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Concert Reviews:
Ian Anderson tells Tull tale at the Fox Theatre

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Tuesday, November 3, 2015

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DETROIT -- There were two distinct but satisfying ways to take in "Jethro Tull: The Rock Opera," which Tull founder and frontman Ian Anderson brought to town Tuesday night, Nov. 3, at the Fox Theatre.

One was to accept it at its highly conceptual face value, as a multi-media biography of the real Jethro Tull, a British agriculturist and inventor, but uploaded into a new context of contemporary issues such as global warming, food production and population control.

The other was to simply enjoy it as a characteristically exceptional Tull concert and whose concept meant some choice rarities and lesser-known material -- as well as some solid new songs -- made their way into the two-hour (plus intermission) show.

The former was filled with technological dazzle, living up to the theatrical leanings of Tull's 70s heyday and arguably the most ambition show Anderson has ever staged. The affair was tightly synchronized with an elaborate video production that featured an array of vignettes and virtual duets, primarily with actor Ryan O'Donnell as the young Tull and Icelandic singer-fiddler Unnur Birna Bjornsdottir -- although during "Living In The Past" Anderson played his flute and sang along with the significantly hairier early 70s version of himself on the screen.

The set list was also tailored to the story, drawing from the "rural" side of the Tull canon, including "Heavy Horses," "Farm on the Freeway," "Songs From the Wood" and "Jack-in-the-Green" -- some with lyrics altered to fit the plot -- as well as short connecting pieces between songs. There were five new tracks, too, of which "And the World Feeds Me," "The Turnstile Gate" and the rocking "Stick, Twist, Bust" stood well along side the more familiar material.

It's hard to say whether those at the Fox on Tuesday gleaned a great deal if insight into the real Tull's history and philosophies -- and a bottom-heavy sound mix that obscured many lyrics certainly did not help. Stilted and occasionally preachy? Yes. But entertaining and original? Absolutely.

And if you didn't want to buy into the Tull tale, there was still the music itself, a deep-digging set deftly delivered by Anderson and his four cohorts. There were enough established favorites such as "Aqualung" and a lengthy romp through "Locomotive Breath," but the real treat for Tull fans was hearing fare such as "Wind-Up," "With You There To Help Me," "Back to the Family," "The Witch's Promise," "Weathercock," "Cheap Day Return" and "A New Day Yesterday" -- material that doesn't make the cut in more conventional shows. The group played a bit of the instrumental "Bourree" during the encore of "Requiem and Fugue," and Anderson offered a bit of his one-legged flute playing during "Living in the Past" and "Locomotive Breath."

In that regard the concert may have worked somewhat better than the concept, but either purpose was well-served on Tuesday night. Any way you took it, "Jethro Tull: The Rock Opera" was a story well worth hearing.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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