Current Issue Details

Buy Current Issue

Reviews > Shows

Published: 2012/04/25
by Nancy Dunham

Ian Anderson, Liverpool Philharmonic Hall- 4/18

Leave it to Ian Anderson to prove the naysayers wrong and make the “Thick as a Brick II” [TAAB II] tour the must-see prog rock concert this year. Strip away some of what Anderson himself calls the school boy humor woven within the lyrics and other material in the just-released album and the actions in the accompanying stage show – that is as much theatre as it is music – and you’ll find a poignant reflection on a life well lived – or is it?

Those that gripe about Anderson’s choice of players on this tour – he has at least temporarily forsaken lead guitarist extraordinaire Martin Barre, master drummer Doane Perry, and the rest of the much loved modern-day Jethro Tull line up– need only listen to the new music to understand his reasoning.

But first some background — Anderson wrote the original “Thick as a Brick,” [TAAB] which was released in 1972, as something of a personal meditation about civility, art, love, war, and religion. He cloaked the messages in a modern-day “Spinal Tap” treatment weaving his introspections around the fictional Gerald (Little Milton) Bostock who at age 8 wrote an “epic poem” titled “Thick as a Brick” that initially won him first place in a prestigious literary contest. Yet when the poem was read on the BBC, hundreds of “protests and threats” followed and Bostock was disqualified from the competition and presumably shamed.

“Thick as a Brick II” is a salute to Bostock and a look at what became of the young wunderkind some 40 years after that and other scandals befell him. Of course, the magic is that Bostock is Anderson’s alter ego thus giving us insight into the prog rock genius’ own musings about his life and, naturally, his life’s work.

All sounds a bit, well, heavy, doesn’t it? It’s not at all, further underscoring the arguable genius of Anderson. Who else could so deftly weave video – beginning with his own portrayal of the apparently renowned psychiatrist Dr. Max Quad who is charged with treating the now adult Bostock – still photos of everything from a scuba diver stomping about an urban area searching for water (check out “Aqualung” for the explanation) to Anderson himself in various locales throughout the years– in a manner that keeps an audience rapt but never lets style topple substance?

Anderson’s presentation may seem somewhat grand verging on pretentious to some – especially hard rock fans in a particular audience that continually expressed dismay about the theatrical elements of the show– but peek beneath the surface and you’ll see it actually represents Anderson at his most humble.

This is a man who understands that his voice often sounds every bit of its 64 years, that while he can stand on one leg as befits the beloved “Minstrel in the Gallery,” extended poses of that sort are truly a young man’s game. Beyond that, of course, are his own reflections on spending his life as a musician instead of pursuing other personal passions such as politics, environmental causes or even literature.

So what does Anderson do to convey the myriad choices he and others have and may make? Enter Ryan O’Donnell, an actor/musician who not only shared lead vocals with Anderson on some of the most heartfelt lyrics on both TAAB and TAABII but acted out the stage antics that required a somewhat spry physique.

Let’s be honest – those that love the modern classic Tull line up (diehard fans will know what that means) don’t want to admit that the players Anderson chose for this solo project — guitarist Florian Opahle, bassist David Goodier, drummer Scott Hammond and keyboardist John O’Hara — are musical virtuosos. Clearly, they are as evidenced by their masterful interpretation of the intricate music of TAAB and TAABII and the additional flourishes including solos with nods to the audience.

And that leads us back to just why Anderson – who did everything from write the music to design the sets and choose the lighting for the concerts – also chose to make TAABII a solo project.

When he and Jethro Tull first toured with TAAB in the 1970s, he was incensed by audiences’ insensitivity to the fine points of the lyrics and music. Instead of mulling the insights Anderson wove into the work, fans glommed onto the hard rock elements of the songs and the performances.

Anderson basically responded by shelving TAAB and giving the audiences what they wanted from Jethro Tull concerts in the form of hard rock versions of “Aqualung,” “Cross-Eyed Mary,” “Locomotive Breathe,” and other Tull classics, even when wound into sets of his, and Tull’s, more reflective music.

Yet once the Minstrel in the Gallery was persuaded to revisit the story of Bostock and the album that changed prog-rock, the work arguably took on a more personal meaning than perhaps even Anderson imagined it might. Thus, we have Bostock/Anderson as a younger man in the form of O’Donnell, and as himself, after his 64-year journey.

In his decades as a musician, songwriter, and producer, Anderson has sought to give his fans the music and musings they sought. At last, he’s shared what the expedition has meant to him, cloaked in his trademark, waggish form.


There are 12 comments associated with this post

John J. Wood May 9, 2012, 18:25:33

A superb well-thought review. Nancy should be writing more reviews and such, because she understands subject matter and provides the rich detail a good review demands. Great work, Nancy!

Jo Beyer, Germany May 22, 2012, 08:34:48

This is by far the best review I read about TAAB, TAAB2 and the current tour! I only wished more critics would take their time and reflect the hows and whys of Ian Anderson’s work. Very well done!

