Burleigh Drummond - drums, vocals; Royce Jones - vocals; David Cutler Lewis - piano, synthesizer; Chris North - organ, vocals; David Pack- guitar, lead vocals; Joe Puerta - bass, lead vocals
Formed in 1970, the Southern California band Ambrosia was first recognized by Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor Zubin Mehta, who featured them in part of his All-American Dream Concert the following year. Inspired by many of the progressive rock bands coming out of England in the early 1970s, the rich harmony arrangements of the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and CSN&Y, as well as the soulful vocals of Motown, Ambrosia blended these elements into original symphonic pop/rock with a slick produced sound. By 1975, when they released their debut self-titled album, the band had developed a strong regional following enamored with their clear melodies, strong vocal arrangements and polished sound that was both accessible and radio friendly. With some credit due to Alan Parsons, who engineered the debut and produced the follow-up, the group displayed inventive musicianship and skillful arranging abilities. However, among Parson's polish was a distinct sense that this band was not taking itself too seriously and having a lot of fun, which translated well into their live performances. The group toured extensively throughout the latter half of the 1970s, supporting the most popular bands of the era such as Fleetwood Mac, the Doobie Brothers, and on this particular night, Heart.
By the time of the band's third album in 1978, Life Beyond L.A., Ambrosia began tightening up the arrangements and introducing more typical ballads that showcased the soulful vocals of David Pack. Ambrosia was clearly heading in a more mainstream pop direction. During the sessions for this album, the first to be produced without the help of Alan Parsons, founding member and organist Chris North departed, leaving the remaining trio of Pack, Puerta, and Drummond to carry on. They now were augmented by hired guns, including the talented keyboard and synthesizer player, David Cutler Lewis, who would become a full-time member of the touring band. After unsuccessfully searching for an additional organ player for the tour, Chris North returned to fill his own vacancy. Former Steely Dan vocalist Royce Jones fleshed out the elaborate vocal arrangements and completed the 1978 touring band. This performance, recorded at the Civic Center in Pittsburgh when Ambrosia opened for Heart, captures this transitional era of the band perfectly.
Ambrosia's performance begins with their Top 40 hit single, "Holdin' On To Yesterday," one of the most straightforward numbers from their debut album. From their 1976 album, Somewhere I've Never Traveled, they perform both the title song and the album's most instrumentally ambitious track, "The Brunt," one directly into the other. This 15-minute continuous exercise is the band at their most ambitious and features an impressive drum and percussion solo during "The Brunt."
The uncharacteristically romantic ballad, "How Much I Feel" follows. Radically different from everything that preceded it, this emotionally evocative love song would become part of the soundtrack to countless teenage makeout sessions and would soon sail up the charts. Undeniably catchy, but a far cry from the music that established their reputation, this song would unfortunately stigmatize Ambrosia as lightweights in the eyes of many longtime fans, while bringing them an entirely new adult contemporary audience. Regardless, this performance clearly displays that the group was as comfortable with romantic ballads as they were with progressive rock. Melodic instrumental textures, rich blended vocal harmonies and a style that could be both serious and playful in equal measure are what define this performance.
They wind things up with a double dose from the new Life Beyond L.A. album, beginning with the driving title track, which they state is being released that same day as their next single. This is a particularly strong performance followed by the first few minutes of "I Wanna Know," which concluded the set a minute or two after the tape stock ran out.