Live Gig Review by Karen Hetherington (Staff Writer, Myglobalmind Magazine)
Photos by Chris White Photography
In the beginning Ian created the legendary band Jethro Tull; and after an 18th century agriculturist they were given this name.
And Ian gave unto us all a multitude of inspirational songs, to be played in whatever mood or occasion was suited to us.
And in February of this year Ian did announce that he would be honouring Jethro Tulls’ namesake by bringing us The Jethro Tull Rock Opera Tour… and all was good.
Formed in 1967, following various name changes, the band name Jethro Tull stuck after the manager of a club enjoyed their show so much they were asked to return. The name of the 18th Century Agriculturist and Inventor of the Seed Drill was chosen for the band by a booking agent who was also a bit of a history buff.
The idea of a Jethro Tull Rock Opera tour held massive appeal for me and in early June I was delighted to get the opportunity to chat to Ian about it. Having followed Ian Anderson’s career for most of my life and having seen him perform live many times, I was fascinated to see how this latest project would take shape…
Prior to commencement of the tour, Ian visited the grave of Jethro Tull at St Bartholomews Church, Lower Basildon. The Press and Public were invited to join him there and Photographer Chris White was fortunate enough to be in attendance. Ian addressed those assembled and delighted them with a rendition of Bouree before chatting and posing for pictures outside the Church.
Drawing parallels between Jethro Tull (The band) and Jethro Tull (The Agriculturalist) sounded like an interesting concept but not an overly difficult task to accomplish, or so I thought. Trying to imagine how this would play out in a Rock Opera format, however, had my mind going into overdrive and turned out to be a unique experience that my imagination did not stretch to.. being the story of Jethro Tulls’ life brought right up to date, implementing modern scientific techniques and the like.
To set the scene a little, Ian appeared on the interactive backdrop as a narrator giving an introduction; thereafter classic Tull songs were played live by the band on stage while the majority of vocals were provided by Unner Birna Bjornsdottir and Ryan O’Donnell. Music and vocals were perfectly synched and Ian Anderson sang some parts of the songs live on stage.
Classics such as Heavy Horses, Living in the Past, Farm on the Freeway, Aqualung, Jack in the Green and Witches Promise featured in the 2hr + set and it was easy to see where comparisons could be made with these songs. Some of the lyrics were slightly tweaked to make them more fitting, and I was delighted – if surprised, to hear the classics With You There to Help Me and Cheap Day Return worked in.
Hearing a female voice sing Ian Andersons lyrics, I confess, took a little getting used to, however, Unner Birna Bjornsdottir’s vocals on With You There to Help me and Witches Promise were absolutely stunning as were Ryan O’Donnell’s on Wind Up.
The outstanding talent of the musicians shone through, as always, and it was evident that the show was exceptionally well rehearsed. Ian’s performance on flute was simply outstanding and accompanied by Florian Opahle’s heavy driven guitar sound made for a musical extravaganza. Members of the bands current line-up also made appearances on screen along with some other video footage and the show also featured some new songs which were specifically written to tie in with the theme of this tour. The finale was Locomotive Breath which stole the show for me and was a massive crowd pleaser. John O’Hara – Keyboards, Scott Hammond – Drums and Grieg Robinson – Bass, who all performed magnificently throughout the show, excelled on this track. Ian Anderson’s voice has been showing signs of strain of late and his singing in the performance was limited. The audience were addressed via the interactive screen, not live from the stage.
During my chat with Ian he explained to me that he finds Operas to be hopelessly confusing and I honestly feel that all but die hard Tull fans will find this performance to be so. You either get it or you don’t…the music is exceptional but piecing it all together against the backdrop may be perplexing to the casual observer. The tour, however, is sure to be extremely well received by the solid Jethro Tull fan base who will be well accustomed to his musical experimentations. He is a man with much to say and much to offer, however you perceive it, be he a mad genius, an educator of the masses or simply an astoundingly talented multi-instrumentalist and lyricist.
As with all musicians who emerged from the same era as Ian, the older they get and the longer they continue to perform, the more they open themselves up to scrutiny and criticism. Ian Anderson can still put on a hell of a show, even if it has an odd twist here and there.
Speaking of drawing parallels, paying homage to the original Jethro Tull by way of a Rock Opera is possibly Ian’s greatest innovation for many a year but it goes without saying that whatever brilliance Jethro Tull contributed to Agriculture Ian Anderson has contributed over and above to the Music Industry and I would hope that someday, many years from now some virtuoso will award him the same honour..