It’s Jethro Tull, but not as we have known them. ‘The Rock Opera’ continued the format of previous outings with a large screen and a theme. A few things have grated in recent years, not least the use of Ryan O’Donnell as a foil to assist Ian Anderson’s failing vocals. This time O’Donnell was confined to the big screen, larger than life and perhaps more acceptable in this context. His virtual singing partner Unnur Birna Björnsdóttir was, though, the more engaging.
This whole performance really needed audience buy-in from the outset: die-hard fans would need to make a little adjustment to accept that, essentially, Anderson was going to be singing with celluloid. The band – with newcomer Greig Robinson on bass and Scott Hammond on drums – were little more than orchestra pit stooges and longer-term collaborator John O’Hara (keys) certainly more animated on film.
It was left to Florian Ophale to act as Anderson’s sparring partner and whilst he acquitted himself very well, die-hards (including this writer) will forever bemoan the absence of Martin ‘Lancelot’ Barre.
Stripped down to just the core stage band, and with no new album to promote, Anderson looked back to the historical figure of Jethro Tull (the agriculturalist) to inspire, fashion and develop his theme which – updated – included genetic modification as a means to maintain world crop production.
It was clearly evident that a lot of thought had gone into the storyline and sequencing although the precision timing/synchronisation meant that there was no scope for spontaneity. And this must have been my first ever Tull gig when Ian Anderson was strangely muted – no between-song banter – and maybe a more intense musical experience as a result even if a little less entertaining.
The surprise of this show was the inclusion of four unrecorded pieces, brave even by Classic Tull standards, and no doubt polarising the less committed fan who merely wanted to hear the familiar. But the new song ‘Stick, Twist, Bust’ was actually rather good.
The choice of complementary songs for the themed approach did mean rare showings for the likes of ‘Back To The Family’ (from Stand Up) and ‘Weathercock’ (Heavy Horses) mixed with the mainstays such as ‘Aqualung’ and ‘Living In The Past’. And the seemingly effortless, mellifluous, interplay between Orphale and Anderson was well displayed on ‘Weathercock’ and ‘Farm On The Freeway’.
Setting aside historical precedent and preconceptions, ‘Jethro Tull – The Rock Opera’ was a triumph, both technically and musically. The show further underlined and bolstered the frontman’s legacy and still with an appetite to stage something different which, in its own way, was as equally engaging and absorbing as outings of old.
(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/ (Part 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/
Review by David Randall
Photos by Darran Scott
David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.
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