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ConcertsIan Anderson Presents Jethro Tull: 50th Anniversary Tour

Posted on Wednesday, September 12 2018 @ 22:28:58 CDT by Pete Pardo
Progressive Rock

September 1, 2018, Starlight Theatre, Kansas City, Missouri

In 2012 Jethro Tull guitarist and Martin Barre and vocalist/flautist Ian Anderson proclaimed, each in his own way, that there would be no new Jethro Tull music from that point forward. Anderson even muttered something a time or two about giving the old agriculturist some rest after nearly half a century since the moniker was pinned on a group of unsuspecting London musicians by their manager. With a new edition of the group’s This Was circulating and a fan base keen to hear the almost-hits of yesteryear, Anderson has assembled a group of players to bring Tull music around the globe once more. The nomenclature on tickets and marquees for the current world trek accentuates that it’s Anderson’s show. Maybe it always was.

The vested, bespectacled singer is joined on his current adventure by guitarist Florian Ophale and drummer Scott Hammond, both of whom had previously walked the boards in Anderson’s solo band. Rounding out the current lineup are Tull vets John O’Hara (keyboards) and David Goodier (bass). Surely, there are hold outs who contribute to band chat rooms and proclaim, “No Barre, No Tull!” But they weren’t on hand for the second date of the group’s late summer U.S. run when it touched down in Kansas City.

With no opening act on hand, concert goers were treated to an hour or so of pre-recorded tracks from the group’s history, indicating that the gig wouldn’t feature “Bungle In The Jungle” or “Kissing Willie” and, once the quintet stormed the stage it was apparent that the audience would be taking a deep dive. The first set leaned heavily into the pre-1970 era with “My Sunday Feeling,” “Dharma For One” and “Song For Jeffrey” going down a storm. Anderson sounded fine if not especially booming over the sound system, though he paused to introduce various numbers and clips from former members (including Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond and Tony Iommi). Goodier provided all the warmth and depth (and then some) listeners have become accustomed to in the Tull bass department and Ophale added some extra zing to the blues-based sounds Mick Abrahams brought to the original recordings.

The loose, jazzy feel of the early group came to the fore and if at times one pined for the most accomplished songwriting that came into view circa 1971’s Benefit. Hearing these delightfully peculiar compositions and arrangements on the stage was frequently exhilarating. Had Anderson been looking to milk the cash cow he certainly would not have waited until almost the end of the first set to pull out “My God” and an excerpt from “Thick As A Brick.”

With the collective hitting its stride just then, the singer announced intermission, allowing the audience a chance to retire to the restroom or grab a beverage. If Tull’s shows were filled with pot smoke and other wildness in the group’s first decade, the dominant fragrances around the venue on this evening were hand sanitizer and mosquito repellent. Along with fresh air. The wildness was reserved to air drumming and the occasional flirtation with dancing in the venue’s aisles.

The demographics? Parents carted their pre-teen children around, all decked out in contemporary t-shirts, music lovers with graying and/or receding hair swapped stories about the various tours they’d caught Tull on before this date. Others raced to the merch table to grab one of several classic albums that have become available in expanded form in recent times. In this way, Tull isn’t unusual, but to see that progressive rock is alive, well and being passed on to future generations was refreshing.

Tull’s post-1972 can be a slog for some. The group’s decidedly English sensibilities, pronounced loudly on Thick As A Brick, become even more so on A Passion Play. The current configuration tore into an excerpt from the latter album’s titular piece but if the oddity of it, the lack of pop music’s trappings of obsessive hooks and sing-along choruses, was off-putting to some, they didn’t show it. In fact it, along “With Too Old To Rock ‘n’ Roll, Too Young To Die,” “Songs From The Wood” and “Ring Out, Solstice Bells” were met with as much enthusiasm as anything the band put on display that night. (Even if with the latter being somewhat out of season.)

Though some incredulous ink has been spilled about Tull’s 1988 win over Metallica for Best Hard Rock or Heavy Metal Album, the group’s connection to ‘eavy rock runs deep, especially in its late ‘70s music, something that was especially apparent during the run through “Heavy Horses” and the only number on hand to represent Tull post-1980, “Farm On The Freeway.”

Fitting, too, that rock heavyweights such as Steve Harris, Joe Elliott and Slash popped up on the video screen housed upstage, sending well-wishes and testimonials between numbers. Also on hand via screen were Icelandic vocalist Unnur Birna Bjornsdottir on hand (via pre-recorded video) and actor Ryan O’ Donnell to lend vocal support during the second set. O’Donnell handled a good portion of “Aqualung” and if any audience members took this as an affront, none showed it. No one booed, no one walked out and all were on hand for a raging, barn-burning “Locomotive Breath” which closed out the night right around the wholesome hour of 10:30.

Some might argue that Tull could not have emerged at any other time than the 1960s: The musical ingenuity, the eclecticism and that darned flute. But the audience appreciation and recognition on this particular night showed that Tull could and can exist in any time. The band may not have intended to transform the culture but the riffing of “Locomotive Breath” and the powerful images of “Aqualung” show that all this strangeness have become points of unity rather than division.

Jedd Beaudoin

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