Jethro Tull (April 2002)

Date of Performance: April 23, 2002
Venue: Academy Of Music, Philadelphia, PA, US

Jethro Tull In Philadelphia

Jethro TullTwo white curtains, drawn back on either side of the stage; two large, beige circles echoing the shape of Doane Perry's bass drum, as a back-drop; and a black, triangular banner adorned with "JT," stared a patiently waiting audience in the collective face on April 23, the opening night of Jethro Tull's 2002 American tour. Choosing Philadelphia for their maiden gig, the historical, majestic Academy of Music "the former home of the Philadelphia Orchestra" provided a most suitable environment for Tull's combination of roaring rock'n'roll, British-isle-inflected folk, and classical/blues/jazz fusions.

After a short delay due to lighting snafus, the band came out with a crescendo of sound, atop which floated Ian Anderson's flute. Ian came onstage, and they launched into what he later called a "radical" version of "Living In The Past." The tense, jazzy arrangement seemed set in a lower key than usual, to accommodate the most noticeable change in the current Tull sound: the relative weakness of Anderson's voice. Audible signs of throat wear have dotted previous Tull tours, but, on this night, Anderson's higher registers seemed almost non-existent. That didn't stop him from reaching for them, though, and his enthusiasm for performing was undimmed, his flute playing as strong as ever. "Cross-Eyed Mary" was greeted rapturously by the audience, its sinister mood complemented by the next tune, the title track from the 1995 Roots To Branches album. Songs From The Wood is perhaps this writer's favorite Tull disc, so the presence of "Jack In The Green" in the set-list was most welcome, its rich, almost mysterious melodies performed with appropriate aplomb.

Anderson then proceeded to talk about how Tull is often perceived as a Progressive Rock band (right away I imagined the anxious headlines in the prog press: "IAN ANDERSON SAYS JETHRO TULL IS NOT PROGRESSIVE!"), ascribing the view to "those days during the 1970's when we used to do "CONCEPT ALBUMS!," referring to Thick As A Brick and A Passion Play (whose mention brought gratifying applause, as this is one of the most under-rated works in the Tull canon). Switching to a small acoustic guitar, Anderson commenced the opening chords of the familiar "Brick" encapsulation, which runs through the principal parts of the much-loved masterpiece in some 10 or so minutes. "Hunt By Numbers," the only piece chosen from the most recent studio album, J-Tull Dot Com (an excellent disc that sounds even better over time), preceded the show's relative low point, "Elegy." Written, as Anderson explained, by David Palmer, Anderson had recently played the instrumental at Palmer's daughter's wedding. Stately and hymn-like, it's a pretty piece, but, with Andrew Giddings providing uncomfortably mushy keyboard chords, it came off as little more than generic wedding music.

Next up was a favorite from the old days, "Song For Jeffrey," followed by "The Water Carrier," from Ian's last solo album, The Secret Language Of Birds. With Martin Barre moving to electric bouzouki (which sounded great), Perry on bongos, Giddings on accordion, and bassist Jonathan Noyce on darbuka, Anderson introduced the tune with his hilarious theory about bottled water, positing that trendy water-sellers re-fuel their supplies from questionable sources, packaging them to look attractive - upon which the unsuspecting Doane Perry, who buys the product, then lends a few bottles to Anderson, who promptly "gets the shits for two days." As the band performed the song, an exotically-garbed woman emerged from the wings, carrying several bottles of said water, which she offered to each band member in turn "all of whom turned her down!"

The title track from Secret Language was next, followed by the set's second piece from Aqualung, the lovely "Wond'ring Aloud," intimately performed by Anderson on acoustic guitar. Anderson, Perry, and Noyce then left the stage, leaving Barre and Giddings to jam at length on the mighty instrumental section of "Pibroch (Cap In Hand)," from Songs From The Wood. Barre's ferocious, bluesy runs were reminiscent of David Gilmour, and the two men obviously enjoyed the opportunity to show off their wares. The full band returned for "Budapest," from the Grammy-winning Crest Of A Knave, followed by the short instrumental, "New Jig." Barre then sliced out the famous six-note opening of "Aqualung," bringing the audience to it feet. Tull, linking arms and bowing as one, said goodnight after this rousing performance, but the Philadelphia crowd wouldn't hear of it, and they soon came back for "Locomotive Breath." More extra-musical chicanery accompanied this tune, as two men, dressed in white lab coats and sporting construction hats with attached searchlights, silently examined the group's instruments, then the crowd, shooting their beams over people's faces.

Suddenly, two huge, white balloons, with the classic Anderson pose from the cover of Living In The Past silhouetted in blue in the center of each, were released from stage right. The two white-coated men bounced the balloons into the audience, and the orbs toured the ornate Academy of Music, coming down for the occasional boost from audience members (including this writer, who can attest that they were indeed heavy horses!) The band finished to thunderous applause, with Anderson promising that they would see us "next time," while one of the balloons, perhaps colliding with the Academy's magnificent chandelier, popped with a loud bang. Great show - hope there is a next time!

Added: May 25th 2002
Reviewer: Larry Nai

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