Ian Anderson: New York, NY, October 5, 2012
The Beacon Theatre
New York, New York
October 5, 2012
It was a decidedly older crowd that attended Ian Anderson's show at The Beacon Theatre on this cool, early October evening. Though the majority of the audience ranged from early-forties to early-sixties, it was also at least partially populated with the children of quite a few concert-goers-a number of whom introduced their progeny to long-lost friends with the phrase, "and, this is my son/daughter...it's his/her first Tull/Ian show..."
Billed as a multimedia theatrical production of both Jethro Tull's Thick As A Brick (Chrysalis, 1972) and Anderson's solo sequel, Thick As A Brick 2 (Capitol, 2012), the show began inauspiciously, as a number of janitors wearing brown overalls came onto the stage, checked the instruments and moved some of the stage props around. When they were done, they were revealed to be the band: bassist David Goodier, keyboardist John O'Hara, Scott Hammond on drums, guitarist Florian Opahle and vocalist Ryan O'Connell. A similar conceit was used when Anderson and Jethro Tull toured the original Thick as a Brick back in 1972.
The original LP was one of the first to mix hard rock, jazz, blues and English folk music with baroque and classical influences. Thick As A Brick told the story of an English boy named Gerald Bostock, claiming to be a musical adaptation of the eight year-old's epic poem about growing up. The sequel, released forty years later, offers five different paths that Bostock's life could have taken: investment banker, homeless gay man, soldier in the Afghan War, evangelist preacher or husband who runs a corner shop.
Once the workmen were revealed to be the band, Anderson (on guitar, mandolin, flute and vocals) led them through a strong performance of the original album. Recreating the original album onstage posed a few problems. In order to faithfully reproduce Thick As A Brick, O'Connell was employed to sing, both to cover Anderson while he was playing flute and because, after blowing his voice out during his 1985 Under Wraps (Chrysalis, 1984) tour, the Tull leader's subsequent range has been severely compromised. Because of the similarities between their singing voices, this went off without a hitch and was well-received by the crowd.
The original album was presented as recorded: a two-part continues suite. Anderson provided a humorous break in the middle when he regaled the audience with the joys of a prostate exam. The multimedia portion of the evening was punctuated with backdrop films and videos starring Anderson and the band-the first of which featured Anderson as Dr. Maximilian Quad, a psychiatrist given the assignment of treating the now middle-aged Bostock. Additionally, the performance was apparently interrupted by a phone call from another musician, violinist Anna Phoebe, who Anderson asked to call back via Skype. When she did, she joined the band for one of the musical interludes. The crowd, which had been completely enthralled-it was so quiet inside the iconic New York venue that one could hear a pin drop-erupted with a standing ovation when the band finished playing the suite.
After a short intermission, Anderson and the band returned to perform Thick As A Brick 2. The sequel is sonically similar in tone, with its numerous time signatures and musical themes, but not in execution. Thick As A Brick 2 is a collection of seventeen compositions spread through thirteen distinct songs/medleys, rather than the original's two-part suite. Though not as complex, the sequel held up rather well as Anderson danced on one leg while playing his trademark psychedelic flute melodies.
The newer songs from Thick As A Brick 2 were very much of the current "sound byte" era-shorter compositions featuring catchy hooks but still unmistakably rooted in Anderson's prog rock oeuvre. Buoyed by his band of virtuoso performers (who also performed on the recording), "From A Pebble Thrown" and "Pebbles" (with their haunting flute passages), "Swing It Far" (with its vintage Tull echoes), "Kismet in Suburbia" and "Adrift and Dumbfounded" were all magnificent. Like the first set, the second was highlighted by Anderson's performance, during which his energy, exaggerated facial expressions and nimble prancing across the stage mesmerized all in attendance. Another highlight was Opahle's impressive guitar playing on "Banker Bets, Banker Wins."
Diehard Tull fans were rewarded with a rousing performance of "Locomotive Breath," from 1971's Aqualung (Chrysalis). At the end, the sold-out and utterly transfixed audience gave the whole troupe a well-deserved standing ovation.
[Additional article contributions by Christine Connallon].