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Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson Takes ‘Thick as a Brick’ on the Road

Ian Anderson
Mark Metcalfe, Getty Images

Ian Anderson delivered one of the best live concert performances in recent memory when he brought his new solo tour in support of the just-released ‘Thick as a Brick II‘ to the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool, England on April 18.

As you’d expect, the two-part concert that replicated the original 1972 Jethro Tull ‘Thick as a Brick’ prog-rock masterpiece and the sequel was superbly played using classic Anderson instrumentation including flute, drums, keys, and guitar. What was especially exciting was to watch the players – specifically young lead guitarist Florian Opahle snappily dressed in a black outfit with dashes of red — who seem to have developed a musical camaraderie with Anderson.

The musicians’ relaxed and joyful attitudes propelled the two-hour multi-media extravaganza that combines music, theater and video with more than a touch of whimsy and nostalgia. Clearly, Anderson spent countless hours planning this show that follows the story of the fictional Gerald (Little Milton) Bostock as he advances from an 8-year old disgraced child prodigy in the original ‘Thick as a Brick’ album to a grown man as imagined as a business man, politician and other roles. Indeed, the roles are ones that Anderson has imagined for himself.

In what seemed a brilliant – if at first disconcerting – move Anderson shared lead vocal duties with actor-musician Ryan O’Donnell whose voice eerily replicates that of a younger Anderson. Just as the two men seemed to perfectly bring the younger and older Bostock to life, it had a practical purpose, too. The addition of O’Donnell’s vocals allowed the TAAB music to be played without changes that may have been needed to accommodate Anderson’s world-weary voice.

Although Anderson earned that voice playing an array of venues during his decades-long career, the regal Philharmonic Hall seemed especially well suited for this concert that could be likened to a celebration of the choices one is given in life. Think of the best Anderson music, add in hoopla surrounding various lifetime achievement awards, sprinkled with plenty of playful tomfoolery, and you have an idea of the atmosphere of the evening.

The musicians that join Anderson on this tour – Opahle, bassist David Goodier, drummer Scott Hammond and keyboardist John O’Hara — switched attire during the show, going from chimney sweep attire to classic rock musician garb. Yet Anderson wore his classic concert uniform of late that included a black skull cap, jeans, and a vest over a short-sleeved white shirt.

As odd as it sounds, seeing Anderson dressed as we’ve seen him in the past decade or so was comforting to an audience that was a bit unnerved by a show that was based on a classic Tull album yet was played without guitarist Martin Barre, drummer Doane Perry, and other Tull stalwarts backing Anderson. Some long-time fans seemed a bit rattled and almost looked for something akin to a Sherpa to lead them to the familiar.

And they found it with Anderson, who guided his fans through the entire ‘Thick as a Brick’ album and its sequel. Although Anderson frequently ceded the spotlight to the players and O’Donnell, he seemed aware that fans kept an eye on him as he moved to the far corners of the stage. That’s arguably why he never slipped to far away, wielding his much-loved flute and even standing on one leg for part of a song, his musical symbol if ever there was one.

Anderson has never been shy about his dismay over the first tour behind ‘Thick as a Brick’ when his heartfelt lyrics were lost in the audiences’ cries for Tull’s ‘Aqualung,’ ‘Cross-Eyed Mary,’ and Tull’s other heavy rock anthems.

Now, some 40 years after that tour, Anderson was determined to design these shows so that his messages were heard. And the audience had plenty of fun capturing them, too.

Find out more about ‘Thick as a Brick’ and the ongoing tour on the official Jethro Tull website.

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