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.
Several strong Ambrosia performances from the Life Beyond L.A. tour are featured here in the Concert Vault, but this one, recorded at the Palladium in Dallas, contains the most complete and comprehensive setlist and perhaps the most adventurous performance. It certainly captures this transitional era of the band and features a healthy dose of the material from the new album as well as the more esoteric second album, plus one of the most popular tracks from the debut and a rare cover. 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, rich blended vocal harmonies, and a style that could be both serious and playful.
Ambrosia's performance begins with a new track from the Life Beyond L.A. album, "Not as You Were," followed by "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). Next up is the radio hit that featured David Pack's pleading vocals, "If Heaven Could Help Me," which Pack humorously describes as a song about being horny and desperate. 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. From their 1976 album, Somewhere I've Never Traveled, they perform the title song and that album's most instrumentally ambitious track, "The Brunt," back to back. A strong performance of "I Wanna Know" also turns up following the uncharacteristically romantic ballad, "How Much I Feel." Quite different from everything that preceded it, this emotionally evocative love song would become part of the soundtrack to countless high school make-out 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. This set concludes with the rockin' title track from the Life Beyond L.A. album, before they return for a double encore. The encore begins with "Can't Let a Woman," a rocker off the second album, followed by a loose romp down "Route 66," which included an onstage dance contest just for fun to close the set.
Tacked on the end is an incomplete outtake of "Ready For Camarillo" from earlier in the show. Although it begins in progress, this rare performance is nearly complete, beginning during the monologue that leads into the song itself. One of Joe Puerta's more enigmatic and mysterious songs, this concludes the recording with the same grace and power as it did closing the Life Beyond L.A. album. This performance clearly displays that Ambrosia 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.