By David Rolland
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In the heady early '70s, it was common for new fans to mistakenly believe that the band Jethro Tull was named for the flautist who balanced precipitously on one leg. But the real Jethro Tull was an 18th-century English agricultural engineer and inventor, and the wild-eyed, flute-wielding prog-rock frontman is Ian Anderson.
Nevertheless, the confusion persists, even four decades later. And over time, things have become only more confused, thanks to the band's frequent lineup changes and Anderson's habit of performing Jethro Tull material under his own name — not to mention the fact that the flautist recently released Thick as a Brick 2, his surprising sequel to Tull's early opus, 1972's Thick as a Brick.
This week, performing as "Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson," the frontman will present a complete replay of both the original Thick as a Brick album and its sequel. But don't bother shouting out requests for "Aqualung," "Locomotive Breath," "Cross-Eyed Mary," "Teacher," or any of the other gems in the Tull songbook. As Anderson takes pains to explain, his show is very precisely programmed.
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New Times: Thematically, Thick as a Brick 2 seems to be closely tied to its predecessor. Are there striking musical similarities as well?
Ian Anderson: There are a lot of acoustic elements in it, just as there were in the original Thick as a Brick. It is a good partner to the original album. And indeed, it was designed to be very much a sequel with a familiarity between certain instruments — like the Hammond organ, the Gibson Les Paul guitar, the Fender jazz bass — that appeared on the original album and were chosen for this album.
I doff my cap to some of the original themes and ideas and bits and lyrics that were used on the original album. But it's a very delicate business to try to pay homage to something else without overdoing it to the point that everybody sees it as so obvious. My belief is that some of the people who listen to the album will recognize some of the elements, maybe four or five vocal references, four or five musical references. And that's it. Leave it at that. It very intentionally plants little flags that say, "Remember me."
So what's the status of Jethro Tull? Is the band on hiatus? Is there a chance you'll reconvene?
There is no real answer to that, really. At the moment, I'm halfway through touring with a production of this album. And indeed, all the shows that are lined up for 2013 are all part of the Thick as a Brick tour. So, as of yet, there isn't a need to think through the answer to your question. [Laughs]
The new production seems like it might be quite complex. What kind of preparation goes into it?
We've done a bunch of shows in the last two months which have been comprised of multi-act festivals and shows where sometimes there's no technical side to our production due to a lack of facilities. So it's been a different set list night after night for a while. And now we're back to doing the production.
So you pretty much stick to the exact order of the album and integrate all the elements as originally recorded?
That's exactly it. The whole point was to try to play both albums as they were written and arranged without cheating. I really don't have any problems with the second album, because I wrote it carefully to avoid some of the little impasses I created for myself with the first album, where I ended up enthusiastically adding additional vocal lines, additional flute lines, additional guitar lines. It's impossible to do exactly what I end up doing on the original album, because, every so often, everything's going on at the same time. I only have two hands and one set of lungs.