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 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 mega-popular bands like Fleetwood Mac and The Doobie Brothers.
By the time of the band's third album in 1978, Life Beyond L.A., the group had begun tightening up the arrangements and introducing more typical ballads that showcased the soulful vocals of David Pack. Ambrosia were 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 completed the 1978 touring band. This performance, recorded at the group's first visit to Baton Rouge, Louisiana on the Life Beyond L.A. Tour, captures this transitional era of the band perfectly and features a healthy dose of material from the new album, two of the most popular tracks from the debut, in addition to one of the more esoteric compositions from the band's second album. The set is structured with new material opening and closing the set and older more familiar material in the middle.
Ambrosia's performance begins with a double dose from the Life Beyond L.A. album, first with "Not as You Were," followed by the radio hit that featured David Pack's pleading vocals, "If Heaven Could Help Me." Moving backwards 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 middle of this performance features "The Brunt," the most instrumentally ambitious track from their 1976 album, Somewhere I've Never Traveled. The FM radio classic, "Nice, Nice, Very Nice," returns to the first album material, 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, before they return for an encore. They close the performance with the uncharacteristic romantic ballad, "How Much I Feel." Radically 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. 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.