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Concert review: Ian Anderson helps Phoenix crowd find Biggles and the sportsmen

You have to admire the citizens of St. Cleve, who happen to be quite tech savvy when getting out the word about one of their own, be it new resident, Gerald Bostock, or Linwell recluse, Ian Anderson. Aided by Skype, You Tube and various other video imagery, Anderson and his band brought Bostock’s poem, “Thick as a Brick,” and Bostock’s what-ifs, maybes and might-have-beens, to the stage by performing the 1972 Jethro Tull album “Thick As A Brick,” and Ian Anderson’s solo follow up release, 2012’s “Thick As A Brick 2” in their entirety at Phoenix Symphony Hall on Wednesday night, July 10, 2013.

Admittedly, Gerald Bostock, Lord Archibald Parritt and any other characters Anderson may have introduced in his show (to call it a concert would diminish what was seen) spring from the fertile and warped mind of Jethro Tull’s front man, Ian Anderson. But anyone who may own a vinyl copy of “Thick As A Brick,” and it’s album cover that turns into the 12 page St. Cleve Chronicle newspaper should have expected that Ian Anderson’s performance wouldn’t be a run of the mill, quickly run through the music, concert. No, Anderson’s wit, as well as his musical excellence, were both on display.

From the start, you knew you were in for something different when a group of men dressed in trench coats and caps came out and went about tidying the stage, dusting here, sweeping there. But there was a familiarity to the workmen. Wasn’t that current Tull members, bass player David Goodier, and keyboardist John O’Hara underneath those caps? Indeed it was, along with guitarist Florian Ophale and drummer Scott Hammond, all four of who appear on the “Thick As A Brick 2,” album.

As a video of Gerald Bostock’s visit to his psychiatrist, Dr. Max Quad (Anderson) was shown on a video screen at the back of the stage, the “workmen” shed their coats and took their place behind their respective instruments. Suddenly, Anderson appeared, parlour guitar in hand, and began strumming the opening melody to “Thick As A Brick.”

As talented as Anderson is, it is impossible for him to play the flute and do vocals at the same time. Wisely, Anderson chose vocalist/actor, Ryan O’Donnell, to help out with the lyrics, with the two switching off on vocals throughout the night. O’Donnell’s voice is similar enough to Anderson’s (especially a younger Anderson found on “Thick As A Brick”) that on occasion one couldn’t quickly pick up the transition. It may be heresy to say so, but the crispness and range to O’Donnell’s vocals at times made him the better singer.

Then again, O’Donnell didn’t have the yeoman’s task of delivering flute solos while standing on one leg, playing guitar and doing vocals like Anderson did. The physicality of what Anderson does is easily overlooked. But the level of fitness he must have in being able to continually stand on one leg, run across the stage and yet never seem out of breath while singing or playing the flute is impressive.

Leave it to Anderson to inject the unexpected into the performance. In the midst of “Thick As A Brick, Part I,” everything came to a sudden halt as he took a phone call from violinist Anna Phoebe. Because Anderson told her “he was busy,” he advised her to Skype with him two minutes later to deliver her violin part. Sure enough, two minutes later, there was Phoebe on the video screen, putting down her child long enough to play her violin (unclear whether she was using the Suzuki or Honda method) along with the music. She seemed to be too occupied to notice in the room behind her, the evening’s first appearance of the man in the wet suit wearing his Aqualung. I’m not sure if he did funny voices.

There were many other laughs. The break taken between side one and two of “Thick As A Brick” that allowed for an impromptu prostate exam and the introductory video to “Thick As A Brick 2” via a You Tube video titled “Posh Bloke In Garden,” are just a couple that were memorable. Additionally, when watching the band members’ choreography, including their waltzing, you couldn’t help but find a smile on your face.

But the audience was there for the music and it was delivered as expertly as one would expect. O’Hara, Goodier, Ophale and Hammond never faltered on their instruments and Anderson made the flute seem like a requisite instrument for a rock band.

Given the popularity of “Thick As A Brick,” there was the danger that “Thick As A Brick 2,” would be a letdown. But it wasn’t. It was refreshing, complex, new music. Like a good progressive rock album, it was the kind of music you want to listen to over and over again because you might have missed something the first, second or third time around. Had this album come out at the time when radio played progressive rock music, it would have been a huge seller.

For those unfamiliar with the album, “Thick As A Brick 2” tells the updated story of “Thick As A Brick’s” Gerald Bostock and what possible life choices he could have made. There is some, but not much, carryover of the music found on “Thick As A Brick.” Listening to “Thick As A Brick 2” doesn’t require you to know “Thick As A Brick.” It complements the original album, but can stand separately from it.

Although there were many highlights in the “Thick As A Brick 2” portion of the show, John O’Hara’s accordion coupled with Anderson’s flute found in “Change of Horses,” stood out (which may be the first time I’ve ever said that an accordion and flute were a highlight of a rock concert). It’s just a great song on a great album.

As an encore, Jethro Tull enthusiasts were treated to the Tull classic, “Locomotive Breath.” That song had some in the audience up and dancing, although admittedly, the music from “Thick As A Brick” and “Thick As A Brick 2” isn’t the kind where you stand up and rock out.

It was a night of surprises, from the humor to the new music . If you expected a rock concert, you might have been disappointed. But if you were open to a variety of ways to be entertained, then Anderson’s performance delivered. It certainly beats Phil Collins Karaoke night.

Set List:
Thick As A Brick: Thick As A Brick Part I | Thick As A Brick Part II
Thick As A Brick 2: From A Pebble Thrown | Pebbles Instrumental | Might-have-beens | Upper Sixth Loan Shark | Banker Bets, Banker Wins | Swing It Far | Adrift And Dumfounded | Old School Song | Wootton Bassett Town | Power And Spirit | Give Till It Hurts | Cosy Corner | Shunt And Shuffle | A Change Of Horses | Confessional | Kismet In Suburbia | What-ifs, Maybes And Might-have-beens
Encore: Locomotive Breath

Written by , Mesa Classic Rock Music Examiner