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Concert Review: Ian Anderson’s “50 Years of Jethro Tull”

There have never been, nor will there likely ever be, musicians in the class of Ian Anderson. His band Jethro Tull (of which he is the sole remaining original member) holds a distinct place in rock & roll history because of Anderson’s favoring of the flute as his main axe. On top of that instant distinction, the catalog of his songs with Jethro Tull — beyond his work with Tull, Anderson has released six studio albums and two live albums — contains numerous memorable songs whose memorable melodies are reinforced by complex, thought-provoking lyrics. On July 6, Anderson paid Irvine a visit by bringing his “50 Years of Jethro Tull” tour to FivePoint Amphitheatre.

Though travelling to the FivePoint can be a little frustrating — especially with that mile-long stretch of Chinon being bumper-to-bumper with Jethro Tull fans — the 12,000 seat venue was a great fit for this show. In addition to the intimacy it provides for the audience to experience the concert, the pastoral setting was a great complement to the band, which is named after an English agricultural pioneer who contributed to the development of the British Agricultural Revolution.

(Scott Feinblatt)

The show itself was comprised of a collection of 18 songs from the Tull catalog. Over the course of two sets, Anderson variously introduced the songs, charmed the audience with his humor, and allowed numerous guest musicians to introduce his material via a video projection. Some of those guest appearances included past collaborators like Tony Iommi (founder of Black Sabbath), Jeffrey Hammond and John Evan; and some were fans whom had been inspired by the music of Jethro Tull, such as Steve Harris (Iron Maiden) and Slash (Guns N’ Roses). Anderson’s line-up of musicians for this show included David Goodier (bass), John O’Hara (keyboards), Florian Opahle (guitar) and Scott Hammond (drums).

Additionally, supporting vocalists and a violinist appeared at times throughout the show on the backing screen to lend Anderson a hand with his singing and to further complement the onstage musical ensemble. At other times, the screen showcased pre-recorded imagery of the onstage band members performing the songs, more-or-less perfectly synchronized with their live counterparts — effectively doubling the presence of the musicians. Beyond that, psychedelic imagery, shots of nature and historical footage of the band’s performances were edited together for a very pleasing backing film. 

The reasonably full house was comprised of a cross-section of Tull fans, aged mostly between their 30s and 70s. And while the crowd was roundly enthralled by the show, some overzealous sexagenarian fans put on an amusing spectacle by demonstrating their enthusiasm in the aisles [Have you ever seen a 60-something thrashing to hard rock? If not, it is a good recipe for smiling.] Only once did this writer see the enthusiasm get out of hand, when it took two or three ushers to bring down an out-of-control, grey-haired celebrant, during the performance of “Aqualung.”

(Scott Feinblatt)

Between the evening’s enchanting song performances, Anderson interspersed his witty banter with a chronology and anecdotes about the songs in the setlist. For example, when he introduced “My God,” Anderson explained that the band had experienced “a spot of trouble” when premiering the song in the Bible Belt, back in 1971. The song is about the politics of religion — especially insofar as the messages of Christ are often corrupted by the institutions which purport to champion his causes; in particular, the song references the Church of England. Anderson pointed out that the folks down South whom had been riled probably “didn’t read the lyrics properly.”

The musicians played wonderfully throughout the evening. Opahle and O’Hara, in particular, shined brightly during their respective spotlight moments. And while Anderson did require an assist with some of his vocals, his voice sounded very good, and his flute playing was spot on throughout the show. Some standout numbers included: “Thick as a Brick,” “Bourrée,” “Pastime With Good Company,” and “Warm Sporran.” That said, every song they played was great, from the opener “Love Story,” to the encore, “Locomotive Breath.”

Though the evening was filled with great entertainment, the two sets did seem a bit short. The whole show clocked in at just over two hours, including an intermission. Still, it seemed as though everyone in attendance got the Jethro Tull fix they’d come for. As the crowd gradually made their way out of the somewhat makeshift amphitheatre [Does anyone else miss Irvine Meadows?], the expansive vending area was still slightly hopping; people patronized the food trucks parked on the grounds, and some of the more youthful couples were making out on picnic benches. Notably, I was not able to locate the merch stand as I filed out; perhaps it had closed up shop when the band finished playing, or maybe I just didn’t look hard enough for it. In any case, those who required souvenirs had probably taken care of that department prior to the show or during the intermission when Anderson had encouraged them to “visit the merch stand and say, ‘Hello’ to Tom.”

Anderson has been touring with this show extensively over the past year, and it was terrific to see him and his merry band of minstrels at FivePoint. Hopefully, he’ll return for another pass before too long, and we can all get a chance to say hello to him, the band, and Tom all over again. For the complete setlist of this show, click here

(Scott Feinblatt)