|Ian Anderson – High Wycombe, The Swan Theatre - 29th April 2012|
|Written by Jim Rowland|
|Wednesday, 09 May 2012 05:00|
'Thick As A Brick' is probably the main reason why Jethro Tull still get labelled a "prog" band even today. In fact it was only really this album and the following year's 'A Passion Play' that could be truly labelled prog out of all of Jethro Tull's albums. Originally released in 1972, 'Thick As A Brick' was one continuous piece of music spread over two sides of vinyl, and was conceived as a bit of a send up of the whole concept album prog movement of the time. Despite this, it remains one of the finest progressive rock albums of the seventies, and can rightfully be referred to as a classic.
With Ian Anderson back in prog mode in 2012 after the release of the new 'Thick As A Brick 2' album, 40 years after the original, he's undertaking a lengthy world tour in which he is performing both albums in their entirety - something really not to be missed for Tull fans everywhere. The tour is pretty much a sell-out, and there's no room at the Inn for me at the Hammersmith Apollo, so I'm off up the M40 to catch the show at High Wycombe's delightful Swan theatre. A venue about a quarter of the size of the Hammersmith so it's much more intimate.
First of all though we must remember this show is billed as Ian Anderson, and not Jethro Tull, and even in the more provincial venues like the one I find myself in tonight, there are still a few mutterings as to exactly why Martin Barre isn't involved on this tour, seeing as he's been in Tull for well over 40 years, and of course played on the original 'TAAB' album. His place in Anderson's band is taken up by Florian Opahle, a young guitarist bearing quite a resemblance to a younger Martin Barre, and Opahle it must be said puts in a sterling performance from start to finish.
Now 'Thick As A Brick' is an album I absolutely love, so the prospect of seeing Anderson perform this in its entirety for the first time since the original tour back in '72 is something I'm very excited about. But I'm in for a major shock - he doesn't actually sing most of it! He has a stooge on stage by the name of Ryan O'Donnell, a stage actor/singer who has previously performed in the Who's 'Quadrophenia', who actually handles the trickier parts of the vocals, and probably actually handles the lion's share of the whole thing. He also looks a bit like Dr. Who. The obvious initial reaction is one of surprise and disappointment. I wanted to see Anderson sing this classic album as he did 40 years ago. But that's the crucial point - he did it 40 years ago, and 40 years on, your voice isn't the same. This is a problem that has blighted many old rock troopers - Rob Halford and Ian Gillan have to select the songs they can still do justice to, sometimes the band have to change the key, and let's not forget the state of poor old David Coverdale's voice these days. What Anderson has done here is a bold, brave, and shrewd move. He's come to terms with the fact that he can't sing in the style he did 40 years ago, and rather that struggle through it, he has instead opted to bring in someone that can handle the bits he can't. He plays the flute a little more, still sings the key moments, and as the performance progresses and the shock wears off, you've got to say O'Donnell puts in an extremely impressive and entertaining performance. The band, meanwhile, perform the music to an extremely high standard too, faithful to the original recording. Short of getting in a time machine and going back forty years, this is the best you're going to get in 2012, and as a bit more of a "West End" style rendition of 'TAAB', it worked just fine.
The second half of the show is given over to a performance of the new 'Thick As A Brick 2' album. Now sequels to classic albums can be dangerous territory. Meat Loaf never pulled it off, and even Alice Cooper's attempt last year fell a bit short. For me, Ian Anderson has triumphed with 'TAAB 2'. Whilst keeping a few musical motifs from the original, and adding a few lyrical references to days of Tull's past, the album hits the right balance between the here and now & the "living in the past". Anderson is back in the driving seat vocally with this live rendition, the album having been written around how his voice is now. O'Donnell still features, and does very well, but to a lesser extent. It's clear less of the audience are familiar, as yet, with this one, and let's face it, the show was sold on the back of a performance of the original album. I for one am glad I familiarised myself with 'TAAB 2' well before this concert. It's a great album, in my opinion Anderson's best effort since Jethro Tull's 'Broadsword & The Beast' a long long time ago, and the live rendition really brings it to life, with lots of visuals to bolster the album's lyrical content. Outstanding moments like 'Banker Gets, Banker Wins', 'Old School Song', 'Shunt And Shuffle' and 'Kismet In Suburbia' prove Ian Anderson can still produce the goods, and the audience lap it up, whether they're already familiar with it or not.
In many ways, I actually preferred this section of the show to the first, something I wouldn't have predicted. Both sections of the show were punctuated with a few jolly japes and jokes, as the original was all those years ago, and all in all this was a thoroughly entertaining show, conducted by a true legend of British rock.
To pick up your copy of 'Thick As A Brick 2' - CLICK HERE