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Jethro Tull 50th Anniversary Tour – Symphony Hall, Birmingham

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

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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  1. Sorry. I went and it was clear that Anderson’s voice is gone. Set was great, instruments were great, vocals were complete rubbish

  2. Ian Anderson’s voice has sadly gone, no range, flat and often behind the beat. I had to leave the gig rather than have my memories of Tull spoiled, just too sad.

  3. What was the song playing in the background as the show opened? As fans walked in there was an old tv on a projector and that’s how it started before the band played.

  4. I agree with previous comments. Ian’s voice flat and behind the beat and very short notes. Strange because his flute playing was awesome and worth the price of the ticket to us

  5. I just saw Jethro Tull at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, CA and it was an awesome performance. Yes, his voice was not the same but compared to Jerry Garcia’s in his last few years, it still did the trick. Again, the sets, videos, light show, musicianship of the band was first class. Ian’s reciting of the history of the band between numbers added a lot. And, the flute playing stole the show. Highly recommend seeing them on what might be one of the last tours. Well done and thanks for 50 great years.

  6. Just saw Tull at the Fox theater in St. Louis. It was a very poor performance for the most part. The instrumentals drowned out the vocals, and many songs (My God, Cross-eyed Mary, Dharma for one, etc) were almost unrecognizable because of poor arrangements and modifications of the originals. Ian only redeemed himself at the end with Aqualung and an encore of Locomotive Breath. Otherwise if was a dismal performance.

  7. we saw them at four winds on june 30th…..mix was good and balanced till last 2 songs…agualung and loco breath….guitar player drowned out everybody….one set…way to short…..think they played 12-14 songs 75 minutes tops…..Anderson’s voice did not carry well….half the concert was sung by characters on the screen…..probably his last U.S. appearance…..my cousin larry wants to go see them again at Ravinia in September…I declined

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