fri 19/04/2024

Ian Anderson, Hammersmith Apollo | reviews, news & interviews

Ian Anderson, Hammersmith Apollo

Ian Anderson, Hammersmith Apollo

Flute-wielding prog-rocker is still proudly living in the past

Ian Anderson: gyspy-jazzer

This may be the Thick as a Brick 2 tour, but it’s also the 44th year of Ian Anderson’s performing career, mainly as Jethro Tull's front man. In that role he's variously been a bluesman, a rocker and a folkie.1972's Thick as a Brick was dubbed a "progressive rock satire". Tongue-in-cheek as it might have been, it was also 100 percent prog. Yet, like much of Tull’s back catalogue, it continues to influence a new generation.

The question the crowd at Hammersmith were asking last night was this: at 64, could Anderson still pull it off?

The answer in part is given by the new album. Here Anderson muses on the fate of child-prodigy fictional "author" of TaaB, Gerald Bostock. As much as anything, though, Anderson simply used the 40th anniversary of TaaB to give him an excuse to write and perform another Tull-style record. Yet, without the help of his old conspirators, the singer-cum-flautist ended up with something many felt sounded a little soft. Still, there are almost as many who feel that the original only showed its true classic colours, live. Could the same be so for its successor? Boldly, last night, Anderson played the two back to back.

Audience members were invited up to take part in a proctology exam cum prostate-awareness skitAs in the Seventies, plentiful gooning around was present from the get-go. A video of Anderson as Bostock’s therapist started the evening. Thereafter sections were “interrupted” by mobile phone calls and at one point, audience members were invited up to take part in a proctology exam cum prostate-awareness skit. But although Anderson loves to monkey about, he’d actually originally introduced humour into these shows to stop earnest fans trying to take the piece too seriously.

Now, however, it seems to demand a little more veneration. Performed to the ageing-rocker faithful at the Apollo, it felt like a period piece of musical theatre, with overblown instrumental passages only adding to the sense of drama. The biggest change was the presence of actor Ryan O’Donnell on stage, dressed as the “young master” and helping Anderson out with half of TaaB’s difficult vocals. O’Donnell’s impression of Anderson’s younger voice was so uncanny that, until he appeared from behind a curtain to join the main man in his trademark one-legged flamingo pose (see main image), most had assumed the second voice they’d been hearing was from a tape.

Relieved of full singing duties, a svelte Anderson clad in a bandana and waistcoat stalked the stage punctuating Florian Ophale’s virtuoso guitar lines with gypsy-jazz flute motifs. At various points he strapped a dwarf acoustic guitar to himself, and performed the famous title-theme section with his cracked minstrel voice full of pathos.

The sound created by Anderson’s new band really puts a coat of polish on the old album. It was thicker and more evocative than anything you could imagine from a Jethro Tull line-up today. And that’s how they succeeded in lifting the much slighter TaaB 2 such that it now felt like an extension of the first. On record the music seems dated, the lyrics positively antique. But in context and with a harder sound it made considerably more sense. Even Anderson singing “Barren Madge prepares hot dinner/ Fray Bentos pie: always a winner,” only seemed slightly preposterous.

For almost two hours Anderson led a rip-roaring celebration of one of the most defiantly unfashionable phenomena in modern music. No one cared that even the new material still looked back 40 years. Anderson has been looking backwards all his life. At the age of 21 he sung about “Living in the Past". Now, 43 years later, he’s still defying the lyrics of his album Too Old to Rock’n’Roll, Too Young to Die.

Watch the trailer for Thick as a Brick 2




brilliant night apart from so many latecomers gripping plasic pints of beer. ps where was the violinist ?

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