The latest Ian Anderson’s tour ‘The Prog Years’ is built on the very early Jethro Tull’s releases, as a journey starting in 1968 and leading all the way up to 2022 including songs from Jethro Tull’s first album since 2003, The Zealot Gene.
Before the show, an announcement requested the audience to take photos and films only during the encore, a limitation aiming at allowing the musicians to focus on performing the demanding and sophisticated arrangements of the songs at their highest technical virtuosity. Anderson was accompanied by David Goodier on bass, John O’Hara on keyboards, guitarist Joe Parrish-James and Scott Hammond on drums. The show was enhanced by full scale video projections, starting with the display of a simple and clear definition of prog rock as ‘a style of rock music popular especially in the 1970s and characterised by classical influences, the use of keyboard instruments, and lengthy compositions’. This was followed by a short mix of bands like Yes, Rush, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Aquarium, Pink Floyd, Mike Oldfield, Van der Graaf Generator, Marillion, King Crimson, The Moody Blues and of course Jethro Tull.
Over the course of two sets, Ian Anderson introduced most of the songs. The whole show lasted just over two hours, including an short intermission.
The musicians made a lively stage appearance with ‘For a Thousand Mothers’, from Jethro Tull’s second album Stand Up released in 1969, the same album that features ‘Bourrée in E minor’, the famous 1968 rearrangement of the Johann Sebastian Bach’ piece, also played live during the evening.
Stand Up was a particularly important album for Jethro Tull, because it changed the band’s DNA from blues to prog rock, once the original guitar player left the group and Ian Anderson took charge of the artistic direction. The only two songs with progressive rock elements from their first album This Was, released in 1968, were ‘Love Story’, one of the first progressive rock song ever written, and ‘Dharma for One’, both performed in Cirque Royal. ‘Dharma for One’ was written for Jethro Tull’s first drummer Clive Bunker. A series of old movies of past Jethro Tull drummers were running on screen while the band performed the song, including Scott Hammond who also offered a live solo.
‘Living in the Past’ was, in Anderson’s own words, a ‘progressive pop song’ because it was a hit single in 1969, but Anderson promised and delivered a more progressive version, enhanced by the guitar of Joe Parrish-James and the drumming of Scott Hammond. At that moment, it became more difficult to refrain from taking any pictures, seeing the famous Anderson’s pose, balanced on one leg playing his gorgeous flute.
The band made then a short stop in 1982, with Anderson’s favourite song from the album The Broadsword and the Beast, ‘Clasp’, a song dedicated to the politicians’ insincere handshakes, accompanied by images of Trump, Merkel, Obama shaking hands with Putin.
Religion, politics and war continued to be Jethro Tull’s essential themes on their new album: ‘Mine Is the Mountain’ is a song about a vengeful God who eventually gets pissed off with those who pray to him only in order to ask for something, ‘The Zealot Gene’ hints at the obsessions of politicians with social media and the reign of like, share, subscribe, and ‘Mrs Tibbets’ is no other than Enola Gay Tibbets, the mother of the aircraft captain who dropped the first atomic bomb in the history of mankind.
The second set took the journey through the ‘70s, with eponymous songs from the albums ‘Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll, Too Young to Die’, ‘Songs From the Wood’ and the iconic ‘Aqualung’.
The piece that probably captured the quintessence of the entire concert was ‘Pavane in F-Sharp Minor’. A reinterpretation of a classical music piece from the French composer Gabriel Fauré. We were warned that the arrangement would not only be different than the original but also than the previous two Jethro Tull recordings. And indeed, ‘Pavane’ showed once more that Jethro Tull functions like a well-rehearsed orchestra, where everyone plays their role flawlessly and at the exact right time.
For the encore (frantically filmed and photographed), the band retained a fully-fueled progressive rock ‘Locomotive Breath’ before ending with a version of ‘The Dambusters March’, to which the audience responded with a well-deserved standing ovation.
At 75, Ian Anderson might not have the same jester-like appearance but his flute mastery is his never-ending superpower.