Ian Anderson @ Lincoln Theatre, Washington DC - Nov 6 2014.
It is always a pleasure to catch up with the latest tour from Jethro Tull icon Ian Anderson, as it is like welcoming an old musical friend who never fails to have some new tricks up his sleeve. Jethro Tull was about my 4th or 5th concert ever at Hara Arena in Dayton, Ohio from way back in my high school days. It was such a mob getting in that you could lift your feet and be carried into the arena hundreds of feet later. Some windows did not handle the stress quite as well as I recall. Tonight's crowd could have included some of those same youngsters that have stayed with Ian Anderson through the many different bands and style of music he has created under the widest of progressive labels.
Tonight he brings a tight veteran band consisting of drums, bass, guitar, and keyboards to join in with his flute and acoustic guitar. The biggest change over the years is a guest vocalist who works with him not only on harmonies but also on shared lead vocals, often with a tradeoff on individual lines within a song. It is quite evident that Anderson's 67 year old voice does struggle with the high notes and the famed flexibility that he worked into his music over the last 45 years. Once you get used to this presentation, it works well as Anderson still can nail the core parts and works to extract everything he can for his part. The harmonies work well on a few of the songs that were double tracked in studio and it allows Anderson to do some flute flourishes when Ryan O'Donnell handles the vocals.
The band is top notch as you would expect with David Goodier and John O'Hara from the Tull days on bass and keys respectively. Add the slightly younger Scott Hammond on drums and the 'kid' Florian Ophale on guitar and you not only have a great band, but the same band that worked on the latest album. And that works out great as they begin with seven songs from 'Homo Erraticus' all complete with some theatrical bits and well above average backing videos. I thought the material was excellent and it holds its own amongst the classic songs. But they added a cool version of 'Bouree' and a good block of 'Thick as a Brick' to end their first set.
In the second set, it was all Tull material with a clock and calendar projected behind the band to aide in the placement of these songs from the second album on, including some famed singles. This was a blast as not only were there some of the expected songs, but a cut like 'Sweet Dream' was a pleasant surprise. But the true shock was hearing a great 'With You There to Help Me' from 'Benefit', an album he virtually would not touch for many a decade, as he never felt he could give it on honest go due to some of the lyrical content and memories. He later joked that the critics may have been right when they said he stepped over the line with 'A Passion Play', but still wanted to do one of his favorites from that album, 'Critique Oblique' which certainly tends toward a challenging oblique progressive musical form.
I was thrilled that he covered his folk rock phase as well, as the diversity of the Tull material is half the fun. But there was 'Aqualung' to close and 'Locomotive Breath' as the encore, which the crowd always appreciates (and then some). Quite simply, it was terrific fun for me and I was pleased that my friend who doesn't hit the old rock circuit much anymore also had a great time. As long as Ian Anderson can get up on one leg and play those flute runs with a great band beside him, I'm there.
INTERVIEW with IAN ANDERSON of JETHRO TULL
What can you talk about with someone who has been releasing music for 45 years? I have read two books on Ian Anderson and his band Jethro Tull, seen a couple documentaries, and have listened to all of his music over most of those 45 years. I make no apologies in being a long-time fan as I believe Jethro Tull was about my 4th or 5th concert I ever attended back in my high school days in the mid 1970s. I have seen him in recent years and have very much enjoyed the concerts. I am certainly excited about the next one in DC at the Lincoln Theatre on Thursday, November 6th. See you there!
David Hintz: Let's get started with the new album, "Homo Erraticus", which might be one of my favorites among the many fine albums since "Roots to Branches" and beyond. But this one follows Thick as a Brick 2, which had brought back to life (fictional creation) Gerald Bostock. How did you decide to use Bostock in the writing of this album?
Ian Anderson: Only in as much as he is a writer's tool… he is a non de plume, an alter ego if you like who can express opinions that are not mine in a voice which is not mine, which allows me to get away from just telling you about me all the time which would become very very boring, very very quickly. So he is a useful tool and I think as a performer I have to perhaps behave a bit like an actor. I have to undertake character roles even though some of the things I may be saying are not my views. We assume sadly, in rock music, that when people say 'I' and 'me' or 'we' that they are talking about themselves. That surely does not apply to Quentin Tarantino when he writes a directs a movie and it didn't apply when Shakespeare wrote his works, it didn't apply with most of the great works of literature or even the lesser ones. So even Dan Brown who invents characters, or perhaps borrows them from somewhere else, I'm not sure… but whatever it is, you know in modern rock music we think it has to be heart on sleeve and for more than one reason I am not Alanis Morissette, I am someone who does not want to sing about me all the time or even very much of the time, since I think that is is a fairly small fraction of all the things I have ever written in which I am talking about my emotions. Most of those songs are from very early on in my career.
Yeah, and that makes sense. Most people start with 'coming of age' and contemporary themes when they are young. Now there are also quite a variety of musical styles on this album, even for you, which is generally par for the course. But I can also place some of the songs seemingly in different points in your career. For instance, the instrumental "Tripuduim ad Bellum" had some of that swinging London vibe that may have worked on your first album. Do you ever make connections with your back catalog as you work on these songs or is that more my job?
