NYCB Theatre At Westbury
Westbury, New York
October 8, 2013
Ian Anderson is a Scottish singer-songwriter who rose to fame as the flute-playing lead singer of the progressive British rock band Jethro Tull. Throughout its career, Jethro Tull released some of the rock era's most beloved albums, including: Benefit
(Chrysalis Records, 1970), Aqualung
(Chrysalis Records, 1971), Minstrel in the Gallery
(Chrysalis Records, 1975), Crest of A Knave
(Chrysalis Records, 1987), which somehow and inexplicably won a Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock/Heavy Metal Performance, and the double LP quasi-compilation collection Living in the Past
(Chrysalis Records, 1972). As a solo artist, Anderson has recorded sporadically, though an argument can be made that every Jethro Tull album since 1980 has essentially been an Ian Anderson solo offering.
In 1972, Jethro Tull released Thick As A Brick
(Chrysalis Records). The concept album is considered by many, critics and fans alike, to be Jethro Tull's and Ian Anderson's masterpiece. It tells the story of Gerald Bostock, claiming to be a musical adaptation of the eight year-old English boy's epic poem about growing up. The album was a smashing success, mixing hard rock, jazz, baroque, blues, pop and English folk music with flourishes of classical music.
In 2012, Anderson released Thick As A Brick 2
(Capitol Records). The sequel takes a look at five different paths Bostock's life might have taken: greedy investment banker, homeless gay man, soldier in the Afghan War, holier-than-thou evangelist preacher, or husband who runs a corner shop. When he crafted the album, Anderson wrote the sequel in a musically and sonically similar manner. Though there aren't two long suites (the album features seventeen songs/interludes), there are several changes in time signatures and musical themes, and the themes do flow together.
On this warm fall evening, the little venue in Westbury, New York was abuzz with anticipation as Anderson's concert was billed as a multimedia theatrical performance of both Thick As A Brick
and Thick As A Brick 2
. The performance began before the lights were dimmed. A flutter of activity was seen on the stage as a group of brown trench coat-clad janitors moved some stage props from one part of the stage to another, dusted, cleaned, swept and checked the instruments. Once finished, the men took the coats off and were revealed to be Anderson's band: guitarist Florian Opahle, bassist David Goodier, John O'Hara on keyboards and accordion, drummer Scott Hammond, and vocalist Ryan O'Donnell. A video of Gerald Bostock's visit to his psychiatrist, Dr. Max Quad (Anderson) was projected onto a video screen at the back of the stage. Suddenly, Anderson appeared on stage, brandishing a ukulele while strumming the opening melody of "Thick As A Brick."
Those familiar with the original album no doubt had questions about how Anderson would play the flute, ukulele and sing at the same time. His solution was to enlist vocalist/actor, O'Donnell, to sing various sections of the piece while Anderson played flute. Quite often the two men traded vocals in an almost call-and-response, fashion making for an interesting duet dichotomy.
While performing "Thick As A Brick, Part I," Anderson's cell phone rang. Anderson held up a finger, asked the audience for a slight indulgence and answered the phone. On the other end was Anna Phoebe. Anderson exclaimed into his phone, "Anna Phoebe! My favorite violinist. Love to talk, but we're in the middle of a concert. Call me back on Skype in two minutes. Bring your violin." Two minutes later, Phoebe was seen on the video screen, holding her baby. She put the baby down and played along with the band. Interestingly, she was oblivious to the fact that there was a man in a black wetsuit standing behind her.
When the original album was recorded, CDs were not yet deliverable for music albums. The main format was a 33 1/3 rpm vinyl record, an LP with separate suites on each side. On this evening, the break taken between side one and two of Thick As A Brick
was achieved in an ingenious fashion. Anderson regaled the audience with the joys of a prostate exam. He then brought two members of the audience out on stage. One was to be the doctor while the other was the patient. Anderson offered the "doctor" a white lab coat and a rubber glove. He sent both men off stage and behind a curtain. The audience was treated to a silhouetted pantomime of the exam. When the men returned, Anderson thanked them for their service and the show continued with what originally was side two of the original LP, "Thick As A Brick, Part II."
After an intermission, Anderson and the band returned to perform Thick As A Brick 2
in its entirety. Though not as complex as the original album, the performance of the streamlined sequel held up rather well. The music still had much of the pomp and circumstance of the original piece and Anderson, as is his wont, still danced on one leg while playing his trademark flute. Thick As A Brick 2
was performed in the same manner as it appeared on CD, featuring catchy hooks and almost sound byte-worthy passages, all while giving an unmistakable nod to the original album. The song cycle was performed flawlessly by Anderson and his band (who also performed on the CD). Highlights of the Thick As A Brick 2
set included: "Swing It Far" (that sounded as though it was a lost passage from an old Jethro Tull album), "Kismet in Suburbia" and "Adrift and Dumbfounded" and "Banker Bets, Banker Wins," featuring Opahle's fantastic guitar work.
As an encore, Jethro Tull fans were provided with a chance to dance. For most of the show the audience was transfixed and glued in its seats. When the band began to play the classic, "Locomotive Breath" (with an extended opening) everyone jumped to their feet.
[Additional article contributions by Christine Connallon