Ian Anderson's creative burst
Owls Head — Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson: Thick As a Brick Live in Iceland (Eagle Vision, SD Blu-ray, 114 min.; also standard DVD and 2-CD). In 2012, Anderson wrote, recorded and released "TAAB2" (also known as "Thick As a Brick 2"), a 40-year follow-up to his seminal 1972 progressive rock work "Thick As a Brick," recorded with his band Jethro Tull. (Anderson has not been using the Tull name for his newest recordings, possibly because longtime guitarist Martin Barre is no longer involved in the projects.)
The original "Thick As a Brick," which was one long extended piece over two sides of vinyl, topped the Billboard album chart. While a performance tour followed, the work had not been performed again in its entirety until Anderson's 2012 tour, which included this show in Iceland. During the tour, Anderson's band performed both the original album and its 2012 follow-up in their entirety. The lyrics for the original album were credited to the fictitious child, Gerald Bostock, whose parents supposedly lied about his age at the time. "TAAB2" considers what might have happened to Bostock during his life and where he stood in 2012, at age 50. The work considers five possible outcomes for Bostock, after careers as a banker, a homeless man (after a headmaster molested him), a military man, a religious chorister and an ordinary man. Each profession is given two songs. What follows is each incarnation of Bostock's current situation, with only the formerly homeless man seeming to have a happy ending, having been found by his soulmate and life partner.
Despite being only SD Blu-ray, the concert recording is crisp visually and sonically. As always, there is a wonderful mix of the electric and the acoustic, with Anderson's flute prominent. Actor/dancer/mime Ryan O'Donnell is used quite a bit as a second, younger voice. At one point, violinist Anna Phoebe joins in via Skype. Even Scott Hammond's drummer solois good, although it follows a weird bit that seems a public service advert for prostrate screening, with Anderson pulling two people out of the crowd and having one play doctor to "examine" the other's prostrate behind a screen that goes dark at the moment of truth, so to speak. John O'Hara's keyboard work, especially on the Hammond organ, is very nice, while Florian Opahle is very good on lead guitar. David Goodier handles the bass to complete the strong lineup.
The show opens with Bostock revisiting a doctor in St Cleve and, during the intermission, St Cleve TV with Archibald Parritt gives a tour of Cruddock Hall. (An ancestor, Ernest Parritt, plays a role in "Homo Erraticus"; see below.) "TAAB2" is strong musically -- I like the addition of the accordion --and the lyrics are meaty, with some wonderful internal rhymes. As the opening number states: "Ripples from a pebble thrown make tsunami on a foreign shore/I would slip right off this high-rise hell/But the elevator stops on every floor."
Extras include an interview with Anderson (14:16); a tribute to the late Claude Nobs, founder of the Montreaux Jazz Festival) with footage of Nobs playing harp with the band on "Someday the Sun Would Shine For You" during a workshop (9:32); and two of the banker songs performed live at Montreux (7:12). Grade: overall A, with A+ for "TAAB" and B+ for "TAAB2."
Jethro Tull: A Passion Play, An Extended Performance (Chrysalis, 2 CDs and 2 DVDs). This box set contains both the original 1973 "A Passion Play" album and the earlier, abandoned "Chateau d'Herouville Sessions," remixed to 5.1 surround and stereo by Steven Wilson. The four discs are bound into an 80page hardbound book.
"A Passion Play" was the follow-up album to the classic "Thick As a Brick," but its creation was troubled. At the time, Ian Anderson and bandmates decided to apply for Swizz citizenship as taxes in England were extreme: up to 83 percent for high earners and as high as 98 percent on unearned income. The band first rehearsed in an old brick factory in Montreux, but decided to record the album at the Chateau d'Herouville near Paris, where Elton John had recorded "Honky Chateau" and Pink Floyd made "Obscured By Clouds," and Cat Stevens just finished "Catch Bull at Four." However, there were technical problems with the studio, accommodations were a dormitory for sleeping and the food was so bad that everyone got food poisoning. After they fled back to England, they decided to abandon the hour's worth of music recorded in France. Anderson, quoted in the extensive article by Martin Webb that accompanies the discs, said, "I just thought it was better to start again and write a whole new album, instead of trying to somehow regenerate everybody's interest and commitment to something that had already struggled."
"A Passion Play" runs 45:29, slightly longer than "Thick As a Brick," and is broken into 15 songs and instrumentals. The original tapes had Anderson playing a lot of soprano sax for the first time, but Wilson has eliminated a small portion of the instrument. Overall, the album's concept is that choices might still have to be made in the afterlife. It is quasi-prog rock, with complex time signatures. Looking back now, Anderson is quoted as saying the album was "over-arranged." Highlights include "Critique Oblique" (one of the few pieces of the Chateau material carried over to this work; the other was "Tiger Toon"), "The Foot of Our Stairs" and "Overseer Overture." Part of the album is a telling of the fairy tale, "The Story of the Hare Who Lost His Spectacles."
