Wednesday, September 20 , 2017, 11:17 pm | Fair 65º

 
 
 
 

Jeff Moehlis: Ian Anderson’s ‘Thick as a Brick’ — Then and Now

Jethro Tull leader revisits classic prog rock 'concept album' in concert at Chumash Casino Resort

In a way, the story begins with Aqualung. That was the album released in 1971 by Jethro Tull that mixed hard rock with a singer-songwriter’s touch to produce a true classic that continues to resonate decades after its release. Because Aqualung contained several songs that addressed the topic of religion, it was erroneously labeled as a “concept album,” much to the annoyance of Jethro Tull frontman/singer/songwriter/flautist Ian Anderson.

So for the followup, Jethro Tull recorded “Thick as a Brick,” a single song (split onto two album sides) that spoofed the concept album genre, with lyrics supposedly penned by a particularly precocious 8-year-old boy named Gerald Bostock. Incidentally, this turned out to be one of the greatest “concept albums” ever committed to tape, and reached No. 1 in the U.S. charts in 1972.

For the 40th anniversary of “Thick as a Brick,” Anderson (billed as Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson) recorded the album Thick as a Brick 2, not technically a sequel, rather an exploration of what might have become of the young Bostock. More on that later. Anderson also launched a tour to perform both Thick as a Brick albums in their entirety, and to our great fortune, the tour stopped at the Chumash Casino Resort on Thursday night.

At the Chumash, after a short movie, Anderson came in with the familiar opening of the original Thick as a Brick — “Really don’t mind if you sit this one out,” to loud cheers from the crowd. He was soon joined by the rest of the band — Florian Opahle (guitar), John O’Hara (keyboard), David Goodier (bass) and Scott Hammond (drums) — who started out dressed as chimney sweeps but slowly shed those costumes to reveal more classic rock garb.

Notably, Anderson’s somewhat world-weary vocals were supplemented by Ryan O’Donnell, whose voice has an almost uncanny resemblance to the voice of Anderson in the 1970s, although delivered in a more of a musical theater style. Anderson and O’Donnell often traded off verses, and O’Donnell’s contributions helped things sound closer to the recorded version, plus it allowed Anderson to play more flute in his wonderfully unique style.

Ian Anderson plays the flute while standing on one foot. (Gary Lambert / Noozhawk photo)
Ian Anderson plays the flute while standing on one foot. (Gary Lambert / Noozhawk photo)

In the middle of “Side 1” of Thick as a Brick, an onstage phone rang loudly and the band abruptly stopped playing, similar to how Jethro Tull performed the song back in the day. On the line was violinist Anna Phoebe, who was asked to Skype in her contributions to the song.  Incidentally, while she played, one caught a few glimpses in the background of a person in scuba gear — a reference, of course, to another meaning of the term “aqualung.”

When “Side 1” ended, there was a fake weather report that morphed into an amusing public service announcement stressing the importance of men getting prostate exams. Then, as for the original album, “Side 2” continued many of the lyrical and musical themes of “Side 1,” plus had some of the more out-there lyrics like “We walked through the maternity ward and saw 218 babies wearing nylons.” Overall, I have to say that the band absolutely nailed it on this classic album.

After an intermission and a fake YouTube video of a cranky old coot (Anderson) touring his manor, the music continued with the performance of Thick as a Brick 2. As mentioned above, this explores different possible life paths that Bostock might have taken, namely a businessman who serves time in jail for his misdeeds, a homeless gay man coping with having been abused by his headmaster, a soldier in the War on Terror, a Christian tele-vangelist or the proprietor of a corner store. The music of Thick as a Brick 2 really rocks, with some stylistic inspiration from the original but also plenty of new prog rock awesomeness.

Toward the end of Thick as a Brick 2, the scuba guy in the video finally made it to the ocean, where an “aqualung” belongs. And for an encore, the band played “Locomotive Breath,” one of the best-known songs off the Aqualung album. So the story that, in a way, started with Aqualung also, in a way, ended there. And what a story it is.

Noozhawk contributing writer Jeff Moehlis is a professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.

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