Report: Ian Anderson Live in Miami Beach

 

 

September
18 at The Fillmore at the Jackie Gleason Theater provided a night of
Thick-ness.

 

By Lee Zimmerman

 

Ian Anderson’s decision to revisit Jethro Tull’s most
elaborate opus — and no, we’re not talking Aqualung–
certainly took some fans by surprise, if for no other reason that the move
comes more than 40 years after the album in question, that being Thick
As A Brick, first appeared. The fact that he not only opted to take it
out on the road, but to also match it with a sequel — while making the attempt
without Jethro Tull in tow, no less — was certainly reason to give longtime
Tull fans pause.

 

Nevertheless, at this stage in Anderson’s career, any sudden
burst of creative motivation is definitely welcome, especially considering the
fact that the Tull brand has been all but retired and soldiering on mainly
through reissues and the occasional archival concert recording. So it seems all
too fitting that Anderson would take it upon himself to tour — classic album
in hand and new band in tow — and weave the entire narrative together while
attempting to bring it to its logical conclusion, making it not only a credit
to his creative prowess but his perseverance as well.

 

There is some precedence of course. Roger Waters’ decision
to perform his masterpiece, The Wall, as a
theatrical extravaganza sans Pink Floyd, was certainly a step forward when it
came to  merging theatrical spectacle and
authentic rock ‘n’ roll. Likewise, the Who are retooling their own classic, Quadrophenia,
albeit without Keith Moon and John Entwistle who, sadly, are no longer around
to participate. Yet for Anderson, reviving Thick As A Brick would
seem the greater challenge, not only because the work dates back much further
— to 1972 to be precise — but also 
because he had to create an entirely new work in order to bring it to
fruition.

 

There were other risks involved as well. For one thing, the
sequel is largely unfamiliar to Anderson’s audiences, and it accounts for the
entire second half of the show. For another, the original work worked as a
whole, but when it came to breeding classic songs, it clearly came up short.
Likewise, Anderson has made it clear that fans ought not expect any other Tull
classics — no “Aqualung,” “Cross-Eyed Mary,” “Living in the Past,” “Bouree”
et. al — which raised the stakes for true devotees even higher. And of course
there’s no other trace of Tull per se, except to emphasize this is “Jethro
Tull’s Ian Anderson.” Yes, there’s a high bar and one could only hope Anderson
was up to scaling it.

 

Fortunately, this recent performance proved there was no
need to worry. Reconfigured for the stage, Thick As A Brick
remains as impressive as ever, its intricate passages, recurring refrains, pomp
and power all still intact. The fact that Anderson and his excellent backing
band — bassist David Goodier, drummer Scott Hammond, guitarist Florian Opahle
able to pull it off so deftly speaks volumes not only about the album’s staying
power but its ability to still lend itself to live performance. There are the
obvious concessions — screen projections, occasional videos, some spoken
narration and a central non-musician, Ryan O’Donnell, who acts as mime,
additional vocalist and general foil for Anderson himself. O’Donnell’s presence
gives the performance its theatrical emphasis, although the band’s posing and
posturing indicates that the show was precisely choreographed accordingly.

 

Nominally, the story still centers on Gerald Bostock, a
fictitious boy poet who was credited with writing the original lyrics, although
Anderson has conceded that the original Thick As A Brick was
first conceived as a spoof of the bombastic so-called concept albums that were
all the rage back in the late ‘60s and early‘70s. Its sequel, TAAB
2
revisits the young Bostock 40 years later and claims to follow his progress
into middle age, while commenting on many of the mores and inventions that intrude
on his and our existence today. Performed live, and bowing to the occasional
theatrical trappings, it remains grandly ambitious, but the central story of
Bostock seems lost in all its intricacy. Likewise, although the newer album
actually bests the original in terms of musicality, the plot remains muddled
while providing only the thinnest thread of continuity.

 

Nevertheless, Anderson and company pull the music off with
incredible aplomb, weaving their way through the various musical interludes,
time changes and melodic themes with exacting and meticulous execution.
Anderson himself remains an ideal front man, a reservoir of nonstop energy,
exaggerated expression and incredible dexterity. He attempts his famous balance
on one leg less now, but he still manages to mesmerize, and considering that
the show clocks in at two and a half hours, intermission included, his staying
power is all the more impressive indeed.

 

It ought to be noted that the concert was also demanding on
the audience, given its scarcity of familiar material and the fact it was
largely an instrumental offering, Consequently, a rambunctious encore of
“Locomotive Breath,” the sole song to break the conceptual mold, proved ample
reward for any diehard devotees with sentimental ties to Tull. Yet considering
the effort already expended, little more was needed. Thick
As A Brick gave all the weight needed.

 


 

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