Jethro Tull The Rock Opera
Performed By Ian Anderson
October 15, 2015
Review by Shawn Perry
Photos by Kimberly Annette
As if the line between Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull wasn’t blurry enough, now there’s Jethro Tull The Rock Opera performed by Ian Anderson! Just as he did with Thick As A Brick 2 and Homo Erraticus, the singer, songwriter, harmonicist and flutist (or flautist if you’re British) continues to tread conceptual waters. For Jethro Tull The Rock Opera, he’s created a loose story around Jethro Tull, the 18th century agriculturalist, famous for inventing the seed drill and horse-drawn hoe. Of course, his name reached new heights when it became the moniker for a band.
Instead of a whole new record, Jethro Tull songs, many out of rotation for decades, were reshaped and rearranged to fit a live presentation about Jethro Tull, now a modern-day agriculturalist sowing his seeds in the industrialized world of farming. Newer tracks and quirky little musical patches here and there were added to the bridge gaps and provide continuity. And what better place to watch it all unfold than at the Art Deco landmark of theater in Hollywood than the Pantages Theatre.
Seasoned Tull fans tracking Anderson’s solo activities of the last few years are aware he’s been singing less, yet prancing about and playing flute more. For previous tours, Ryan O’Donnell came up to pantomime, sing verses, and engage in antics. This time, an HD video screen served as the palette for "virtual" guests that included O’Donnell as the young Jethro Tull, Unnur Birna Björnsdóttir as his wife, and even keyboardist John O’Hara, bassist Dave Goodier and Anderson himself playing parts, all singing verses from Tull classics like "Heavy Horses," "Wind-Up," "Farm On The Freeway," "Living In The Past," "Cheap Day Return" and "A New Day Yesterday."
On stage, Anderson, O’Hara, Goodier, guitarist Florian Opahle and drummer Scott Hammond kept the music tight and enticing. Newer songs like "Fruits of Frankenfield," "The Turnstile Gate," and "Stick, Twist, Bust" were worked in, and actually helped to build suspense for the next Jethro Tull song. Throughout the night, Anderson sang various verses live, but tended to his flute a little more. It made for a great two sets of interactive jamming.
Taken as a whole, Jethro Tull The Rock Opera is a clever way to put a new spin on the Jethro Tull catalog. Where do you go from here? Anderson will likely write new pieces and continue to celebrate his illustrious past, hopefully with a twist. Tonight, even "Aqualung" and "Locomotive Breath" were cast in a new light. And as they have done for almost 50 years, the audience, especially those old-school Jethro Tull fans, savored every note.