Reviewer: Selwyn Knight
It’s not entirely obvious now exactly when Jethro Tull was formed. A group of Blackpool musicians, including Ian Anderson, Jeffrey Hammond and John Evan, was playing locally in the mid-1960s. They subsequently moved to London, where they never got repeat bookings so went through several name changes; eventually, their agent named them Jethro Tull after the 18thcentury inventor of the seed drill. This name stuck and it was under it that they released their first album, This Was, in 1968. And it’s the anniversary of this event that tonight’s concert seeks to celebrate.
In the years since, the membership has regularly changed, as has the band’s emphasis and musical direction, the two consistent members being singer and flautist Ian Anderson and guitarist Martin Barre. In 2012, Barre announced that the group had ended and since then both Anderson and Barre have toured with their own bands, perhaps most memorably when Anderson reworked some Tull classics to tell the story of the agriculturist, Tull, in a multimedia rock opera that toured in 2015. Despite this concert’s title, this evening is credited to Ian Anderson and the Tull Band, so it’s not totally clear whether we are seeing Jethro Tull or not. Not that this fine distinction matters to the sellout Symphony Hall audience, an audience that shows a healthy variation of age and gender, all of whom seem intent on enjoying hearing the music of Tull performed by its iconic front-man and principal songwriter, Ian Anderson. The music of Jethro Tull defies classification with songs presented tonight varying from the jazzy to country-inspired, from driving rock to the more pastoral and folky.
The evening itself straddles old and new; video projections behind the band often show video of a younger and hairier band performing the same song – sometimes surreally with the current Anderson singing in apparently perfect time with the younger version behind, for example, as they perform hit single, Living in the Past. Also making appearances on the video screen are some former members and longstanding fans, including Jeffrey Hammond and Tony Iommi, introducing some of the songs. The first half includes some rarely heard items from their earlier repertoire. Indeed, some of the music from the 1960s now feels somewhat ahead of its time to modern ears. This early back catalogue provides opener, My Sunday Feeling– a song that feels remarkably contemporary and jazzy and that, with a hefty guitar solo from Florian Opahl, amply demonstrates the band’s rock ‘n’ roll credentials. Later, we hear the simpler,country-influenced Some Day the Sun Won’t Shine on You with just Anderson on guitar and John O’Hara on keyboards as accompaniment. And, of course, there are the big crowd pleasers: The Witch’s Promise, My God, Thick as a Brick, Aqualung and Locomotive Breath. Each player has his moments in the spotlight to showcase his considerable musical talents, but it is always the music that comes first, each member contributing to the total sound filling Symphony Hall.
But even to the greenest newcomer, there can be no doubt that the star of the show is Anderson. The consummate showman, he stalks the stage menacingly playing his flute, and, when stationary, often plays in his iconic one-legged pose. When he is on stage, all eyes are drawn to him like magnets, such is his towering stage presence. It is unfortunate then, that too many of the lyrics in Anderson’s rich and distinctive voice are lost. A dynamo full of energy, Anderson bobs up and down when pinned to the mic so that not every note and syllable is clearly audible. To the diehard Tull fans this is of no consequence – they already know the lyrics and stories – but for newcomers the evening is likely to be frustrating as the sometimes uncompromising and hard-hitting tales are lost.
Nevertheless, this is a well-constructed set, played by musicians at the top of their game and a must-see for Tull fans everywhere – and with a new Ian Anderson album set to be released next year, the future for Tull fans seems bright.
Reviewed on 10 April 2018 and on tour | Image: Travis Latam