In Midtown St. Louis, the triple-digit heat was sweltering and construction had Grand Avenue crawling, but it would take a lot more than that to keep fans away from the call of Ian Anderson’s mighty flute.
Billed as “Ian Anderson Presents JETHRO TULL: 50th Anniversary Tour,” the show not only celebrated the band’s storied history, but also paid homage to the small army of musicians that have come and gone within their ranks over the years.
After a giant video screen juxtaposed classic footage of the band’s heyday on shows like Top of the Pops and Old Grey Whistle Test with news clips from the ‘60s and ‘70s, the band kicked off the festivities with an electrifying take on “My Sunday Feeling” from their 1968 debut This Was. Though the song set the tone for the night, much of the spark came from the 70-year-old Anderson, a man who seems hell-bent on showing that five decades in the rock game has done nothing to diminish the impact of his manic and energetic stage persona.
In keeping with the tour’s theme, many songs were introduced via video from past band members as well as famous fans. Former bassist Jeffrey Hammond appeared onscreen to introduce, appropriately enough, “A Song for Jeffrey” and original guitarist Mick Abrahams intro’d “Some Day the Sun Won’t Shine for You.” Even Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi, a Tull member for one performance on the The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus concert film, showed up to intro “Bouree.” Celebrity fans showing up to pump virtual quarters into the Tull jukebox were Joe Bonamassa for “A New Day Yesterday,” Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott for “Ring Out, Solstice Bells,” Slash for “Aqualung,” and Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris, who chose the eclectic-even-for-Tull cut “A Passion Play.”
Though his reputation as a master flautist is secure, Anderson’s vocal range isn’t quite what it once was, though even by his own admission he never had an amazing voice to begin with. Sometimes he would stand on his toes to reach a note as if he was reaching up to change a light bulb. Other times, bassist David Goodier was there for Anderson to lean on when the vocals became too challenging to faithfully execute.
And the one-legged pose? Oh yes, Anderson can do it. And it is spectacular.
Following a fifteen minute intermission after the first set, the band came roaring back for lively versions of “Thick as a Brick,” “Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die,” and a gorgeous reading of “Heavy Horses” featuring Anderson performing a duet with an onscreen (and unidentified) female vocalist and violinist.
Anderson’s backing band, all of whom have spent time in Jethro Tull in various incarnations, more than rose to the occasion. Drummer Scott Hammond was a particular standout, even getting a chance to perform an abbreviated but tasteful drum solo on “Dharma for One.”
By the time the band encored with a raucous and blistering take on “Locomotive Breath” and took their final bows, the multi-generational audience headed back into the hot summer night, secure in the knowledge that their hero is going to keep chugging down the tracks and keeping the music vital until he can’t pick up his flute any longer.
Let’s hope the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame gets a clue before that happens, huh? | Jim Ousley