I first saw Jethro Tull in Edinburgh in 1992 and I’ve been fan ever since, over the years I’ve seen the band live on many occasions. Performing under his own name as a solo artist, flautist and former lead singer of the band, Ian Anderson is currently into his second year touring his tribute act, “50 Years of Jethro Tull”. It was a happy coincidence that the Dutch leg of the tour coincided with my own plans to be in the country at the same time.
Anyone who’s seen a Jethro Tull concert knows what a consummate professional Ian Anderson is and tonight is no exception. Comfortably seated in the sumptuous surroundings of the Stadsschouwburg & Philharmonic Haarlem theatre the show begins, and as expected, it’s trip through a well-rehearsed crowd-pleasing back catalogue of fan favourites. Anderson is wise enough not to tour these shows under the Jethro Tull name. The band ceased to exist in 2012 when he decided to launch the ‘Thick as Brick 2’ record as a solo project, and he knows he’s way beyond re-creating any of the fire that the band once had, especially without Martin Barre’s integral guitar work.
The playlist before the concert comprised of some of Jethro Tull’s best and well-known songs. A bit brave in this reviewers opinion as few to none featured in the setlist and Anderson’s vocals certainly don’t match up to their previous efforts.
The setlist is flawless. ‘For a Thousand Mothers’, ‘My Sunday Feeling’, ‘Thick as a Brick’ and ‘Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll, Too Young to Die’ receive rapturous applause from the Dutch fans. Anderson’s band is tight and thunder though the classic Tull material as if they’ve been playing for the last fifty years. While not as active as he once was, Anderson still manages to strike the one-legged pose he made famous throughout his career, and for a man in his early seventies, he still manages to pull a few shapes as he bedazzles the gathered fans with his famous flute skills.
Throughout the performance, various star fans of Jethro Tull appear on the big screen backdrop to relay their love of the band, Tony Iommi, Steve Harris, and Slash all pop up showing just how much Tull’s music crossed genres. Former members get their turn too. John Evans, Mick Abrahams, and Jeffrey Hammond pop up, yet long-serving members Dave Pegg and Martin Barre were conspicuously absent from the roll call of former members.
Florian Opahle is a great guitar player, but hearing him play songs made famous by Martin Barre’s guitar work just doesn’t work. There’s nothing wrong with his playing, it just lacks the deft touch and subtlety of Barre’s style.
Anderson has suffered from vocal problems since the late 1980s and over the years his vocal abilities have gradually deteriorated. Tonight is no exception, and at times while it’s difficult to watch him struggle to hit some notes, he works around most of the issues by re-arranging songs to include more instrumental parts or by letting bass player David Goodier and keyboard player John O’Hara pick up some parts. ‘Aqualung’ and ‘Heavy Horses’ both make good use of the big screen virtual vocalists with the latter featuring a pre-recorded vocal by Icelandic musician Unnur Brina.
‘Farm on the Freeway’ brings the setlist into the late 80s before heady versions of ‘Aqualung’ and ‘Locomotive Breath’ take it back to 1970 to round off an enjoyable tribute act full of nostalgic music celebrating one of the most beloved and eccentric bands of all time.