Well it is not so much a job, but I think it is there to the extent that it is there and is done fairly knowingly and carefully to do for the listener what for what Beethoven does to me if I listen to his symphonies and think, 'oh, wait a minute, I've kind of recognized that idea from somewhere else'. It's kind of nice when people go back and revisit some elements of their early work because they are like old friends dropping in for a cup of tea. So whether your favorite novelist will make references to earlier efforts, whether it is a character or subject material, it feels good as a recipient of that to be able to make those connections. And I think that the fans by and large would like to do that too, but by and large you have to be careful not to overdo it because at its worst, it could be self plagiarism. At its best, it is carefully calculated little snippets that help people join dots together. The one word that sums it up for me is continuity. I would like people including myself to be able to look at what I might be doing now or ten years ago and make some connections with something perhaps from 20 years ago or forty years ago--if that approach is judiciously applied.
Great. I also liked the Scottish roots I heard in 'Puer Ferox Adventus' with that chant vocal that reminded me some of Dick Gaughan among others.
Well, it's also more of that early music thing when before there was harmony as we know it in the modern Western tradition. It was basically melody and sometimes melody against a drone. So in essence that is the nature of Celtic music, whether it is in Scotland or whether it is the music that came to us in Central Asia from what is well, from the period of five to seven thousand years ago in what now that enchanted land of Iraq, where are boys in boots have fairly recently vacated. But that is the heartland of that music that found its way into the ethnic forms of India and indeed, northwestern Europe. The bagpipes, if you like, from Brittany, northern France, Scotland and Ireland and of course the drone music of the instruments that formed the tradition of Indian classical music… So again, there are those definite connections. When I am writing something, I think I draw upon a lot of influences musically that may suit one piece and not another.
The rest of that music definitely owes something to the traditions of church music that I grew up with in Scotland. So there are elements of that going on and in other places, element of things that are perhaps much more jazzy, elements of things that are perhaps are more classically styled and in cases like 'The Engineer' or 'The Turnpike Inn', you know, these are things that are drawing more upon the traditions of British folk music of two hundred years ago rather than one thousand years ago.
Before I close I want to thank-you personally as because of your music and bands like Horslips and a bit of Steeleye Span when they made it to the radio, was the music that got me back about 25 years ago to explore British folk deeply which I've gone to European folk, psychedelic folk, progressive folk, etc. So it's become my passion as I've tried to become more expert there. So thanks for opening this up to me with all the different ways you worked with folk music and rock music.
Oh, we try to keep it interesting and there's lots of elements of folk music in not only my part of the world, but elsewhere which is nice to draw upon. It is music of the people, you know music that is less formal and academic, speaking volumes to me both then and now. I cast my mind back to listening to Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, and J.B. Lenoir and a few other black American blues and folk-blues singers, acoustic blues performers were the people that got me into seriously thinking about making music myself. Surely this is folk music. We call it 'The Blues', but you know to me it is folk music, like when J.B. Lenoir is strumming his guitar and singing about Viet Nam and race riots in Alabama, that is absolutely as redolent as anything you might hear in English folk music about sexual tensions and issues that came up in historical times that are forever enshrined in traditional English folk music. Much of what I learned as a teenager from Black American blues very closely follows for me emotionally and in terms of subject material is very often quite close to the traditions of British folk music. I can't speak for other forms of folk music that I listen to since I don't speak their language. I don't speak Finnish, so as much as I love Varttina and other bands in Finland, I'm afraid I don't have the faintest Idea of what they are singing about.
It's the same thing when I listen to Indian music with some music I don't know what they are singing about, but it is the quality of the voice and the emotion and the melodic nature of it that is appealing. But whenever I encounter folk music sung in English in another part of the world, then I always think that there are a lot of parallels that can be drawn and obviously some that can't. And no one strangely… and we haven't heard about returning soldiers, male or female, returning from Iraq and the middle east, singing songs filled with the anguish and their own experiences. It is kind of weird that it seems to be like where people don't go. For me, had I been on a tour of duty in such a place, I would feel compelled to try and find a way to work in song. And if not in song, to write about it or make it something that was something that was other than a diary recounting of events--something where you could do something more artistic. But strangely I don't know, by and large maybe people don't have the skills or develop the skills or they just don't want to talk about it because it is too awful and too personal. I mean I meet some from time to time and am engaged in some aspects of consciousness raising for the returning troops for your country as well as mine, in fact more so in your country. Of course, I have met lots of wounded and blinded and damaged vets that have returned from Iraq and Iran during recent years. Their tales are very harrowing and I can understand that they don't maybe want to talk about it too conspicuously, but in a way that is what music and other arts are there for--to allow you to get that stuff out rather than internalize it and perhaps destroy what remains of your life. Sometimes when can engage someone in that conversation you do sense some catharsis, maybe going through the experience of talking to a complete stranger, especially if it is one you can't see, such as damage involving deafness and blindness… You know it is very sobering and humbling when you hear what people have to say.
But I still remain surprised that in the contemporary music world, we don't hear people using those experiences making them the folk music of today. Because surely tales of battle, of death and destruction, and pointlessness of it, they are the very much the subject of folk music of the past. But somehow it doesn't seem to have made it into the folk music of the present, but you might have a better clue than I do.
First published and full interview @ dcrocklive.blogspot.com.
(1) Ian Anderson,
(2) Rabey "A Passion Play" (unknown/from websites).