Ian Anderson July 5, Smith Center.
The narrative seemed obvious heading into Ian Anderson’s twin-album Smith Center performance: Thick as a Brick would be sensational, and Thick as a Brick 2 would feel superfluous. But, oh, not so fast. Turns out the modern rendering of Jethro Tull’s 1972 concept classic was not without issues, while the presentation of Anderson’s 2012 solo follow-up was a full-on revelation.
The latter development was so surprising, many missed it altogether, with chunks of a large Reynolds Hall crowd vanishing during intermission, certain they’d witnessed the main event. In terms of familiarity, they had, with the original Thick sounding similar to its studio incarnation, with one critical difference. At 65, Anderson remains capable of playing some wicked flute, scampering around dramatically and injecting a bit of bawdy humor into the proceedings (see: an odd sketch about prostate checkups). What Anderson can’t do these days is hit all his high notes, so he’s brought actor Ryan O’Donnell aboard to handle some singing—with the somewhat unfortunate side effect of turning a cool rock show into something of a Broadway-style musical.
Anderson wrote Thick as a Brick 2 far more recently, so it suits his current vocal range, which left O’Donnell on the sidelines for most of Set 2. Even if the lyrics were new to most of us, hearing the headliner sing them felt like progress, though that alone didn’t account for the triumph of Thick 2. The 17-part song suite—at points folky, bluesy, jazzy and heavy, but always, always proggy—felt consistently vibrant, imbued with fresh live energy from Anderson and his four-piece band. Many who stuck around to hear the night’s second album surely picked up a copy soon after. I’m listening to mine right now.