(Ian Anderson and Ryan O’Donnell)
The first words to come out of Ian Anderson’s mouth at the Ryman Auditorium last Tuesday set the tone for the rest of the show. Or maybe not just the words, but the slithering, breathless voice he rattled them out in: “Really don’t mind if you sit this one out.”
Perhaps too old for rock n’ roll, the Jethro Tull front man just doesn’t have the lung capacity or vocal range he used to. When he brought his Thick As A BrickPart 1 and 2 solo tour to Nashville, it was clear he was going to have a hard time making it through the night.
But even Anderson out of his prime has his pride, and the people were not to be treated to a lackluster show. Never one to compromise his artistic integrity, instead of lip-synching, Anderson got creative with how to overcome his vocal shortcomings.
Those who had seen The Who’s Quadropheniastage musical might have recognized actor/vocalist Ryan O’Donnell, but those not familiar soon were. Like a spry young squire to Anderson’s aging knight, O’Donnell gifted a much needed vitality to the performance by assisting Anderson in singing many of the parts. He also leapt around on stage with the same theatrical fervor you might expect from a stage actor.
The only gripe to be had with O’Donnell is that while he is certainly as animated as Anderson in his prime, he doesn’t quite capture the same raw, manic energy. And that’s where Anderson came back in, leaping around stage to the best of his abilities, and occasionally even lifting a leg for a flute solo.
In between some of the songs were short videos starring Anderson, and while the Thick as a Brick story might not have been a Roger Waters presents The Wall-scale production, it was similarly elaborate and strange.
But the real star here was the band, who were in fine form as they ripped through Tull’s classic 1972 album. When it came time for an intermission, a portion of the audience left, apparently not interested in hearing Anderson’s 2012 follow-up album. Surprisingly, the new tracks fared much better live than they do on the album, and because of the songs’ freshness, the ghost of 1972 Anderson was not haunting their performance.
Anderson might not be in the condition of some of his contemporaries, like Neil Young or Paul McCartney, but his writing chops are as viable today as they ever were, and a double shot of Thick As A Brick is prog-rock paradise for loyal fans.