LIVE: JETHRO TULL by IAN ANDERSON – Perth, 11 April, 2017

LIVE: JETHRO TULL by IAN ANDERSON – Perth, 11 April, 2017
Perth Concert Hall, Tuesday, 11 April, 2017
Reviewed by Shane Pinnegar
Photography by Stuart McKay

The wild hair and beard, hobo’s overcoat, provocative codpiece, and even the garishly colourful bandana and vests may all be long gone, but Ian Anderson – trim, stylishly understated in black pants, shirt and waistcoat – is still waving his flute around whilst balancing adroitly on one leg, stork style, and touring the world playing his enormous Jethro Tull back catalogue.

Anderson summarily dismissed most of Jethro Tull at the end of 2011 – including forty-three-year veteran guitarist and collaborator Martin Barre, without so much as a, ‘thank you,’ let alone a gold watch, leaving no little bitterness between the two.

Anyone expecting a Barre sized hole in this performance – confusingly billed at various times in the media as Jethro Tull; Ian Anderson plays Jethro Tull; and Jethro Tull by Ian Anderson – was to be pleasantly surprised, as young German guitarist Florian Opahle, a veteran of The Ian Anderson Band since 2003, proved an excellent player extremely capable of playing Barre’s role.

After blowing his singing voice out some years ago (perhaps as far back as 1984’s Under Wraps tour), Anderson has never quite had the same range vocally: indeed the focus tonight is on his revolutionary flautistry rather than his singing, and he is provided admirable backup in places by virtuoso bassist David Goodier and keyboardist John O’Hara (both with Anderson since at least 2002), and special guests by pre-recorded video, Icelandic singer-violinist Unnur Birna Bjornsdottir, and Ryan O’Donnell. Confusingly, the video contributions on Heavy Horses and Aqualung are taken directly from a prog rock opera Anderson performed in Europe last year, and seem out of context in this more simple, rock and roll show format.

The extra vocals are also not enough to cover the strain of the once-great singer’s struggle to even approximate the required notes, and one wonders if rather than punching in these pre-recorded vocals (a risky business which only detracts from any live performance), bringing a dedicated backing singer on tour would have been a far better option.

Everything else about Anderson is completely intact and in fine, invigorated fettle, and he is a charming and convivial host, scampering impishly about the stage, playing magnificent flute, and sharing his wonderfully dry wit and good humour. Welcoming the crowd to the show he declares, “the five gentlemen before you are very jet lagg-ed – so, Good Morning!” and seems to enjoy sharing pithy snippets introducing each song throughout the two acts of the show.

Focussing primarily on two eras of Jethro Tull’s work – the late ‘60s blues albums, and the late ‘70s pastoral folk rock – with a few tastes of their early ‘70s prog concept albums, Anderson’s show may not have been an unmitigated triumph, but it was very good on many levels, especially from a musical perspective.

Thick As A Brick’s acoustic finery is a showcase for Anderson’s excellent underrated guitar playing, before Opahle takes the lead to rock it up, leaving the frontman to throw rock shapes (and water bottle caps) around the stage with echoes of his former eccentric wild man abandon.

Jack-In-The-Green and Songs From The Wood perfectly evoke the pastoral countryside pagan magic that served as such a resolute middle finger to punk in 1976 and ’77; Bouree’s classical explorations were introduced as, “J S Bach done in a sleazy jazz style;” and the only ‘80s offering, Farm On The Freeway ties in with the environmental theme of many of the earlier songs, and cleverly ends abruptly in pitch black with spotlights replicating car headlights coming from the stage.

The thunderous Sweet Dream opens the second act, accompanied by archival footage of the song’s rarely-seen promo clip, featuring vampires, ballet dancers, Godzilla and Anderson’s Aqualung character. Ahh those were undeniably the glory days of conceptual prog rock, and even Anderson takes pause to reflect, “good year, ’69… good age, 69!” before muttering comically, “69 and three bloody quarters!! Shit!!” Pastime In Good Company – written by King Henry VIII, no less, though the scorching guitar solo is probably a more recent addition – is another proggy touch which would seem a conceit in any other repertoire, but seems perfectly normal for Tull.

The Fruits Of Frankenfield from last year’s rock opera continues the loose environmental theme, talking about the scary inevitability of GMO foods, and is one of only two recent tracks in the set by a long shot, countered here with one of Tull’s earliest – original drummer Clive Bunker’s solo spot Dharma For One, performed by Scott Hammond who, Anderson points out, “was just wishful thinking,” when the song was written. Hammond’s solo spot is less virtuoso than his bandmates, but very much in fitting with the late ‘60s blues ethic of the song.

Anderson shows another string to his bow by cracking out the harmonica for New Day Yesterday, before taking his leave for Opahle’s shredding solo piece, Bach’s wonderful Toccata And Fugue in D Minor, originally written for organ. The guitarist shows not only extraordinary speed on the fretboard and emotional feel for the work, but also a penchant for comedy rock faces whilst doing so, prompting Anderson to prostrate himself in the ‘we are not worthy’ pose before his protégé.

Anderson’s miniature acoustic guitar intro signalled a trio of tracks which, for many, are the essence of Jethro Tull, and certainly which made them superstars (for a short while, at least) in America.

The multi-faceted and scathing My God, complete with a stunning scat-styled flute solo; the startling, confronting Aqualung, with its epochal riff and graphic imagery, was somewhat diluted by the confusingly out-of-context video from his rock opera, some altered lyrics, and what appeared to be Anderson miming the distorted part of the vocals; and for an encore, the neo-classical keyboard intro leading into the majestic, driving proto-metal of Locomotive Breath.

Rock, blues, jazz, classical, folk, prog – put all these seemingly disparate elements together into one career – into one concert – and the truly groundbreaking nature of Anderson and Tull’s music can be fully realised. It’s quite a staggering melange and it has always been Anderson’s imposing presence providing the constant common thread which holds it all together. Barre certainly didn’t deserve to be ousted so impassionately, but there is little doubt that Anderson has the greater claim to the Jethro Tull name and music.

Tull death do we part.

 

Act One:
Living in the Past
Nothing Is Easy
Heavy Horses
Thick as a Brick
Banker Bets, Banker Wins
Jack-in-the-Green
Bourrée
Farm on the Freeway
Songs From the Wood

Act 2:
Sweet Dream
Pastime With Good Company
Fruits of Frankenfield
Dharma for One
A New Day Yesterday
Toccata and Fugue in D Minor
My God
Aqualung

Encore:
Locomotive Breath

LIVE: JETHRO TULL by IAN ANDERSON – Perth, 11 April, 2017

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About the Author: Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

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