Walter Tunis: Jethro Tull founder performs both 'Thick as a Brick' albums back-to-back

Contributing Music WriterJuly 18, 2013 

Ian Anderson will perform Thick as a Brick and TAAB 2 in their entirety on Saturday in Cincinnati.

MARTYN GODDARD

  • THE WEEK THAT WAS

    Randall Bramblett Band at Natasha's Bistro: The fact that it was Sunday was not lost on Randall Bramblett last weekend. Having already served up several slices of Southern-style soul that reflected more than a few churchy touches, the veteran Southern songsmith, keyboardist and saxophonist ignited John the Baptist, a portrait of spiritual displacement with the protagonist mixing things up in some very inappropriate locales ("You might be an angel, but you look like hell"). But the tune, one of eight Bramblett pulled from his new album, The Bright Spots, was also a launch pad for a level of musical spunk that drove the entire two-set, two-plus-hour performance.

    In the case of John the Baptist, that translated into clean, beefy rhythmic blasts underscored by jazz like solos from Bramblett on tenor sax and Nick Johnson on guitar. The results simulated the sound Steely Dan might have if it had hailed from below the Mason Dixon Line.

    On Whatever That Is, another Bright Spots song, the mood turned seriously funky with a groove — and a series of accompanying solos that included a guitar break from Johnson which brought to mind the bright, fluid phrasing if jazz journeyman John Scofield — that bounced off a rubbery drum loop from Seth Hendershot.

    On the less celebratory side was the finest of the new tunes, Detox Bracelet, a story of devastating sadness surrounding the crossroads that a substance abuser faces while battling his way to recovery. It unfolded not with sentimentality or undue drama but with a plain- speaking reflection that played directly to Bramblett's strengths as a vocalist and songwriter.

    There was plenty of less sobering fare as well, including a New Orleans revision of King Grand, the huge piano rolls Bramblett summoned during Everybody Got It in on the Inside and the Allman-esque slide guitar accents Johnson added to Driftin' Into a Woman's Arms. All three tunes turned back the years to the mid-n'70s, when they were cut for Bramblett's first two albums, That Other Mile and Light of the Night.

    Topping it all was the sax- powered charge and shuffle of the first set closer, Used to Rule the World, that proved hearty enough to pull this Sunday evening showcase back into the spirit of Saturday night.

Ian Anderson

8 p.m. July 20 at PNC Pavilion, 6295 Kellogg Ave., Cincinnati. $31.50-$71.50. Ticketmaster, 1-800-745-3000 or Ticketmaster.com.

The 45-year rock odyssey of Jethro Tull largely boils down to the music of one artist: founder Ian Anderson.

Tull always has been a band, albeit with revolving-door membership. But it's safe to say that the group's entire vision — its thematic eccentricities, the compositional complexities and, yes, a distinctive musical set-up in which flute serves as a lead instrument — comes from Anderson.

Tull still exists as a part-time performance enterprise, but under his own name, Anderson, 65, continues a tour this summer that began last fall. It is designed to celebrate one of his most celebrated works and its unlikely sequel.

The focal point of the tour is a complete performance of the seminal 1972 Tull album Thick as a Brick. Bolstered by the breakthrough popularity of Aqualung a year earlier, Thick as a Brick arrived as a single 40- minute composition. There are distinct song structures and plenty of prog-rock jamming that allows the work to operate like a suite. But there were no song titles slapped on the record label other than Thick as a Brick and no other composers credited than Anderson.

Well, actually the latter isn't quite true. Thick as a Brick was listed as being co-composed by Gerald Bostock. The identity of Bostock goes to the heart of what Thick as a Brick is about and to the inspiration for recording a follow-up four decades later, via the Anderson solo album TAAB 2.

We get sketch bios of the fictitious Bostock via the original Thick as a Brick album art — an extravagant package that folded out into a full-length newspaper called The St. Cleve Chronicle. Within its pages are stories of community happenings in merry old England, including an item about how the "epic" poem Thick as a Brick, written by 8-year-old Bostock, had been set to music by "major beat group" Tull.

The Chronicle packaging also included, buried on page 7, a critique of the record, thus making Thick as a Brick perhaps the only album in pop history to review itself, though in fully tongue-in-cheek fashion.

Writes "music correspondent" Julian Stone-Mason, "Poor or perhaps naïve taste is responsible for some of the ugly changes of time signature and banal instrumental passages linking the main sections, but ability in this direction comes with maturity."

TAAB 2 is comparatively streamlined, splintering the music into 17 subtitled pieces that explore the more recent exploits of a middle-age Bostock.

In keeping with the times, TAAB 2 has replaced the newspaper packaging with artwork resembling a website. As such, The St. Cleve Chronicle is now Stcleve.com, which actually exists).

Saturday's performance will present full performances of both albums. The original Thick as a Brick now features a co-vocalist, Ryan McDonnell, and the support of two current Tull members, bassist David Goodier and keyboardist John O'Hara.

It seems a risky premise to offer a concert program in which an artist's career-defining work is played first while his newest, less familiar music is saved for last. But reviews of shows this summer have remarked that nostalgists leaving at intermission are missing out. A write-up in Las Vegas Weekly referred to the live segment featuring TAAB 2 at a performance this month as a "full-on revelation."

Seems, then, that maturity has indeed set in since that '72 review Tull gave itself in the Chronicle.

"On the whole... a good example of the current pop scene attempting to break out of its vulgarisms and sometimes obscene derivative hogwash."


THE WEEK THAT WAS

Randall Bramblett Band at Natasha's Bistro: The fact that it was Sunday was not lost on Randall Bramblett last weekend. Having already served up several slices of Southern-style soul that reflected more than a few churchy touches, the veteran Southern songsmith, keyboardist and saxophonist ignited John the Baptist, a portrait of spiritual displacement with the protagonist mixing things up in some very inappropriate locales ("You might be an angel, but you look like hell"). But the tune, one of eight Bramblett pulled from his new album, The Bright Spots, was also a launch pad for a level of musical spunk that drove the entire two-set, two-plus-hour performance.

In the case of John the Baptist, that translated into clean, beefy rhythmic blasts underscored by jazz like solos from Bramblett on tenor sax and Nick Johnson on guitar. The results simulated the sound Steely Dan might have if it had hailed from below the Mason Dixon Line.

On Whatever That Is, another Bright Spots song, the mood turned seriously funky with a groove — and a series of accompanying solos that included a guitar break from Johnson which brought to mind the bright, fluid phrasing if jazz journeyman John Scofield — that bounced off a rubbery drum loop from Seth Hendershot.

On the less celebratory side was the finest of the new tunes, Detox Bracelet, a story of devastating sadness surrounding the crossroads that a substance abuser faces while battling his way to recovery. It unfolded not with sentimentality or undue drama but with a plain- speaking reflection that played directly to Bramblett's strengths as a vocalist and songwriter.

There was plenty of less sobering fare as well, including a New Orleans revision of King Grand, the huge piano rolls Bramblett summoned during Everybody Got It in on the Inside and the Allman-esque slide guitar accents Johnson added to Driftin' Into a Woman's Arms. All three tunes turned back the years to the mid-n'70s, when they were cut for Bramblett's first two albums, That Other Mile and Light of the Night.

Topping it all was the sax- powered charge and shuffle of the first set closer, Used to Rule the World, that proved hearty enough to pull this Sunday evening showcase back into the spirit of Saturday night.

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