I don’t know how many of the 1,800 people who sold out the Muriel Kauffman Theatre on Saturday went home having surmised the precise fate of Gerald Bostock. But it’s very likely nearly all of them went home supremely satisfied with Ian Anderson’s humorous and dynamic presentation of both installments of “Thick as a Brick.”
Anderson’s legendary rock band Jethro Tull released the “Thick as a Brick” album in 1972, primarily to parody the work of so many progressive rock bands in England at the time. The album’s narrative focused on Bostock, a schoolboy who wrote an award-winning essay titled “Thick as a Brick.” In 2012, to celebrate that album’s 40th anniversary, he released “Thick as a Brick 2,” which addressed Bostock’s fate 40 years later. Anderson also assembled an ace band and took it out on the road to perform both halves of the Bostock story, which they did brilliantly Saturday night inside the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
The show opened with a crew prepping the stage for the performance. The crew was that ace band, which deserves mention: bassist David Goodier, keyboardist John O'Hara, drummer Scott Hammond and guitarist Florian Opahle. British singer Ryan O’Donnell has also been enlisted to play the role of Bostock and to relieve Anderson of some of the vocal duties.
Behind the band, a video screen displayed lots of images and some video interludes. During part one, violinist Ana Phoebe, at home on maternity leave, appears to perform via a pre-recorded Skype session. Anderson also appears in several video vignettes that provided some farcical humor and broke up the two and a half hour performance (including a 20 minute intermission).
One recurring theme appeared on the screen through out: a deep-sea diver, in wetsuit, mask and fins, roaming about the English countryside, searching for the sea, I suppose. At one point, the diver attempts to jump in a puddle containing about 2 inches of water. The comic relief was appreciated.
Presentation of the original “Brick” was interrupted by an odd public service announcement -- for prostate exams. Anderson stopped an audience member who was returning to his seat (it was really his merchandise manager) and had him brought back stage for a digital exam. It was wickedly humorous but also deadly serious. At the end of the skit, the video screen flashed photos of celebrities who had died of prostate cancer, including Frank Zappa, Johnny Ramone and Herbie Mann.
Not surprisingly, the first half of the show -- the original “Thick as a Brick” -- was the more satisfying and not only because it was the more familiar. Musically, it felt more cohesive and more of that time. “Brick 2” just as aptly showcased the band’s wizardry and Anderson’s unbridled energy. He is 65 and his voice doesn’t have the muscle or luster it once did, but he was animated and in nearly constant motion all night. And he still plays flute standing on one leg.
Yet “Brick 2” didn’t seem to flow as fluidly as its predecessor nor did it bear its signature pomp and gaudiness. O’Donnell, who played the perfect sidekick and foil to Anderson all night, also seemed more vibrant in his role as the younger Bostock than the elder.
“Brick 2” ended as its predecessor began, with Anderson singing the most familiar, titular refrain from part one, ending with “Your wise men don’t know how it feels to be thick as a brick” (and the crowd yelling “brick!” along with him). After that, the band was introduced (via the video screen), so was everyone else involved in the production. Then the band took a few deep bows. But they returned for an encore that got the biggest response of the night: “Locomotive Breath” from the “Aqualung” album and a song about a steam engine that won’t stop going and has no way to slow down --- a lot like the mastermind behind this evening’s lavish and satisfying production.