September 23, 2016
Lewis A. Swyer Theatre @ the Egg
Review by Dave Gardiner
Photos by Stan Johnson
I remember seeing Jethro Tull’s second album, Stand Up, in the stores as a young teenager, and thinking the cover art by woodcarver James Grashow was unique. It certainly made me curious about this group of characters called Jethro Tull. The first album that I heard by them was their third album Benefit. I bought it and collected the rest of their catalog through the years.
All of which made Jethro Tull guitarist Martin Barre's first visit to the Egg a special event. Barre is celebrating 50 years as a professional musician touring behind his 2015 solo album, Back To Steel. His band consists of Dan Crisp on guitar and he has a voice that can deliver the Tull material wonderfully. Bassist Alan Thomson and drummer George Lindsay keep the bottom end intact.
The concert opened with a nice instrumental titled "Hammer" from Back To Steel. This song was full of flashy guitar licks with a jazzy prog sound. I knew that we were in for some fun. Next up was "To Cry You A Song" from Benefit, and I was thrilled to hear some early Tull done in this solid rock format.
"Minstrel In The Gallery" sounded great, and I was impressed with Crisp's vocal ability and accomplished guitar work. Barre was spot-on with his playing and really amazing at nailing parts that to me seems quite difficult to do. All the years of dedication to his instrument have kept him on the great guitarists list as far as I’m concerned. I’m certain he could jam with any musician on the planet!
Between songs, I was entertained by his sense of humor. As the frontman, he has room to tell stories and jokes, and he expressed his goal for this group to be in the spirit of the British blues bands from the 60s. "Steal Your Heart Away" displayed that emotion. Written by Bobby Parker and recently covered by Barre’s friend, guitarist Joe Bonamassa, the band played soulfully and the audience really responded.
The title track from Back To Steel was played and was followed by the Beatles’ "Eleanor Rigby," which is featured on the new album. Introducing the song gave Barre a chance to amuse us with how proud England is of the Beatles and how other Brits are a "bunch of losers." This had the crowd in hysterics! I realized the guitarist is a man of many gifts and really enjoyed this arrangement with Crisp’s lead vocal and Lindsay laying down a solid beat.
They returned to the Tull catalog with "Nothing To Say," another one from Benefit. I was thrilled with that selection. Barre stated they would be playing some "rarities" that hadn't been performed live very often and carried on with "Sealion" from 1974's War Child LP. The heavy sound of the band reminded me of groups like Mountain, Cream and early Fleetwood Mac. Another Tull rarity played was the band’s first single from 1968, "Love Story." I recognized it from the 1972 compilation Living In The Past as an obscure selection for sure.
"Skating Away," which Barre rerecorded for Back To Steel, was a very different version than what I witnessed at a Tull show a few years back during the holidays. The first set closed with a 10- minute slice of "Thick As A Brick."
After a brief intermission, the band returned to the stage where they played a beautiful song with moments of intensity called "Blackest Eyes" by Porcupine Tree. I imagine they do this simply because all the Jethro Tull albums have been remastered and, in some cases, remixed by Steven Wilson, the mastermind behind Porcupine Tree (Stand Up - The Elevated Edition, featuring Wilson’s handwork, will be out just before Thanksgiving).
Barre asked if anyone owned a canoe, then gave very accurate directions to the Mississippi Delta from Albany. Then he paid tribute to Robert Johnson with "Crossroads." He played what I thought was a “lute” (Barre called it a “mandola”), which was much like a teardrop-shaped mandolin, while Thomson played a slightly larger bass version. Together, they pranced around the stage playing a jig while the audience clapped along. Thomson also showed skill on the slide guitar on "Without Me" from Back To Steel.
This show really had an old-school feel like concerts were back in the day. Newer songs like "Bad Man" and "Moment Of Madness" were embraced by all. I couldn't have been more pleased with the Tull selections. "Sweet Dreams," an early single recorded during the 1969 Stand Up sessions, was great, and so was "Living In The Past." Barre payed homage to original guitarist Mick Abrahams by doing "A Song For Jeffery" from 1968’s This Was. And the end of the concert was truly the soundtrack of my youth as they continued with the classic "Teacher" from Benefit, followed by "Fat Man" and the rugged blues tune "New Day Yesterday," both from Stand Up.
The band left the stage to a standing ovation and returned to deliver a fine rendition of "Locomotive Breath." Fans in attendance brought lots of Tull stuff and many picked up the new CD, which Barre and the band graciously signed. They all seemed to enjoy socializing with the fans. By all accounts, Martin Barre loves to play the guitar. His years of experience have put him in a class of a chosen few and in any style he chooses. The bottom line is that, even without Jethro Tull, he makes damn good music.