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 an original symphonic pop/rock with a slickly produced sound. By 1975, when they released their debut self-titled album, Ambrosia 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 album 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, which translated well into their live performances.
By the time of the band's third album in 1978, Life Beyond L.A., the group had begun introducing more ballads that showcased the vocal arrangements. 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, augmented by hired guns, including the talented keyboardist and synthesizer player, David Cutler Lewis, who would soon 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 and, along with former Steely Dan vocalist Royce Jones fleshing out the vocal arrangements, completed the 1978 touring band.
This Ambrosia performance, recorded at the Lakeland Civic Center in Tampa, begins strong with a new track from the Life Beyond L.A. album, "Not as You Were," followed by the title song from their 1976 album, Somewhere I've Never Traveled. Moving backward in time, they continue with their Top 40 hit single, "Holdin' On To Yesterday," one of the most straightforward numbers from their debut album. The centerpiece of this performance is "The Brunt," an instrumentally ambitious track from their 1976 album, which precedes the uncharacteristically romantic ballad, "How Much I Feel." Radically different from everything that precedes it, this emotionally evocative love song would 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 memorable performance.
The set concludes with two of Ambrosia's most compelling songs, beginning with "Nice, Nice, Very Nice," from the first album, with its Kurt Vonnegut-written lyric (lifted from the 53rd Calypso of Bokonon from his novel Cat's Cradle). Although the synthesizer sounds clearly date much of this music to the latter part of the 1970s, the material demonstrates the group's advanced melodic sensibilities and lush vocal harmonies, balanced by tasteful and tightly arranged instrumental work. This set concludes with the rockin' title track from the Life Beyond L.A. album.