Ian Anderson on display at the Chumash
October 25, 2012
By COLIN JONES
OK, I’m just going to say what every classic/prog rock fan already knows: Ian Anderson is an artistic animal, a bombastic bad ass.
That’s not easy to pull off when the flute is your main instrument. And you’re 65 years old with four plus decades of touring and recording experiences to wear you down.
But the Jethro Tull front man and everyman has the performing and musical chops that few others possess. Apparently, this guy won the lotto when God doled out artistic attributes to the masses.
Last week at the venerable Chumash Casino, the Scottish rocker brought his non-Tull regiment to perform the group’s classic if somewhat unheralded ‘Thick as a Brick’ concept album, as well as his recent ‘Thick as a Brick 2’ bookend.
Having heard the title track on rock radio for years, I was surprised to learn that the 1972 track is just one, long 40-minute song, comprised of Parts 1 and 2. Those sneaky DJs have just been playing snippets of the song.
And I thought I knew everything about everything.
After his band mates took the stage, Anderson quietly appeared on the side with his acoustic guitar, jumping into the familiar intro to TAAB. But he didn’t linger long with his six-string, pulling out his signature flute and playing its even more familiar riff.
Wow, how often can you use riff and flute in the same sentence?
But that’s Anderson, a musician full of contradictions. He’s an intellectual but dresses like a pseudo pirate proletariat and prances around the stage like a madman.
Still, at any age let alone your mid-sixties, it’s pretty hard to sing, play flute and strum at the same. So his much younger alter ego, Ryan O’Donnell, ably carried most of the heavy vocal load for the evening, adding a theatrical flair to the festivities with numerous costume changes and prop additions. Add in a violin solo via Skype, a faux-doc about life in the fictional town of St. Cleve, with Anderson playing the lead roles, and several backdrop montages and it was a multi-media feast.
After a short break, Anderson and his band mates rolled into Thick as a Brick 2, his 2012 release on the 40th anniversary of the original TAAB. The sequel imagines what life for the precocious 10-year old protagonist Gerald Bostock would be if he had taken different personal career paths. It’s quite an ambitious if virtually unknown effort that is equally impressive.
Because the songs are so new or unfamiliar, my friend Mike thought of a great idea: display the lyrics on a giant teleprompter or video screen for the audience, kind of like they do for the opera. Tour managers take note.
Anyway, as much as I like hearing favorite hit songs at shows, I’m always thrilled when new tunes I’m unfamiliar with strike gold. Anderson has created several among the 17 tracks on the new record, which is really much stronger and deeper than the original.
Also, I usually prefer concerts that get people grooving on their feet. But for this one, the large crowd sat in rapt attention the entire 115-minute performance, mesmerized by this crazy genius and his colorful entourage. Go figure.
After the second set ended, the guys returned for an encore of the classic ‘Locomotive Breath’, which was cool if a bit anti-climactic.
Overall, it was a night to remember but not for reasons you would expect at a rock and roll show. That’s our boy Ian.