Ian Anderson has still got it.
Yes, you’ll read reviews of the solo tour by Jethro Tull’s founder that gripe about the quality of his voice or the “hopelessly outdated” songs in his set list – Ignore them.
Anderson – truly the Minstrel in the Gallery who has led prog-rockers Jethro Tull through 40+ years of success – played the legendary Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia this week and knocked out the sold-out audience, which included a healthy dose of under 30-somethings.
Naysayers will tell you that the multiple standing ovations for Anderson and his four-member band were akin to the “Lifetime Achievement Awards” given at some major award shows. That’s ridiculous.
Not only was Anderson and his band mates at top form digging deep into the Tull Catalog (“Life’s a Long Song,” “Bouree,” “Budapest,” “Wond’ring Again,” “Up to Me,” “Nursie”) but added dollops of power and artistry to those classics. And don’t even start talking about the stunningly artistic 15-minute version of “Thick as a Brick” or his witty rendition of the “The Hare That Lost His Spectacles” from “A Passion Play.”
Shake your head if you want, but the reworkings were brilliant and certainly no stroll down memory lane (or at least just a minor one). Between the fan favorites, some newer tunes, and the hot-off-the-notebook tunes Anderson introduced – including an unnamed song that he had written just a week or two before this show– the music was delicately arranged with plenty of surprises – castanets here, an accordion there, bongos here.
Ian’s a smart man and he knows how to take the music he’s written through the years to the next level to satisfy his audiences and his own creativity.
While some classic rockers forego tours for fear of belittling reviews, Anderson massages the music so that it suits his 63-year old voice.
He also surrounds himself with brilliant players including those on this tour: John O’Hara on keyboards and accordion, David Goodier on fretless bass and percussion, and Scott Hammond on drums. Anderson enjoys working with an array of musicians because he still considers himself a student of the art. That was obvious but the way Ian and his band mates played, which brought to mind something akin to synchronized sonic swimmers.
A stand out on this tour is brilliant German musician Florian Ophale on classical and electric guitar. His accompaniment melded well with the other players but the real magic of his playing was unleashed during the two solo spots he was given in the set.
Although many audiences race to the exits when they know what encore will be played, there was hardly any movement within the Birchmere as the band finished its set with “Aqualung,” and moved into the encore of “Locomotive Breathe.”
“Oh please,” said Anderson during one of several standing ovations. “You’re too kind. Don’t get carried away.”
With Ian unearthing and polishing such gems, that’s almost impossible.