Jethro Tull by Ian Anderson @ Perth Concert Hall 11/04/17 (Live Review)
There was certainly a wide age demographic at the Perth Concert Hall on Tuesday night as Ian Anderson – the voice, flute and guitar behind 70’s folk/prog pioneers Jethro Tull – presented a career retrospective spanning all the way back to 1969, taking in some of the band’s most beloved works from their 70’s heyday and including some more contemporary pieces as well.
Having summarily disbanded Tull, including long-time sparring partner Martin Barre, some years back Anderson had assembled a crack quartet of musicians to recreate the twists and turns that comprised the band’s songs at its peak. Opening number Living In The Past began well, the jazzy bass and drum intro sounding just like the single when it was released back in 1969 before Anderson, all dressed in black, bounded to the stage, flute in hand to play the now familiar opening refrain. With the wild unkempt hair and flamboyant outfits of days gone by left behind long ago, his lean figure and trimmed beard gave the frontman a youthful appearance well beyond his “sixty nine and three quarter” years as did is his ever energetic stage manner. Bounding across the stage like a seasoned thespian, playing the flute whilst standing on one leg, his presence was one of a man well practised and delivered with ease.
Age sadly has not been too kind to Anderson’s voice. His by now well documented vocal issues have left him struggling to hit the same range he is well known for. Fortunately the musicians backing him were of such a calibre that they managed to cover most of his shortcomings. And the arrangements were for the most part very faithful to the originals too, with the exception of Living In The Past’s far heavier rock second half.
Anderson’s skills as a flautist have lost none of their charm and magic down the years,, it’s a virtuoso performance and was truly an experience being in the same room as the man. Nothing Is Easy went off into some typically ‘Tullesque’ interludes whilst Heavy Horses featured an on screen duet courtesy of Icelandic songstress Unnur Birna. Throughout the evening the screen behind showed a variety of images that complimented each song; daffodils in the fields for Jack-In-The-Green, tractors in a rural landscape for Farm On The Freeway, and a very Floydian wall for a rapturously received rendition of Thick As A Brick.
His stage moves at times bordered on interpretive dance and yet they, along with his exquisite floksy guitar playing, perfectly suited each song, especially on the more pastoral numbers like Songs From The Wood and the jazz rock take on Bach’s Bouree. Indeed there’s always been a strong element of the classical in Jethro Tull songs and the band – including former Tull keyboardist John O’Hara and bassist David Goodier – remained faithful to the arrangements perfectly. And in case anyone was missing the talents of the departed Martin Barre on guitar Anderson enlisted hot young German Florian Opahle to cover the parts in true rock style. After a brief intermission the band launched into Sweet Dream, complete with its mock horror original film that seemed just a bit dated by todays modern standards. Dharma For One and early Tull composition A New Day Yesterday were well received by the audience and from there on in it was the heavy hitting songs from Tull’s back catalogue that dominated the latter half of the set. After Opahle stole the show with some blinding six string action by way of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, it was down to a trio of songs from 1970’s critically acclaimed concept album Aqualung to round out the night. My God, with its acoustic guitar and piano intro and yet more of Anderson’s lightning fast trills on flute, was a highlight of the evening and was followed by a muscular version of the album’s title track. It featured in part on screen vocals via film lifted from the Jethro Tull rock opera and whilst it did give Anderson some small reprieve from vocal duties the actual storyline may have been a little lost on some of the audience. But it was a massive Locomotive Breathe, featuring a variety of steam engines on the big screen, that closed the night with a bang.
Musically it was a powerful and amazing performance by all involved. Vocally it was merely good rather than great. Anderson is still a talented musician and songwriter, however his singing days are surely somewhat behind him now.