After more than four decades of making music, Jethro Tull still has the kind of magic that defines rock ‘n roll. Ian Anderson’s wild onstage antics may have mellowed somewhat over the years, but he is still shockingly agile and energetic for a man in his sixties, even taking to his one-legged flute pose from time to time. Tull are the kind of group that inspire dogged devotion — the guys sitting near me had been to more than three hundred Jethro Tull shows (yes, you read that correctly.) And I thought I was a little obsessed.
Friday night’s show was a great time for those who made it to see this legendary band. Now in their forty-second year, Jethro Tull still puts on a show worthy of its history, even if they play the same setlist most nights. Martin Barre’s playing seems to get better each time out, and though Ian Anderson’s solo shows are memorable, Barre is sorely missed when he’s not there.
The band opened with a loud and driving version of “Nothing is Easy,” and went into a great rendition of “Beggar’s Farm.” “King Henry’s Madrigal” was a high point of this show for me. The baroque instrumental, attributed to Henry VIII, played to the strengths of the band, who pushed each other through it with incendiary solos. “Songs from the Wood” is a perennial favorite and though Anderson struggled a bit with his voice during this one, the audience never tires of hearing it. Anderson also showcased a couple of new tunes, including “Hare in the Wine Cup,” which he explained was written about a rabbit in his garden that, sadly, was eaten by his dog. If Anderson’s voice sometimes sounds frail these days, he makes up for it with songs like this. He’s always had a keen eye for observing the details of the natural world, from songs like “One Brown Mouse” to his most recent compositions.
The new songs, such as “Hare” and “A Change of Horses,” have a different feel and sound that are akin to Anderson’s recent solo albums. They are acoustic, so his voice can easily be heard among the music. He strains a bit to compete with Barre’s blistering guitar work on show highlights such as “Aqualung” and “Locomotive Breath,” which is a shame, since the band still sounds phenomenal. Barre may be one of the most underrated guitarists in the history of rock, and the fact that this band is not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame makes a travesty of the institution.
My one disappointment with this show was that the band got to “Aqualung” and the encore, “Locomotive Breath” after just eighty minutes or so. If I would have liked to hear more, it’s only because this show was so enjoyable.
Though I’ve heard “Aqualung” countless times, it is a song worth revisiting, and it is always a treat to hear it live. There are good reasons it’s been so popular for forty years, and Barre’s instantly recognizable guitar riff is just one of them. Here in New York, as in the rest of the country, the homeless population is growing as the economy continually gets worse. We all see people like Aqualung everywhere we go: “Aqualung, my friend/don’t you start away uneasy/You poor old sod/you see it’s only me.” The band’s musical achievement with this song can help a listener be awakened to our common humanity, which is no small feat.
Procol Harum opened this show with an excellent set. Leader Gary Brooker sounded and looked like an elder statesman of rock, treating fans to hits such as “Conquistador,” and a wonderfully haunting finale, their signature “Whiter Shade of Pale.” They also played a new song, the timely “Wall Street Blues.”