SDBlu-ray Review: Ian Anderson - Thick As A Brick: Live In Iceland

Jethro Tull's frontman delivers the entire Gerald Bostock story live.
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In 1972, Jethro Tull released their landmark album, Thick As A Brick. The album told the story of Gerald Bostock, a fictional 10-year-old boy genius who was co-credited with writing the album's lyrics. The album was meant as satire, poking fun at serious prog rock, the band itself, the critics and even the fans. The album's cover was done as a mock newspaper and live performances included interruptions by phone calls, band members reading the newspaper and giving the audience weather reports. The music itself was one long song, divided into two tracks for either side of the original vinyl. It was a challenging presentation to be certain, but it remains one of the band's best-loved works.

Forty years later, Tull's lead singer and flautist, Ian Anderson, decided to take a look at what happened to Bostock, who would now be a middle-aged man of 50. The resulting album, Thick As A Brick 2, imagines many different scenarios for Bostock, including that of a shady investment banker, a soldier, a preacher and a homosexual homeless man. Unlike the original album, the new record was not one long track, making it more accessible in smaller pieces. Still, it is one story and can be played as such.

To mark the release of the sequel and to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the original, Anderson took both records out on the road, performing the original album in its entirety followed by the sequel. This marked the first time both albums had been performed together and the first time the original had been performed in its entirety since its 1972 tour. Anderson filmed a tour stop in Iceland, which makes up the SDBlu-ray Ian Anderson -- Thick As A Brick: Live In Iceland.

The show opens up with the classic material and Anderson on acoustic guitar and vocals. Throughout the original album, the focus shifts from folk to pop to rock, adding progressive and jazz-influenced touches where appropriate. Anderson is in fine voice and is joined on vocals by Ryan O'Donnell, who sometimes sings when Anderson is playing flute. O'Donnell also adds a theatrical element as he has performed as a mime, actor, singer and dancer. He can be seen playing air guitar on an umbrella, and reading the newspaper during the original album segments. Much like the original show, a weather report is included as a break in the action.

Musically speaking, the band plays great. Anderson has lost none of his touch on the flute and there is much musical interplay between him, guitarist Florian Ophale and keyboardist John O'Hara. This is challenging music and the band makes it look easy, while seeming to have a great time during the process. A short intermission follows and the new material is introduced with a video on the appropriately titled "Tull-a-Vision." Anderson is dressed as Colonel Archibald Parritt, who takes the viewer on a tour of St. Cleve. As a sign of the times, the original paper was replaced by a St. Cleve website to promote the new album.

The new material begins with "From A Pebble Thrown." A delicate piece, it features intricate flute passages from Anderson. "Pebbles Instrumental" follows, continuing the "Pebbles" theme, but allowing all the band members to stretch out musically with some great interplay. Much like the first album, the new material alternates between light and dark, heavy and folk.

Anderson and O'Donnell trade vocals on "Upper Sixth Loan Shark," a pleasant sounding song that betrays its lyrics about a shady character. Along those lines is "Banker Bets, Banker Wins." Perhaps the strongest of the new songs, it has an excellent pop melody and great lead playing from Ophale. The show closes with "What-Ifs, Maybes And Might-Have-Beens." The song neatly sums up the story so far and ponders possibilities not explored. The song is another duet with O'Donnell and is a fine way to close out the proceedings.

The video is presented in 1080i High Definition 16:9. This is upscaled from Standard Definition, but still looks relatively good. The audio is uncompressed LPCM Stereo and DTS HD Master Audio 96/24 and sounds great. Bonus material includes an interview with Anderson as well as some extra live material.

The two Thick As A Brick albums are challenging listens to be sure. The sequel definitely benefits from the listener being familiar with the original, but Anderson knew that going in, as would, presumably most listeners. Still, Thick As A Brick: Live In Iceland presents a unique opportunity to see and hear the entire Bostock story played by a crack band and is worth the effort.