Legendary audio engineer, songwriter, musician and record producer Alan Parsons has mostly been inactive on tour due to urgent spinal surgery required this summer, and if his performance on “Cruise to the Edge” was any indication, it was good he prioritized his health, as he appeared to struggle with mobility on the boat.
Originally billed as a 40th anniversary show for the “Turn of a Friendly Card” album, and rescheduled multiple times thanks to delays and illnesses, his performance at The Paramount Theater in Denver finally happened this week , now as part of the 40th anniversary tour of “Eye of the Sky.” And it was truly a case of the show must go on.
I don’t know that the rescheduled date mattered much in terms of the set-list, since it covered a broad range of material from the Alan Parsons Project’s entire discography, all the way from “The Raven” and “(The System of) Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether” (from the 1976 debut) and “Uroboros” and “Don’t Fade Now” (from 2022’s “From the New World”). The reality is that any Alan Parsons live show is likely to include such obligatory tracks as “Games People Play,” “Eye in the Sky,” “Don’t Answer Me” and “I Wouldn’t Want to be Like You.”
A couple of deeper tracks, however, proved to be some of the brighter spots of the evening, including a rare moment of keyboard improvisation (more on that to come). Singer PJ Olson, who has been touring with Parsons since 2002, shone brightest on lead vocals, delivering particularly poignant renditions of “Old and Wise” and “Don’t Let It Show.” With so many of Parsons’ catalog featuring a diverse range of lead singers and remarkably melodious background harmony vocals, it must be stated that he played a key part in keeping the energy and musicality of the show at a high mark. It’s a fair remark that Alan himself probably puts out the least amount of musical output on stage, and while it’s heartwarming to see him take an occasional lead vocal, PJ confidently raised the bar, while the rest of the band’s background harmonies were on point.
Drummer Danny Thompson played with the gusto of a musician in a harder rock band, and that also helped elevate the energy level. While guitarists Dan Tracey and bassists Guy Erez effectively recreated many signature guitar solos and sounds on the night, they didn’t bring the same energy as Olsson. It’s possible, however, they were distracted a bit, as were a number of others on stage, who were visibly trying to guide the keyboard player through the set. As it turned out, the night before in Salt Lake, the regular keyboard player Tom Brooks, who provides such an orchestral component to the music of Alan Parsons, fell severely ill and was rushed off to the hospital.
As a result, they had to fly in a replacement player on short notice and there are only so many hours in a day to prepare someone for an 18-song set. Throughout the night, various members were giving visual cues of repeats, when to start or stop, and it made for a very different viewing experience that was pretty fascinating.
That said, the player they flew in, who I can find no record of his name, did a competent job and even took an improvised jazzy solo that was outstanding. The show was broken up into two sets, and I can only imagine the scramble going on backstage at half time to prepare him for the second set. Credit must go to all of the band for putting on an entertaining and generous show, despite the many challenges and setbacks they have been dealing with. They sounded pretty good, though I’ve heard them sound better. A musical top hat must be tipped simply for them pushing through and delivering a show that many in attendance seemed quite pleased with.
Alan Parsons’ latest release, “From the New World,” has some ominous vibes that it could be his last recording. Although we are all getting older, as was evidenced by the average age of the grateful crowd, I genuinely hope that Alan continues to work up new music. He’s carved out a wonderful career of catchy pop songs that flirt with progressive elements, and his contribution to the sonic quality of many great records all make him a treasured statesman in my world of music. A speedy and full recovery is wished for both Alan and Tom, as well as a bright and healthier new year.