Ian Anderson cuts a memorable figure in the history of rock 'n' roll. Mention his name and fans think of Anderson standing on one leg, playing his flute, or perhaps leaping madly about the stage singing about the ills of religion, growing old and other eternal topics.
Jethro Tull's first album, This Was, came out in 1968. Now, at age 65, the Scotsman still tours relentlessly, oversees reissue/remasters of Jethro Tull albums, runs a successful group of (non-musical) business conglomerates and has his hand in a number of musical projects.
The latest of those is Thick As a Brick 2, a sequel to a 1972 Jethro Tull album. That '72 LP — built around a central character of a young boy called Gerald Bostock — was Anderson's effort to parody rock's tendency toward overblown conceptual works. Beyond the music, that parody took the form of an elaborate LP sleeve designed to mimic a newspaper, the fictitious church newsletter The St. Cleve Chronicle.
The new album came out in April, and revisits the story in the present day: The newsletter is now a website, www.StCleve.com. “Almost a prerequisite was to try and go along with the parody, the spoof and the upbeat lavatorial humor of the original, as far as StCleve.com was concerned,” Anderson tells Xpress. “But I knew I wasn't going to write the words of Gerald Bostock; these were going to be my words, based on taking a leap 40 years into the future. There are a lot of dark and serious elements, lyrically, on the new album. It's a mixture of light and dark; there's no parody in the lyrics.”
The music on the original Thick As a Brick featured an arrangement that strung all the songs together into one long, continuous suite (presented onstage with actors and props, Thick As a Brick was even longer). As was the convention of that era, the studio album was a layered affair, crafted through extensive overdubbing.
But sessions for TAAB2 employed a different approach. “The original album was conceived as a rehearsal in which we knew we would add lots of other bits in the studio,” Anderson says. “And we did. But this time around I didn't make that mistake, because I knew that playing it live would be a whole lot easier for everybody if we put on the record just what we could play live onstage.” The current tour presents both the original Thick As a Brick and TAAB2 in their entirety.
To create a work that could be performed live, TAAB2 was recorded with a bare minimum of overdubs. “It was a consideration to make sure that I didn't overlap voice, flute and guitar in the way that I did on the original album; that made it absolutely impossible to recreate with five people live onstage,” Anderson says. “Because I'm playing sometimes two flutes, two guitars and singing all at the same time. And so when I did Thick as a Brick 2, I was very mindful of not doing that. There is only one exception where, I think, there was a note on the flute that overlaps with the vocal line. But I shall get 'round that,” he chuckles, “by stopping two notes early and taking a quick breath.”
Even though all of the players are now (or have in the past been) in Jethro Tull — it's billed as an Ian Anderson album, not a Tull release. Anderson gives three reasons for this. “I've never made any secret of the fact that I never really liked the name Jethro Tull in the first place,” he says. “It was a name given to us by our agent. And I didn't realize at the time that we had been named after a dead guy who invented the seed drill.” Secondly, he believes that using his own name gives him freedom to do projects that might stray a bit from the classic Tull style. Regarding concert dates, “If it says ‘Jethro Tull,’ it's likely to be the classic Tull repertoire. And that's what we reserve those concerts for,” Anderson says.
His final reason for billing the concerts as Ian Anderson shows? “It keeps the riffraff at home,” he says. “The beer-drinking buddies stay home instead of coming drunk to my concerts, whistling, shouting and hooting at all the quiet moments. That's something I can't abide.”
Bill Kopp is an Asheville-based music journalist whose features and reviews can be found at musoscribe.com.
who: Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson plays Think As a Brick 1 & 2
where: Thomas Wolfe Auditorium
when: Friday, Sept. 28 (8 p.m. $45-$90. ticketmaster.com)