Ian Anderson performs the rock opera Jethro Tull @ Sage Gateshead 13th September 2015

Ian Anderson performs the rock opera Jethro Tull @ Sage Gateshead 13th September 2015
ian anderson tixThings come full circle. The touring band known as Jethro Tull seems to have been shelved, with Tull frontman and our manic flautist hero Ian Anderson touring under his own name, and Tull guitarist Martin Barre doing likewise. But Ian Anderson couldn’t keep away from the Tull moniker and concept for too long. So, as “a tribute to the original 18th Century agriculturalist” whose name the band borrowed back in February 1968, our hero has “imagined a scenario where the pioneering pursuit of improved crop-growing and farming methodology might apply to the world of today and tomorrow”. This led to the development of “Jethro Tull: the Rock Opera”, the delights of which Norm, Will and I experienced a few days ago at the Sage Gateshead. Anderson’s rock opera concept is this: take the story of the original farmer and inventor Jethro Tull and bring it up to date; tell that tale through the songs of Jethro Tull the band (and a few new ones written especially for the occasion), and create a theatrical stage show which takes the audience through the story. The show is very much just that; “a show” rather than a concert. The band provide the music, playing in front of a giant HD video screen. On the screen appear a cast of “virtual guests” who play the parts of Mr Tull and his family, narrate the story and sing segments of the songs. Anderson explains it thus: “Instead of spoken introductions to the songs in the show, there will be the use of that operatic device, the “recitative”, where the links are made by short sung vocal segments in a usually-simple musical backdrop”. So the songs are sung in part by Anderson live, and in part by virtual singers on the screen. The songs flow from one to the next with short video segments as bridges.
ian anderson progThe show started at 7.30pm prompt. Parking problems made us a little late, and we had to wait outside until first song “Heavy Horses” was finished (“a suitable break in the performance”). The first half was around one hour and there was a short interval before “the show” resumed. How did it work? Very well actually. The video was high quality and the sequencing between Anderson and band and the virtual singers was faultless. Anderson’s voice may not be quite as strong as it was “back in the day” so the use of video allowed him some vocal rest, and gave welcome variety to the performance. However, I must say that Ian’s flute playing remains as excellent as ever, and his stage presence and antics are undiminished. The virtual sets were as you might imagine; we were transported onscreen to Preston station for “Cheap Day Return” and deep into the forest for “Song from the Wood”. Great Tull fun. Special mention to Unnur Birna Bjornsdottir whose vocals were exquisite and made for great reworkings of Tull classics, particularly “The Witch’s Promise” and Florian Opahle, whose guitar playing was tremendous. A very different and highly enjoyable Tull evening. Great to see old friend Doug and other fellow Tullites.
What next Ian?
Part 1: Heavy Horses; Wind-Up; Aqualung; With You There to Help Me; Back to the Family; Farm on the Freeway; Prosperous Pasture; Fruits of Frankenfield; Songs From the Wood
Set 2: And the World Feeds Me; Living in the Past; Jack-in-the-Green; The Witch’s Promise; Weathercock; Stick, Twist, Bust; Cheap Day Return; A New Day Yesterday; The Turnstile Gate; Locomotive Breath
Encore: Requiem and Fugue
The Musicians: Ian Anderson (flute, vocals, guitar), Florian Opahle (guitar), John O’Hara (piano; Hammond organ), Greig Robinson (bass), Scott Hammond (drums, percussion).
The (virtual) Players: Ryan O’Donnell (the younger Jethro, and Jasper son of Jethro), Unnur Birna Bjornsdottir (Susannah, wife of Jethro), David Goodier (Jethros’ father), Ian Anderson (Narrator and the older Jethro), John O’Hara (scientist and choirmaster).

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3 responses to this post.

  1. A great review of a great show, as always. I was at the show and had the same thoughts of you. My review is here: http://dmeadows.co.uk/music/ia-2015.html

    Reply

  2. Sounds like a wonderful event. Here’s hoping those of us outside the UK get an opportunity to see it soon also. I really appreciate Ian Anderson’s creativity and continuing effort to do more than the “same old thing” — which I would nonetheless quite happily continue to pay to see any chance I get. What next indeed. Thanks for a great post.

    Reply

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