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Ian Anderson a rocker of Shakespearean proportions

We digress. Or do we?

Ian Anderson is not only one of classic rock’s most iconic figures, but one of its great conversationalists.

A 45-minute phone chat with the mastermind of Jethro Tull is a far-flung excursion. It begins with the amount of urine released into Mandalay Bay’s wave pool during outdoor concerts (Tull did one there in 2003), and ends with his argument for why the Navy SEALs should have tried to take Osama bin Laden alive.

Other topics along the way: Penn &Teller, the relative merits of U.S. tribal casinos versus Carnegie Hall, the pros and cons of 5.1 surround systems, Michael Jackson, improvised explosive devices, George W. Bush’s memoir, Monty Python, guns and drunks in Cleveland.

But is this a surprise? On Friday, the first half of Anderson’s concert at the Palms is a complete staging of this year’s album “Homo Erraticus.” It’s a three-part progressive-rock opus based on the musings of not one but two alter-egos (one of them Gerald Bostick, the former child prodigy credited as the “Thick as a Brick” lyricist).

Per the official synopsis, the album imagines “past lives as historical characters: a Neolithic nomadic hunter-gatherer, an Iron Age blacksmith, a Saxon invader, a Christian monk, a 17th century grammar school boy, turnpike innkeeper, one of Brunel’s railroad engineers, and even Prince Albert.”

Oh, and the third song, “Enter the Uninvited,” name-checks “Mad Men” and “The Walking Dead.”

Like his far-reaching songs, Anderson’s conversation often ties back to a central point.

He says Penn &Teller “balance up humor with kind of serious stuff as well. … You’ve got to blend the good, the bad and the ugly and kind of put it all together in a way that makes people shift a little uneasily from buttock to buttock somewhere in the show. Otherwise it’s just getting a little too smiley for its own good. I’m always in favor of unsettling people a bit, but I think you’ve got to find a way to make that a balance.

“And that’s what I try to do in my songwriting and stage shows. I’m a mixture of smiley, approachable aging uncle and the flute player from hell.”

This tour, like the last one, asks fans to sit through a new work in its entirety. (He presented the original “Thick as a Brick” followed by “Thick as a Brick 2” at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts in July of last year.)

“I think that’s really the job of the artist to make sure it is entertaining and interesting,” Anderson says of the album-length pieces staged with video and comic sketches from the band.

“I think you can bring theatrical elements into play with relatively small resources, and make it interesting and entertaining without it being too glitzy and glamorous in a show-bizzy and, dare I say, Las Vegas kind of way.”

In the ’70s, Anderson forged one of rock’s unforgettable images when he balanced on one leg to wail on the flute in flowing hair, boots, tights and sometimes a waistcoat and codpiece.

Even today, grounded a bit by his 67 years, “I have a high level of confidence when I step out onto the stage that I’m in control,” he says. “I’m not expecting trouble and I very rarely get it.

“There is an authority that comes from the stage. It’s a bit more like being a Shakespearean actor. You can sort of be larger than life, and your presence, you kind of know how to make it work. Whether it’s self-effacing or silly or humorous or whether you’re being quite big and bombastic and Shakespearean in your delivery. In those various ways, you’re in control.”

Time for the relevant Michael Jackson detour. “The notion that (stars have) to keep up with previous incarnations and do bigger and better is what sank poor old Michael Jackson,” he says.

“Most of us would have said, ‘Michael why don’t you do just a few shows with just you and a trio? You can sit on a stool and just do what you do really well, which is to sing your songs. And maybe get up and do a bit of a jig or a moonwalk.’ … But to try to get up and do what you did in your 20s or 30s, it’s not going to be as good.

“There’s a terrible failing when it comes to recognizing those days are gone,” he says. “I’ve always felt you’ve got to succeed because of personality, because of content.”

However, the second half of Friday’s show does promise a set of Jethro Tull hits to reward the attention required in the first. “I said to Jimmy Page a couple of weeks ago when I met him in the airport, ‘You and I, we polish the crown jewels. We get to take this stuff out of the vault and shine it up for another generation to look at and admire.’ We’re very privileged to be able to do that.”

So if you’ve been on board with Anderson for enough of his 46-year career to read this far, you probably want to hear what he said about some of those other things:

■ On current prog-rock hero Steven Wilson mixing some of the Tull albums in 5.1 surround. Great for audiophiles, not so much for him: “I just don’t have a room in my house where I want to put all those speakers. Most people’s living rooms don’t sound that great. … Spend your money on a really good pair of headphones. You won’t be annoying your wife or children by playing your favorite Lynyrd Skynyrd album at full tilt.”

■ On Bush’s memoir, “Decision Points”: “It told me a lot more about Bush the man, and told me about Bush the human being. A man with some self-deprecating humor and some admission of his failings and shortcomings. … I’m not as anti-Bush as I was. I think on the balance, Bush was a good guy but doing the wrong job at the wrong time.”

■ On President Barack Obama: “We thought of him as being a president for the civilized world, not just for America. And he, unfortunately for all of us, has become very, very disappointing. I mean, he’s not a bad guy, but what has he got to say for it all, really? Other than a couple of wars that keep grinding on and the fact that they managed to shoot dead the world’s most notorious terrorist criminal.”

■ On the relationship between Great Britain and the United States: “It was a brief handshake in the late ’60s when British and American culture began to cross back and forth. Now it’s a full-on man hug. Because we know how to make each other laugh and to make each other cry,” he says of the TV trade between “The Walking Dead” and “Downton Abbey.” “We have this regular interchange. We know what turns each other on now. We’re very good bed partners, the Brits and the Americans.”

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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