play, with cameras filming the faces and dances of the crowd and throwing the footage up in real-time, literally enveloping the band from all sides in activity and adoration, elevating the fans from spectators to onstage costars. The bill includes Montana-based progressive bluegrass rockers the Lil Smokies, touring behind their third studio album from late last year, Changing Shades.

Ghost — Nameless no more

Ghost

Several of the formerly Nameless Ghouls of Swedish hard rock heroes Ghost had to shed their nameless-ness last year in order to sue frontman Papa Emeritus, revealed to be Tobias Forge, over being spirited out of the band and its growing profile and profits. The former phantoms must really have a Pete Best-sized headache this month, now that Ghost’s fourth release, Prequelle (basically a concept album about the dark ages of the Plague), just debuted at number three on Billboard’s Top 200 albums chart. It’s their fastest selling and highest charting full-length since their 2010 debut, thanks in part to presales tied into a free album redemption for anyone buying tickets to the tour hitting Spreckels Theatre on November 12. Continuing the Beatles allegory, if their previous album, Meliora, was their Revolver, Prequelle may well be their Sgt. Pepper, produced by Tom Dalgety (Royal Blood, Opeth) as if channeling George Martin on a Halloween Quaalude binge, turning the band’s customary funeral huff into brightly lit (albeit monochrome-tinted) carnival puff.

In concert, the dark ceremonial mass is now presided over by Forge’s newest character, Cardinal Copia, with a new saxophonist known as Papa Nihil expanding the group into a septet. The first singles, “Rats” and “Dance Macabre,” are almost Meatloaf-ian in their patina of grandeur, and Youtube clips of their first few support shows reveal a band having a lot of fun pretending to be no fun.

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