Highlights of the Chateau sessions (59:43) include "Audition," with its excellent rhyming, and the familiar "Skating Away on the Thin Ice of the New Day," which resurfaced on the album "War Child," along with "Only Solitaire." On the first DVD, there is film footage used onstage during the band's 1973 tour (11:13). In addition to Webb's article on the preparation and recording of the album, and the Chateau sessions, with interviews with all but one of the 1973 band members, the book contains Wilson's thoughts on the remixing; the Rev. Godfrey Pilchard's recollections; memories of the cover shoot and "Hare" filming by dancer Jane Eve; a history of the Chateau; a reproduction of the 1973 Linwell Theatre program; a history of the 1973 tour with rare live photos; and recollections of touring and the PA system by sound man Chris Amson. Grade: overall package A-
Ian Anderson: Homo Erraticus (Calliandra, 2 DVDs and 2 CDs). Anderson's latest album (51:52), released on his own label, is another concept album and again credits lyrics to Gerald Bostock, but it is a bit more rock and tells the history of Great Britain through migration. The concept is that Bostock found a manuscript of a private printing by Ernest "Teddy" Parritt, a colonel in the British Army who served in India, and got the idea to write lyrics based on the book.
"Homo Erraticus" -- Latin for "wandering man" -- often goes from the deep past to the present, and has sophisticated lyrics that are a delight to read (see "The Pax Britannica"). Anderson told radio station KMUW in Witchita that, "It’s not just about the physicality of human migration, it’s also about the aesthetic, it’s also about the migration of ideas, the migration of commerce and trade, the migration of culture, of arts and entertainment." The songs are presented in chronologically. Favorite moments include the short and sweet "Heavy Metals," the storm sounds that open "Puer Ferox Adventus" ("Wild Child Coming," a tale of the Christ), the church-like organ on "Meliora Sequamur" and the accordion on "The Engineer," and the wonderful beat on the closing "Cold Dead Reckoning."
This limited edition includes a DVD with a 5.1 surround mix of the album; the album CD;, a bonus CD with Anderson's hotel demos of each song and track-by-track album commentary by band members; and a second DVD with an interview of Anderson by Jerry Ewing, editor of Prog magazine (19:22; Anderson points out that he only used acoustic guitar in three brief spots); a making-of feature (20:50); a look at Carl Glover's artwork and illustrations (10:18); and interviews with band members (14:41). All four discs are housed in a 60-page, vinyl album-sized hardcover. The release is also available as a CD and DVD with the 5.1 surround mix and a 24-page booklet; a two-vinyl set with an 8-page booklet. Grade: overall package A
Elton John: The Million Dollar Piano (Eagle Vision, Blu-ray disc, 111 min.). This concert film was recorded over multiple nights in 2013 during John's residency at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. The show has been running since September 2011, usually with a batch of shows over a month's time. The name of the disc and show comes from the special piano Yamaha built for John, a piano with LED screens built in to display graphics and animations. The hit-lade program is performed by John with his band, solo on piano or with the always extraordinary, and animated, percussionist Ray Cooper.
For the show, John comes out in a cape -- I had forgotten how short he is -- and starts very upbeat with "The Bitch Is Back." Other hits follow, including "Bennie and the Jets" (identifiable by just the first note), "Rocket Man," "Levon," "Tiny Dancer" and "Your Song," which John begins by crediting the song with creating his whole career. He discusses his choice for the 911 Memorial Concert, and then performs "Mona Lisas and Mas Hatters," which could have been written for the event. John then presents three rarely played songs, "Better Off Dead" (with Cooper going wild on percussion), "Indian Sunset" (again with Cooper) and "Blue Eyes," his song for the late Elizabeth Taylor. Eight more hits follow, with people up dancing for "Philadelphia Freedom" and "Crocodile Rock." A couple dozen audience members are invited onstage for "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting." The closing encore is "Circle of Life" from Disney's "The Lion King."
Bonuses include a 23-minute look at the creation of the piano and show; and four live songs (20:36) performed in Kiev in 2012, including "Candle in the Wind." Grade: A
Ministry: Tangle in Paris Live 2012 (UDR DVD, 85 min., and 2 CDs). Despite the title, the DVD was filmed primarily at the Vic Theatre June 28 and 29 in Chicago during the band's DeFiBriLaTour. However, singer/guitarist Al Jourgensen did have a medical emergency at a show in Paris during the tour, the last tour for his legendary, six-time Grammy-nominated band that brought industrial dance-metal music to the mainstream. The Cuban-born, U.S.-raised Jourgensen, throughout his career, has used biting, provocative lyrics and music videos to take on greed, corruption, hypocrisy, conservatism, America's persistence of war, predatory businessmen and passive observers. The band was formed in 1981, but, plagued by ill health, Jourgensen decided to stop touring. He then disbanded the band after the unexpected death of long-time guitarist Mike Scaccia on Dec. 22, 2012. (Scaccia died onstage while performing with his band Rigor Mortis.)
