November 28, 2007
New Jersey Performing Arts Center
by Ralph Greco, Jr.
Joking that his and guitarist Martin Barre’s combined ages add up to 121 years, Ian Anderson led the latest incarnation of Jethro Tull through two hours of music at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center on a blistery Wednesday night. I hadn’t been to a Tull concert in about five years, although I‘d seen the band many times since 1978. This latest incarnation, which includes long-standing drummer Doane Perry along with interim members John O’Hara on keys and David Goodier on bass, is a nice, tight unit behind Anderson and Barre. This isn’t the mightiest version of Tull (back in the late 70s, the band sported two keyboardists) and this wasn’t their most energetic show (like Anderson said, these guys are getting up in years), but the mostly acoustical performance nonetheless featured some great old songs and a few very welcomed surprises.
The first song of the night set the stage (so to speak) for what would follow. Anderson and Barre slipped into a smooth “Someday The Sun Won't Shine For You” from This Was, the first Tull album. Then they ran through songs from Stand Up, Benefit (including “Sossity You’re A Woman,” which I had never heard performed live), even “title,” an Anderson’s solo number (if there is such a thing) . Later, they were joined by the all-female Calliandra String Quartet, adding a slice of musical purity to instrumental versions of “Heavy Horses” and “Songs From The Wood.” A lot of great playing ensued, with O’Hara occasionally breaking out an accordion, Barre providing about the best guitar work one could ever wish to see and hear, and Anderson blowing his flute, standing on one leg or strumming his trusty mandolin. It was a mellow first set, ending with “Nothing Is Easy.”
After a 20-minute break, the group returned with gems like “Bouree,” a heavy Nice-like version of Leonard Bernstein’s “America,” and, naturally, “Aqualung.” These three were accompanied by the string quartet and for the first time in a long time, I wasn’t completely floored by “Aqualung.” This was a quieter version with the string embellishments as prominent as the band themselves. I absolutely loved this reworking of this Tull classic, more, in fact, than any version I’ve heard since 1978. Don’t get me wrong, I adore “Aqualung” (Barre plays one of my all-time favorite guitar solos on the recorded version), but what a beautiful surprise on a song Anderson claims he will never not play. This made my night.
There was a stab at “Thick as Brick,” but with Anderson’s voice the way it is these days, it really was a futile gesture. The Tull front man can’t reach those higher registers, which justifies the band sticking closer to the instrumentals these days. Still, hearing “Fat Man” and “My God,” even with Anderson’s voice as rough as it is, was a real treat. The encore was what I expected — a chugging “Locomotive Breathe,” which they could have reworked as well as far as I’m concerned. But after two hours of classic Tull, I guess I should just be happy they got through it intact.
One last point I think needs to be made: Martin Barre is a great guitar player. I once had the privilege of meeting him and he is one of the nicest guys I had ever met. On stage and off, he is the competent, if humbler foil to Anderson’s showmanship -- the ultimate musician’s musician. This night at the New Jersey PAC, Barre stepped out into the spotlight less than at previous shows I have seen. But his playing is as brilliant as ever. Hats off to Martin Barre and the rest of Jethro Tull for another great concert.