December 19, 2015
Rockhall Music Hall
New York City, NY
Review by Ralph Greco, Jr.
Photos by Anne Leighton & Ralph Greco, Jr.
If you are a fan of Jethro Tull or even take a passing notice of classic rock, it would be impossible not to recognize the genius of longstanding Jethro Tull guitarist Martin Barre. Seeing Mr. Barre in Tull back in the day was one thing; seeing Martin Barre command a small club stage fronting his solo band is another thing entirely.
As most of us in America, Barre has only been seen playing the blistering flicking fingers foil to Ian Anderson. Supporting his 2015 Back To Steel elease, he did a small tour of the U.S., and one of the shows came to New York City.
At the Rockhall, Barre assured us that we were in for a different set than the one he had performed earlier and, he did indeed seem to be calling audibles to his three players — singer and guitarist Dan Crisp, George Lindsay on drums and Alan Thomson on five-string bass and backing vocals — as he rolled through songs from Back To Steel, Tull tunes and a whole bunch of rockin’ blues.
Yes, there was never any denying how bluesy a player Barre is (he mentioned at one point that Tull certainly began as blues rock band), but this night he let his blues roots hang out covering "Smokestack Lightning" like a reincarnated Howlin’ Wolf. There was also his turn-it-on-its-head cover of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” eel) and mandolin-led take on the true blues standard “Crossroads.” Only Barre would play lead mandolin on a blues song!
The rockin’ title track from Back To Steel showcased bassist Thomson’s pumping fret work. Tull covers like “Sweet Dreams” got heavy metal in parts or light with Barre and Crisp trading flickering runs. There was a stomping “Teacher” with Lindsay truly smacking the beat along, a reimagined “Skating Away” and a fast “Locomotive Breath” brought out for the encore.
The very best part of the night was Barre taking both lead guitar duties as well doubling all those flute parts in his eight-minute snippet of “Thick As A Brick.” What made it all the more special was that this was a section of the album I have never seen Tull perform live before.
Truly Martin Barre was on fire and more than willing to show off his superb feel. Like Steve Morse and Mark Knopfler, he is precise as he is dexterous. It was reassuring to see him, after being out of the Jethro Tull spotlight, grinning ear-to-ear, thrilled to be fronting such a tight band and playing for such a rabid crowd.