Ian Anderson revisited Winnipeg solo on Oct. 22, performing the 1972 Jethro Tull prog-rock classic "Thick as a Brick" along with his 2012 critically acclaimed solo sequel "Thick as a Brick 2" in their entirety.
Billed as "Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson plays Thick as a Brick 1&2," the production, which combines the live presentation of the albums (which Anderson maintains is a intended as a prog-rock parody as the title implies) with staged theatrics, inventive video material and an ample dose of 'nudge nudge, wink wink' humour, was split into two acts with a brief intermission in between.
The veteran Tull frontman, who was recently honoured as Prog God 2013 by Prog Magazine, took the stage promptly with his backing band promptly at 8 p.m., following a video intro showing Anderson disguised as a doctor, preparing to give a grown up version of "Thick As a Brick" central character Gerald Bostock an examination.
The night opened with "Thick as a Brick 1," featuring multi-instrumentalist Anderson switching off between flute and various acoustic instruments throughout the evening.
The 66-year-old singer's voice retains its distinctiveness, but has thinned somewhat in his upper vocal range. To provide some respite and instrumental flexibility, Anderson intermittently handed off lead vocals to backing vocalist Ryan O'Donnell, who also lent a hand with the theatrics.
Whatever Anderson might have lacked vocally, he made up for it in energy and instrumental prowess, still playing flute in his trademark one-legged stance and prowling the stage while peeling off lyrical flourishes on flute when not tied to his vocal mike.
Anderson's backing group, which includes former Tull alumnists bassist David Goodier and keyboard/accordionist John O'Hara along with drummer Scott Hammond and guitarist Florian Opahle, also proved formidable and breathed new life into the tracks, though some purist fans no doubt lamented the absence of longtime Tull guitarist Martin Barre.
Midway though the first set, Anderson made a pitch for prostrate health, employing a couple of audience members to demo an exam behind a screen with comical results.
Anderson also received a staged mid-song phone call from former Tull special guest, violinist Anna Phoebe, who humorously Skypes in her violin solo on the video screen, while dividing her attentions with her infant child in the bathroom.
Following intermission, and a video introduction with Anderson doing the honours disguised as "a posh guy," the band returned for "Brick 2."
Oddly enough, the crowd was as responsive, if not moreso, to the less familiar second set as they were to the first. This might have been because "Brick 2" is laid out as 13 individual songs, and provides some clean endings for applause, whereas "Brick 1" consists of two extended tracks, which flow into each other - the crowd in the first set was perhaps being mindful of Anderson's pre-show warning to refrain from shouting and only applauding at 'appropriate' times.
However, Anderson's vocals seemed stronger in the second half of the show and the band overall seemed more jazzed - perhaps because all the members also participated in the original recording of "Thick as a Brick 2" and were more comfortable with the material.
This is not to detract in any way from the quality of "Thick as a Brick 2," which is well crafted and worthy to stand on its own merits.
Winnipegers seemed to agree, giving Anderson and company a hearty standing ovation at the end of the performance.
Following some more video hi-jinx and band introductions, the "Bungle in the Jungle" hitmaker encored with the only non-"Brick" entry on the setlist - the riff-driven "Locomotive Breath" from Tull's 1971 classic album "Aqualung."
Ian Anderson's next Canadian stop in Oct. 24 in Edmonton, AB at Winspear Centre.
For more details, check out JethroTull.com.