September 18, 2014
Costa Mesa, CA
Review by Shawn Perry
It’s taken a little while to sink in, but I think I’ve finally figured out why Ian Anderson has put Jethro Tull — the band not the idea — on the backburner. Although it may be difficult to separate the two, not having to live up to the disparate expectations of Jethro Tull has allowed Anderson to cast his creative exploits across a wider canvas. That being said, it’s easy to believe that Anderson’s solo ventures, especially those of the last two years — 2012’s Thick As A Brick 2 and 2014's Homo Erraticus — could have just as well been Jethro Tull albums, but then you’d be missing the whole point. The clarification I needed happened at the Segerstrom Hall.
Perhaps the most decisive partition between Anderson and Tull is presenting new conceptual pieces live in their entirety. To this end, Anderson’s band — guitarist Florian Ophahle, keyboardist John O’Hara, bassist Dave Goodier, drummer Scot Hammond and vocalist / actor Ryan O’Donnell — are perfectly suited to ply through a stratagem of odd characterizations, spoken-word sections, dramatic changes in tempo, and the full-force of musical brilliance inserted at just the right places.
Homo Erraticus, another well-heeled yarn from Thick As A Brick’s fictional protagonist Gerald Bostick, is based on an unpublished manuscript by amateur historian Ernest T. Parritt. The music, lyrics and video on the backdrop screen filled with a cast of images, personalities and religious deities spanning ancient history through the modern age, all coalesced and intertwined to enrapture an audience anxiously awaiting the familiar. Therein lies the challenge for Anderson to convince that he’s moved on, and it’s about time the rest of us do the same.
So, for the first hour, we were treated to a nonstop performance that transcended the usual elements associated with rock concerts. At various points, each band member came up to the microphone and gave an impassioned speech that somehow tied in with the Homo Erraticus plot. O’Donnell, who first appeared with Anderson on the Thick As A Brick 2 tour and aroused concern amongst the hardcores and purists, assumed a far more prominent role, vocally and theatrically. It was here that I recognized his value and his part in Anderson’s shift away from the confines of a more traditional rock ensemble.
Assessing the various pieces comprising Homo Erraticus isn’t easy, which is why you had to pretty much stay in place for the whole thing. "Enter The Uninvited" functions as the centerpiece, with Anderson spouting off about everything from Roman legions to Burger King and Facebook. Elsewhere, "The Turnpike Inn" rocked the house, just in case anyone was losing track of the storyline. Both Anderson and O’Donnell traded verses, and no one sensed a hush of betrayal — it was all sounding so good.
"Cold Dead Reckoning," reprises the opening “Doggerland,” and tonight it went for broke, with its refrain discriminately reinforced by flashes of world leaders like Muammar Gaddafi, Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, George W. Bush and Adolph Hitler on the backdrop. In other words, we’re pretty much doomed — according to bed-ridden and slightly imbalanced Ernest T. Parritt (played by Anderson in various video segments).
After a 20-minute break, the theatrics of the first set carried over into an exploratory journey through the past — starting with 1969 and the rather appropriate “Living In The Past.” I was most impressed with how O’Donnell seamlessly sang a verse here and there, obviously enabling Anderson to toot his flute as well as stay away from those higher notes he can no longer hit. O’Donnell has Anderson’s measured cadences and inflections of each verse down well enough to almost make the two on any song virtually indistinguishable and transparent. It’s only when Anderson reaches for certain parts — and seemingly nails them — that you can tell only a slight difference.
What came next was a real treat for fans of early Tull — specifically selections from Stand Up and Benefit, the band's second and third albums. Anderson dedicated “With You There To Help Me” to original bassist Glen Cornick, who passed away on August 29, and again Anderson and O’Donnell tossed and turned the vocals. I’d never heard Tull do this song live, so it was an extra surprise. “Sweet Dream” was propped up by an old video featuring a Quasimoto character wearing a Rolex, while “Teacher” had Anderson and O’Donnell doing a “hippy dance” to dancing hippy images on the screen.
”Critique Oblique,” excerpted from A Passion Play, was another surprise, especially since I’ve been endlessly tracking through the box set with the Steven Wilson 5.1 mix that came out this summer. To the disappointment of a scattered few, "The Story of the Hare Who Lost His Spectacles" didn’t make the cut. Latter-day crowd pleasers like “Too Old To Rock 'n' Roll: Too Young to Die” and “Songs From The Wood,” were valiantly polished off and rolled out in fine form. “Farm On The Freeway,” arguably one of Tull’s great last studio recordings, served as a perfect showcase of each player’s expertise, inextricable and refined to the highest standard.
“Aqualung” and the encore of “Locomotive Breath” exposed the audience and naysayers to Ophahle’s formidable prowess on the guitar, a little faster on the runs than Martin Barre, but resembling the longtime Tull guitarist at other turns. After the introductions and stage bow — with Anderson holding his breath and diving in — it wouldn’t have been a half-bad idea for something else from say, War Child or Minstrel In The Gallery. Maybe next time.