Bob Dylan's song "Blowin' in the Wind" illustrated the idea that questions are often more important than answers.
It was a principle that marred an otherwise satisfying concert Monday evening at Abravanel Hall by Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson, who brought his band to theatrically perform both Jethro Tull's 1972 landmark prog-rock concept album "Thick as a Brick" and his own 2012 follow-up, "Thick as a Brick II." The subtitle of the latter album was "What Ever Happened to Gerald Bostock?"
Bostock was a fictional child whose musings were the basis of "Thick as a Brick," and the second album attempted to answer the question, with varying potentialities. Both are rock operas, in some ways similar to The Who's "Tommy," and the stage show Monday featured Gerald Bostock accompanying the musicians, sometimes singing but more often enacting some of the themes that the band was performing. In words, it doesn't seem to make sense, but for the most part it worked, surprisingly.
But there is a big problem. Compared to the first album, the second album doesn't have the same free-wheeling and visceral spirit. When you reach the end of the original album, the question of what happened to Gerald sparks your imagination. Disappointingly, on "Thick as a Brick II," Anderson provides his own answers, and the often-plodding music that accompanies those answers aren't as thought-provoking. The first album flows much more easily than the second — which makes the first album superior in its composition — and the second album is chopped off into segments that often bump against one another clumsily.
Simply put, tne answers provided weren't as enticing as the questions posed by the first album.
The thematic inconsistency mentioned was also severely hampered by a sound mix that made both Anderson and fellow singer Ryan O'Donnell (acting as Gerald) hard to understand, which is an important element when both albums have a narrative that needs to be understood for the music to have its biggest impact. Abravanel Hall's acoustics frequently don't amplify human voices as much as instruments, so throughout the concert you wished that like an opera. there were supertitles projected over the stage. And, frankly, Anderson's voice isn't as acrobatic as it used to be (which happens to most vocalists when they reach their mid-sixties).
But in the end, those aspects of the epic-length two-and-one-half-long concert are mere quibbles, with the saving graces being incredible musicianship and inter-play, the invigorating energy of the original album (which comprised the first half of the show, before a 15-minute intermission), and the innate, choreographed theatricality of Anderson and O'Donnell. Used far more in the first half than the second half, O'Donnell's charisma as he portrayed a boyish Gerald scampering around the stage was infectious, and Anderson fed off of that energy as they interacted with one another. While Anderson's British brogue was hard to decipher, his on-stage antics were not. An obvious firm believer that most of communication is not verbal, Anderson used facial expressions, gesticulations, and just good ol' fashioned showmanship to make the night more enjoyable. His playing of the bouzouki and the flute was impeccable, especially when he naturally brought one bent leg off the floor as he played the flute, creating that famous silhouette.
The energy of the first half didn't return until the powerful encore, which brought the night to a rousing conclusion, much to the delight of the packed symphony hall. The encore was "Locomotive Breath," off Jethro Tull's famous album "Aqualung," and the bluesy piano intro, followed by the boisterous full band, reminded me of how much I enjoyed the music of the first half, and not so much the music of the second half. It made me wish that sometime before I die, I can see Ian Anderson abandon some concepts and play some unbridled rock and roll. With a flute, of course.