On a beautiful balmy evening in Santa Barbara, Ian Andersen brought his new multimedia musical project to the elegant Arlington Theater. Not to be confused with the hard rock band formed in 1968, one of the first to combine jazz, blues and classic music, this presentation featured Andersen’s latest touring band playing a performance piece based on the life of the real 17th century Jethro Tull. Andersen wrote five new songs and combined them with songs from the immense Jethro Tull catalog for the Wednesday night October 19 concert.
The evening began with concert goers arriving early to take advantage of the historic theater’s 4 new full service bars. Many lounged on the expansive outdoor patio, with balmy Santa Ana winds heating the October night, making it feel more like Palm Springs than the usually temperate coastal Santa Barbara. Inside a nearly full house patrons began to take their seats in the cavernous theater built to resemble a Spanish courtyard. Artificial stars twinkled on the ceiling as the first act of the two act performance began with a video presentation.
The 19 song performance was envisioned as biographical interpretation based loosely on the life of the 17th-century inventor Jethro Tull, from which Anderson’s original band derived its name. Tull was an English agricultural pioneer from Berkshire, England, who was a principal player in the British Agricultural Revolution. He invented a horse-drawn seed drill in 1701 that economically sowed the seeds in neat rows, paving the way for commercial farming techniques. The band Jethro Tull was formed in the very same town, Berkshire, way back in 1967
Andersen wrote five new songs for the production including, Prosperous Pasture, Fruits of Frankenfield, And The World Feeds Me, Stick Twist Bust, and The Turnstile Gate. These songs were combined with 14 classic Jethro Tull songs that more or less fit the story line. Unlike in recent tours with his new band, this show featured a large video screen with several singers performing an interactive concert with the band. The group appeared about five minutes into the show, playing more or less in synch with the singers on the screen. The formidable band features Scott Hammond on drums, Florian Opahle playing a mean electric guitar, David Goodier playing an impressive but overpowering bass, and John O’Hare on keyboards. Shortly afterwards the Svengali of pied pipers, Ian Andersen himself triumphantly took the stage. In the late 70’s the wild-haired flute and guitar playing madmen was one of the most famous English pop stars in the world. It was apparent form the onset that many in the adulate crowd remembered those glory days in vivid detail.
The playful singer still moves about like the young wild eyed performer of his youth and his musical performance remains magical, but it was apparent to all in the audience that the 69-year-old singer was struggling to perform his vocals. The ambitious performance was a good idea in theory but suffered from muddled vocals hard to decipher, as the sound engineer struggled to get the right mix between the live music and the recorded vocals. It wasn’t until near the end of the second act when most of the on screen vocals had finished, that the band was turned up to true rock show levels. The performance nevertheless was a fascinating one, with Andersen reaching back to the band’s earliest blues-drenched classics, like A New Day Yesterday from the classic blues drenched 1969 Jethro Tull album Stand Up. Many music critics have compared that iconic rock song to early Black Sabbath. In fact, guitarist Tony Iommi had a brief stint in the band at about the same time before returning to his band Earth, later to become Black Sabbath. That song and many others on the set list actually predated the bands more well-known material like Aqualung. But the signature song from that album along with Locomotive Breath and Living In The Past were actually the only songs to get to the stoic crowd to their feet.
All in all the evening was a fascinating performance of nearly forty years of the music of Jethro Tull, all be it a rather sedate one.