The concert footage is intense from the start, with "Ghouldiggers." Among the highlights are "LiesLiesLies," "99%ers," "Psalm 69" and "New World Order," the later with Jourgensen on guitar as well. Sometimes a song goes from the live onstage version to the rehearsals in Texas, and vice versa. Backstage footage and one-on-one interviews also are woven into the film. This digipak version also includes a tour retrospective with two CDs on live performances dating back to 2006. There are two songs from 2006, "Fear is Big Business" and "Khyber Pass," when the band included Jourgensen, Scaccia, Tommy Victor (Prong), John Bechdel (Fear Factory), Paul Raven (Killing Joke) and Joey Jordison (Slipknot); eight from 2008, with Jourgensen, Victor, Bechdel, Sim Quirin (RevCo/Society), Tony Campos (Static X), Aaron Rossi (Prong) and Burton Bell; and eight from 2012. The release also comes in the Blu-ray format, as double vinyl and a single CD.
Ministry and Jourgensen's music has appeared in several feature films, including "The Matrix," "Saw 3," "Saw IV" and "Escape from L.A.," as well as on the TV series "N.C.I.S." Jourgensen is selling his recording compound in Texas and moving to Los Angeles to work on film scores and other projects. Grade: A-
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: CSNY 1974 (CSNY/Rhino, Purer Audio Blu-ray or 3 CDs, 3:16:31, plus DVD, 43:11.). It has been a long time coming, but David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash (co-producer with Joel Bernstein) and Neil Young have finally released material from their historic, mostly outdoor stadium 1974 summer tour. The package is divided into three sets: 11 electric performances; 19 acoustic performances; and 10 more electric performances. That is a total of 40 songs, about half of those that were performed at one point or another during the 31 concerts in 24 cities, presented an idealized version of a show from the tour. The music here comes from the nine shows that were recorded on 16-track tape: two at Nassau Coliseum; three at Capital Centre in Landover; three at Chicago Stadium; and one at London's Wembley Stadium.
The first electric set includes such favorites as "Love the One You're With," "Wooden Ships," "Immigration Man," "Helpless," a lengthy "On the Beach" (7:40), Stills' heavier "Black Queen" and Crosby's "Almost Cut My Hair" (extended to 7:07). Unfortunately, the 9-minute version of Young's "Down By the River," performed early in the tour, is not included. This set also includes Young's never-before released "Traces" (countryish with harmonica) and Crosby's "Carry Me" (a gentler song). In all, 10 songs included here were new at the time.
New songs in the acoustic set include Nash's "Fieldworker" and Crosby's "Time After Time," both of which emerged later on various albums, as well as Stills' "Myth of Sisyphus" (solo on piano) and Young's "Love Art Blues" (very nice with Stills on piano), Young's solo ditty "Goodbye Dick" (about President Nixon's resignation) and "Hawaiian Sunrise" (another nice song, featuring banjo). Well-known from the acoustic set are "Change Partners," "The Lee Shore," "Only Love Can Break Your Heart," "Our House," "Guinevere," "Old Man," a cover of the Beatles' "Blackbird," "Teach Your Children" and the epic "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes."
Highlights of the closing electric set are "Deja Vu" (8:29), Young's seldom-heard "Don't Be Denied" (about a band struggling for success), and the more political numbers, "Revolution Blues" by Young, "Military Madness" by Nash, a harsher "Long Time Gone," Young's unreleased "Pushed It Over the End" (7:52)," and electrifying "Chicago" and "Ohio" (about the Kent State student murders, and greeted with a roar).
The bonus DVD, filmed half at Capital Centre and half at Wembley, features and extended guitar jam on "Almost Cut My Hair," Young performing "Old Man" with only Nash on backing vocals, the four looking like they were having fun in the Wembley versions of "Our House" and "Deja Vu" (especially Stills playing guitar next to Crosby), and closing with Nash's "Pushed It Over the End." The Wembley show was the final one of the tour. Both the 3-CD and Pure Audio Blu-ray versions come with a photo-filled 188-page booklet, including a lengthy essay by Pete Long and song credits. All but one of the photos are by Joel Bernstein. The booklet alone is worth the upgrade to the multi-disc versions. Also released is a 16-track single CD, a Starbucks exclusive with 12 tracks, and a limited edition of 1,000 with six vinyl records, the Pure Audio Blu-ray, the bonus DVD and the booklet in coffee table-size format, all housed in a custom wood box. Grade: overall package A+