October 26, 2012
Verizon Theatre at Grand Prairie
Grand Prairie, TX USA
Review by David Huff
Photos by Barry Bond
Thick as a Brick
It was indeed a calculated gamble on Ian Anderson's part to tour as himself instead of under the moniker he made world famous, Jethro Tull.
And when you think about it, the singer's decision to perform his iconic Thick as a Brick album in its entirety, under his name, was a stroke of genius. The audience knew exactly what they would be getting going into the show, and there would be no shouts of "Aqualung", "Cross-Eyed Mary" or "Bungle in the Jungle" to disrupt the proceedings.
Then again, brilliance has its downside.
All those in attendance were veteran Jethro Tull fans, not Ian Anderson acolytes. I understand the tongue-in-cheek humor that is often associated with the singer, but a relatively bare stage was a bit disconcerting. Throughout the night, mime artist Ryan O'Connell walked about the stage as the band performed, reading a newspaper, striking poses and basically acting out whatever he felt like doing. Whenever Anderson was busy playing his flute, O'Connell would take his place and sing. Strangely enough, his voice sounded eerily similar.
Throughout the first half of the show, a video screen behind the band was running various segments of the band's past. Anderson even interrupted the proceedings to add a bit of laughter to the proceedings with a proctology examination bit that presumably included a guest from the audience. It was funny, and perhaps needed to contrast the otherwise non-theatric performance that Anderson and his band were conducting.
Listen, I'm not here to rag on Ian Anderson for lack of exuberance on stage. However, when you've seen several of his past tours - yes they were Jethro Tull shows - you expect a little more visual candy than what was on stage this evening. At the time, the original Thick as a Brick album was created, it was basically constructed as a mockery of concept albums themselves (previous work by Yes and ELP were in Anderson's cross-hairs at the time TAAB was written and recorded). When the live version of this album made its stage debut in the spring of '72, Anderson went as far as to include a frog walking across the stage for no apparent reason. Tonight, the frog was part of a video collage. Also in a nod to the past, the show was seemingly interrupted by a phone call from violinist Anna Phoebe, who was asked to call back via Skype and join in on the festivities on stage. A murky figure was lingering in the background as she dealt with a baby and her instrument.
In all honesty, after listening to the first seven minutes of the original Thick as a Brick, the rest of recording was pretty much disposable. Live, however, the entire recording had a certain vibe to it that gave the audience a better understanding of the inside joke Anderson had actually created many years before. The musicians accompanying ‘the flute player' on his trek across America - keyboardist John O'Hara, guitarist Florian Opthale, David Goodier on bass and drummer Scott Hammond - were outstanding. That said I still missed seeing Martin Barre on guitar. It just seemed odd that the long-time sidekick of Ian Anderson was missing in action on this of all the Tull classics to perform live. Oh well, so much for ‘living in the past.'
After a brief intermission, the band took to the stage to perform Thick as a Brick 2, the long awaited sequel to the original that was released almost 40 years to the day of its predecessor. This album was constructed around 13 separate songs, instead of the one very long poem the original was built around. The theme of the album was assembled around a collection of tunes that contemplated the possible life story of Gerald Bostock, the fictional eight-year old boy the original TAAB was written around. In this version, Anderson creates five hypothetical paths the young Gerald could have taken over the next 40 years, including a greedy investment banker, a homosexual homeless man, a soldier in the Afghan War, a sanctimonious evangelist preacher, and a married, childless ordinary man running a corner store. As the album ends, all five scenarios come to a damning conclusion for Gerald - solitude.
That was the back-story for Thick as a Brick 2. Whether or not anybody understood it, or even cared, was a moot point. Watching Anderson on stage was a trip back for this predominantly baby boomer audience. Many had faithfully followed the musical offerings of the 65-year old band leader and solo artist over the past 45 years. Perhaps in a nod to the loyalty this crowd displayed, the encore was the Tull classic, "Locomotive Breath", which definitely lit a fire in the audience.
Music is the one true medium that can actually take people back in time. Everyone in the audience, at one point, had been a young Gerald Bostock whose path in life had yet been discovered. The performance of the landmark Thick as a Brick, and its sequel, was in a sense a reflection of the audience yesterday, and their subsequent journey forward today. Aging may not be the most graceful of experiences to accept for some, but in the hands of Ian Anderson, it's at least an interesting concept to observe and listen to.