Martin Barre, who for more than four decades was the guitarist of legendary rock band Jethro Tull, is celebrating the band’s fiftieth anniversary this year with a greatest hits show that delves into the band’s deep, wonderful catalog. Fans will not want to miss this tour: Barre has brought along Clive Bunker, a founding member and drummer until the Aqualung album, and longtime arranger and keyboardist Dee Palmer, who helped create much of the band’s signature 1970s material. The band is rounded out by drummer Darby Todd, bassist Alan Thompson, and singer/guitarist Dan Crisp. The show I saw at the Iridium in New York on April 25 featured reworked versions of songs spanning much of the band’s career, and was in every way worthy of Tull’s long history.
Lead singer Dan Crisp, while a fine vocalist in his own right, does a good Ian Anderson impression on much of the Tull catalog. Barre was content to stand at the side of the stage, where he made all his famous riffs look easy, though he often took center stage to showcase his soulful guitar work. He seemed to be having great fun with his bandmates and the audience, making funny and playful comments between songs, and pointing out enthusiastic fans in the tiny club. It was a rare treat to see a guitar hero of Barre’s stature up close, since for much of Tull’s existence, fans saw the band in vast concert halls or stadiums.
Barre’s playing has only improved with time. He has stripped down a lot of the prog grandiosity that was remarkable about Tull, but replaced it with more of the heavy rock that was equally critical to Tull’s sound. The first set was an energetic romp through the band’s first five or so albums that allowed Barre to shine. The crowd, of course, was in a state of overawed glee through much of this show. Fans near me were talking about how they hadn’t heard certain songs played live in years, such as “For a Thousand Mothers”, from 1969’s Stand Up album, or “WarChild”, from the 1974 album of the same name. Barre played gems like this all through the two hour set, sans flute, to showcase his strengths as one of the most underrated guitarists in rock history.
Barre is generous in giving credit to his bandmates; the set also featured several acoustic songs, like “One White Duck”, “Won’dring Aloud”, and “Someday the Sun Won’t Shine for You”, showcasing his backing singers, Becca Langsford and Ali Hart. It was neat to see “Locomotive Breath” this way, with Barre playing mandolin. In the second set, Barre continued his journey through the band’s history, winding up with some heavy rockers from the 80s, including an incendiary “Jump Start”, and closed the show with a second version of “Locomotive Breath” that was much closer to the classic, thundering song we’ve come to love.
I must add that when I heard “Thick as a Brick”, “Cross-Eyed Mary”, “Life’s a Long Song”, and some other songs, I found myself waiting for the flute. That didn’t detract from this wonderful concert at all, but it’s hard not to associate Ian Anderson with this band. Ian and Martin split in 2011, and it’s a shame. Barre is playing an eclectic set of crowd pleasing Tull gems, alongside two other longtime Tull members. Anderson wrote the songs, and was of course the front man, but Barre’s band has a strong claim to the Tull legacy. It would be a Tull fan’s dream to see Ian Anderson join with his old bandmates, with whom he composed and performed so much great music. Such a reunion is unlikely, but then again the odds were pretty long that four young kids from Blackpool would create a band that, fifty years later, would be considered one of the icons of rock history.