Not since Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention have I seen anything comparable to this two and one half hour long production of orchestrated perfection and musical tightness at the Kauffman Center for Performing Arts.
Before I tear into the show, allow me make an observation or two.
The Kauffman Center is sheer perfection when it comes to a live performance venue. Arena shows will always have their place for the mega crowds that attend, but when it comes to shows where you want to experience a far more intimate feel – venues like the Folly, Midland – Kansas City’s crown jewel the Kauffman cannot be topped.
The crowd was a mix of long-haired hippie types, AARP’ers and a surprising number of really young kids with and without their parents. Something else that stood out was the attire of the attendees at the show. It ranged from business causal to dudes who looked like they’d just came in from mowing the lawn. I’ve never seen anything like that at the Kauffman before and it was quite a sight.
The evening opened when the lights dimmed and what appeared to be a very late cleaning crew came on stage one by one, wearing identical tan trench coats. They appeared with dusters, brooms, rags and flashlights, and they inspected the wings, the sound monitors, swept the floor and cleaned the instruments. Unknown to audience members, they would turn out to be the band.
It was then that John O’Hara took his place at the keyboards, where he would prove to be the busiest man of the night. David Goodier picked up the bass, Scott Hammond perched himself on the drums, Florian Ophale picked up the guitar and finally, Ryan O’Donnell took his position as Ian’s shadow for the night.
But it was O’Donnell who clearly made this show something special.
To most he personified Anderson’s long lost character Gerald Bostock. He was Ian Anderson’s alter ego, the voice Anderson no longer had. To that end, I only had one thought each time he performed. That he was Ian Anderson 40 years ago and it was nothing short of perfection.
At many points in the performance, O’Donnell stood directly behind Anderson, shadowing Anderson’s vocals…in unison and just outside the spot light. He filled in on the notes you could tell were a little more difficult for Anderson to hit these days at age 65. And as I said, young Mr. O’Donnell was brilliant.
Thick As a Brick Part 1 featured a technically perfect drum solo and Anderson in his trademark, one-legged pose. At one point during the performance he received a faux cell phone call in the middle of a song. A phone rang, Anderson stopped, listened and then remarked, “I’m sorry, that’s ME!”
He then pulled the phone from his pocket and took the call which was from his violinist, apologizing that she couldn’t make it to the show. In a brief conversation, he told her he was in the middle of a concert and asked if she could just SKYPE him, which she agreed to do. Then, the back drop screen lit up with a SKYPE desktop, she appeared and proceeded to play the rest of the song with the band from her living room, as her child climbed on and off her lap. It was a delightful, funny addition.
Near the break came an odd, unusual appeal from Anderson to older men to take better care of their health. Especially if they found themselves, “getting up to go to the bathroom 3 or 4 times a night.”
At that moment a man rose from his seat on the front row, Anderson picked him out and said, “See, this man can’t even make it through a concert.” The crowd roared in laughter. He asked the man to come on stage, took a volunteer from the audience and from behind a fake screen on the backdrop, had the volunteer perform a, uh, rectal exam on the man.
After a 15 minute intermission, the band took the stage again for Thick As a Brick 2.
Two songs into the set, I noticed 15 to 20 people on the lower level rise and leave the room, thinking they’d seen all there was to see. While I rank the original TAAB superior to TAAB2, those people missed many of the musical treats yet to come (in addition to displaying a general rudeness during the show).
Throughout the night we were treated to video clips of a man dressed in scuba attire, wet suit, flippers, mask and tank, as he wandered aimlessly through city streets, snow, and at one point, a deserted, country road. There he came upon a mud puddle and jumped in feet first, thinking he’d found the long lost water that had alluded him for so long. It seemed to champion Anderson’s theme of the everyday man, searching for meaning and purpose.
Towards the end, the man turned a corner and, from nothing more than body language in his wet suit, you could see he had achieved his goal and the ocean appeared. But not so soon, because the video cut off just as he got to the edge of the surf, leaving the crowd to wonder if he might have recognized his goal without achieving it.
Three times then Anderson sang the phrase, “You’re THICK, as a…” and the audience shouted back, “BRICK!” The crowd rose to its feet before Anderson’s last lines were completed and after three long bows, the band left the stage as a video again introduced them.
There were video messages all night that added to the feel and context of the show. In what had to be no more than 60 seconds of an ovation, the keyboard player returned alone and lit into a jazzy improv piece. Then Ophale joined in with his guitar and it was just the two of them playing off each other for a couple minutes.
If you knew what you were listening for, you could almost hear it coming down the tracks. Then the remaining band members took the stage for what was the best version of Locomotive Breath I’ve ever heard.
Did TAAB2 answer the question of what happened to Gerald Bostock?
I don’t know. If that was the point, it didn’t really matter to me. At age 65, Ian Anderson still has it, performing like a man half his age. And while his alter ego and voice O’Donnell didn’t steal the show, he made it what it was.