April 3, 2020

Jethro Tull – Living With The Past (CD/DVD)
Ian Anderson – Thick As A Brick: Live In Iceland (2CD/DVD)

Ian Anderson: the hoary old question resurfaces again; namely ‘is he effectively Jethro Tull?’ Probably as many would answer that yes, he is, as would retort that no, without Martin Barre in particular the material cannot be marketed as Tull. Anderson knows this difference of opinion exists, of course, and on the Live In Iceland recording, which sees both the original Thick As A Brick album and its solo-credited belated follow-up Thick As A Brick 2 performed back to back, he is credited as ‘Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson’. This is a fair compromise, as it draws the attention of the casual Tull fan without making any false promises. So, what we have here are reissues of two live recordings, the other being a true Tull performance, but let’s look at them together.

Living With The Past – a title which is either clever or something of a laboured pun, depending on your point of view – is a release which originally appeared on CD almost 20 years ago, comprising a dozen tracks recorded at Hammersmith in 2001 along with nine other, largely acoustic, selections taken from various dressing rooms, TV sessions etc spanning over a decade. There is even a 2002 reunion of the original 1968 line-up, though sadly only for one song. The non-Hammersmith material is interesting and often excellent, but many might rue the fact that so many songs from the performance were left out to accommodate this: happily for those people, this reissue includes a DVD which features much more of the 2001 set, though interspersed with the 1968 reunion material (two songs this time) and two songs recorded with a string quartet which are repeated from the CD. This does make the effect seem somewhat fragmented, as does the inclusion of between-song interview snippets, but the band are on excellent form and Anderson in particular in good humour throughout. There are also some nice bonus features on the DVD, in the way of both music and speech. A CD simply featuring all of the 2001 Tull material would have been nice, but the DVD does make a nice companion to the audio here, and this is an excellent way to get this set.

The other set we have here features three discs, with two CDs containing live renditions of the two Thick As A Brick albums back to back, while a DVD contains the full visuals of the entire show. In this case the DVD is the most vital part of the package, as there is a lot going on visually here! Some of the original album is interspersed with what can only be described as comedy sketches, and violinist Anna Phoebe contributes her part via Skype video link, after a ‘phone call’ between her and Anderson setting it up, but all of that pales next to the utterly bizarre interlude which sees Anderson lecturing the men of the audience about prostate testing, before one (un)lucky such gentleman receives one – as far as we can see – behind a large screen. Even for the unpredictable Anderson, this is left-field stuff indeed.

Performance-wise, it’s all rather good. Anderson’s voice was by this time very noticeably struggling, and there was also the problem of the original 1972 album containing parts which see flute overlaid on top of the vocals, which is clearly impossible for one man to reproduce. So we see the addition of Ryan O’Donnell, a ‘singer, actor, dancer and mime artist’, who leaps around theatrically throughout but more importantly takes a good amount of the lead vocal in a voice very similar to prime Anderson. It works well, if perhaps the dance may be a divisive element for some viewers. Thick As A Brick 2 needs less input vocally from O’Donnell, as it is pitched to Anderson’s current range and also has less in the way of colliding flute and voice. It actually stands up rather well next to its older sibling in the live setting.

For anyone who was in attendance at any of those Brick shows throughout the US and Europe, it’s a good souvenir as the performance will not have changed significantly. The visuals, projections and choreography mean that extensive improvisation is ruled out, so you’d see much the same each night. With the audio and visual elements included, these reissues are a good way to check out these later-period Tull-related goodies.