Jethro Tull at Strathmore, Living Unabashedly in the Past

Taking time the only way he knows: Ian Anderson on Monday night.
Taking time the only way he knows: Ian Anderson on Monday night. (By Mark Lovett)
Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Most material from the '70s heyday of progressive rock doesn't sound too progressive anymore. Listening to vintage prog nowadays, in fact, can be similar to watching a first-generation science fiction movie, one where the strings guiding the cardboard rocket ships toward the moon are plain to see.

Jethro Tull is among the bands whose currency expired some decades ago. But Ian Anderson, Tull's frontman and the one constant in its 40 years, feels no shame about his prog-rock past. At Strathmore on Monday, in fact, Anderson took some of the most bloated songs in rock history and bloated 'em up even more.

"Aqualung," for one, was delivered in an "orchestral arrangement," augmented by a string quartet and expanded to 10 minutes. Just in case fans forgot what piece they were hearing, Tull's longtime guitarist Martin Barre interrupted the symphonic sounds with some very familiar power chords as Anderson yelled the money line: "Snot running down his nose!"

The 60-year-old Anderson has suffered from an irony deficiency in recent area appearances. But on this night he looked back at the bombast he'd unleashed with an obvious giggle. He even introduced the song, his most famous, as "Stairway to Aqualung."

That good humor made even the most questionable choices in the two-set, two-hour-plus show easy to digest. Anderson let his flute and the string quartet take over for an instrumental medley of tunes from "Songs From the Wood" and "Heavy Horses," LPs released in the late 1970s near the end of Tull's run as an arena headliner.

Anderson dismissed the violinists and cellos when reprising the earliest, most bluesy Tull material, including "Nothing Is Easy" and "Living in the Past." And he minimized the classical influences and turned up the volume for a blissfully dirty version of "Locomotive Breath." As with old sci-fi movies, the performance was better when the strings were out of the picture.

-- Dave McKenna

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