T. J. Jones June 26, 2012, 21:16:48

Excellent review! Provided me, a long time fan of IA more to ponder. Absorbing TAAB2 slowly but surely as I did with the original. I’ll be seeing the show with my 17 year old son in Florida this September.

T. J. Jones June 26, 2012, 21:17:32

Excellent review! Provided me, a long time fan of IA more to ponder. Absorbing TAAB2 slowly but surely as I did with the original. I’ll be seeing the show with my 17 year old son in Florida this September.

Mark Lebofsky September 7, 2012, 05:29:51

Great review when I discovered Ian Anderson was coming to Florida I just had to be there. As a old Tull head from the 70s who saw JT several times in Philadelphia in the old days, I rushed online the ticket office and jumped right in.. What was this thick as a brick 2 I didn’t know what I just bought tickets for? After reading your review now I know it’s the progression of the story and I am going to be there.. Thank you for filling me in and your review of this tour just makes my anticipation grow

Jim Stehr September 30, 2012, 20:39:51

Recently I saw Mr. Anderson for the 11th time in 40 years and I was very pleased. Both Bricks are excellent. Don’t miss it.

Andrew October 1, 2012, 01:04:21

That was one of the better reviews that I’ve read for quite a while. I just saw Ian Anderson last night in Durham, North Carolina, and what an excellent show it was! The band were every bit as good as any of the members of Jethro Tull (how many were there over the years?). Ryan O’Donnell, it should be said, has a voice that is so closely matched to that of Ian Anderson’s that it was sometimes hard to tell when one stopped singing and the other started.

Rob October 1, 2012, 10:43:25

The best sounding concert ever seen (Richmond 30 Sept)! Yours is an outstanding review of a brilliant piece of work-the apogee of the modern in a post-modern period. Both deductive and inductive at once while preserving the explosive male passion of the original rock and roll band. Sigh now about that colonoscopy; like hourglass sands running through my veins!

David King October 1, 2012, 13:11:15

Yes, nice review, Nancy. Clarified many questions about this work for me. A friend and I recently saw this show in Durham (NC) and had a very hard time understanding Anderson’s lyrics when he and O’Donnell sang. It wasn’t that his or O’Donnell’s voices were weak (or “old”), to the contrary, they were fine, but were just overpowered by the instruments and sound, typical for the rock genre. The heavy British accents didn’t help either, but what can you do? We enjoyed the show thoroughly, and both admired Anderson’s musical and theatrical genius. Perhaps the colonoscopy would be fitting for our ears!

bob from California October 19, 2012, 01:45:56

Very nice review…however, just got back from this concert in Santa Ynez California…October 18th, and I’ve go to say…as someone who saw the first tour of Thick as a Brick in 1972, this one was a disaster. The moments when the album would have been turned over was filled with a anal exam skit that was pathetic….as was most of the lethargic playing. What a pity. Remember, Ian…keep it clean in between…and stay home in the future.

Scott Aaronson October 20, 2012, 09:59:50

I saw The show last night in Rancho Mirage. Like the others above if you saw Tull in the 70’s and remembered the great tunes they are not in this show. He starts with TAAB1 the original and plays it though its entirety and then follows with TAAB2 which is all new. Not like any of the old stuff and you can check it out on the web to see if you like it. I didnt. He and the band sounded great but he only did 2 songs that I liked which were Aqualung and Locomotive Breath as an encour. I could have missed the first 90 minutes and would have been OK. To give credit to the review, yes the orchestration and writing of the tunes were nice but as new material goes, you may not appreciate it since its not like all the old stuff. I would say that if you dont really love the original TAAB then stay home and listen the the old stuff.

Jonathan Lustri October 29, 2012, 20:42:50

This note is a comment to the previous negative comments on the show. Anyone who is a TAAB fan will love this show. This was a virtuoso performance and it was musical theater. The way they used Ryan O’donnell to cover some of the vocals was great. My only complaint is that the show may have been over produced… but frankly, I was blown away by the performance of TAAB. I had never heard TAAB2 before so I was struggling to get the words & such. great show. Anyone who love TAAB needs to go see this.

Old Tull Fan November 9, 2012, 18:23:41

Oh, stuff and nonsense! I saw the Akron show this weekend. This was NOT a Tull show, and it was not billed as one. TAAB is Ian all the way, and always ever was. Heck, Tull itself is Ian and Martin. (“A” was only just barely a Tull album.) Let’s be honest: Ian’s voice is pretty well shot even on a good night, and Ryan covers more than adequately. He NAILED Ian-72’s sound on the TAAB-1 songs. I hope he tags along on the next Tull tour (seeing Ian not only strike a few monopod poses but cavort about as in old days gives me hope…) I didn’t pick up on 98% of the second-half lyrics either. I got home and looked them up online. Do the same and prepare to be amazed. TAAB2 is a masterwork, nothing less.

Note: It may take a moment for your post to appear

(required) (required, not public)