by MIKE CHAIKEN
If you’re going to stick with any career for 50 years, it needs to be more than a job where you punch in and punch out, doing the same thing every day, day in and day out.
There has to be the occasion change of scenery and room to grow.
This is especially true in the creative arts. If you start your artistic career drawing apples and you draw the apples the same way for the next 50 years, you’ll likely grow deadly bored. And any audience you had would grow so bored, they’d walk away.
With art comes the necessity to play, grow, and evolve.
No matter what you think of the music of the band Jethro Tull and its leader Ian Anderson, the group has never tried to follow the path of convention and has always been willing to play, to change things up, and do something different before they and its audience grows bored.
This came to mind on Sept. 12, as Anderson came to the Toyota Oakdale Theater as a solo artist celebrating the 50th anniversary of the music of Jethro Tull.
The evening, which was split into two acts, showed the breadth of Tull’s ambitions through its five decade career.
There was, of course, the riff driven rock of the classic “Aqualung” and “Locomotive Breath,” which put the band in the company of groups like Deep Purple and Black Sabbath.
There were also nods to its initial days as blues rockers, who were seen as the successors to Cream, with such tracks as “My Sunday Feeling.”
There were demonstrations of their affinity to jazz, with “Dharma for One.”
There was its whimsical detour into progressive rock with “Thick as a Brick.”
There were touches of folk rock with “Heavy Horses.”
There was even a nod to Christmas music with “Solstice Bells.”
Although a lot of Jethro Tull’s music these days is relegated to classic rock stations, and derogatorily referred to as “dinosaur rock,” listening to Ian Anderson play the music, and keeping in mind the context of the 1960s and 1970s, a lot of the material was breaking new ground. Anderson and crew were quite willing to “try” things to see what stuck up against the wall. There was a good deal of creativity on display in the group’s songwriting that we may take for granted in 2018 since it’s not the flavor of the moment.
On stage, Anderson was blessed with a great band for this tour– Florian Opahle on guitar, Scott Hammond on drums, John O’Hara on keys, and David Goodier on bass. They easily maneuvered around the change moods, textures, and time signatures of Tull’s music. And they brought a good deal of power and drive to the numbers, especially on hard rockers like “Aqualung” and “Locomotive Breath.”
Ian Anderson also has lost none of his shine as an entertainer. His flute playing still is superb. And he has a great mastery of the acoustic guitar.
Time has robbed him of the top end of his vocal registry. But fortunately, Anderson was never a screamer like Robert Plant. He always had a lilting sing-speak approach to his complex lyrics. So where Anderson could not reach the few high notes attempted in his heyday, the band – and some video recordings—stepped in to help.
One of the most delightful aspects of the show was Anderson’s willingness to tap into some of Tull’s deep tracks. There were favorites like “Thick as a Brick,” of course. But it also was fun to hear “Song for Jeffrey,” “Farm on the Freeway,” and “A Passion Play.”
New music from Anderson has slowed down over the years. The changing music industry, however, has a lot to do with it. But with a catalogue as diverse and deep as Jethro Tull’s, Anderson can take great pride in reveling in what he has been able to accomplish over five decades.
I give Ian Anderson’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of Jethro Tull 3 ½ out of 4 stars.