For an artist contemplating a live show one of the most significant challenges is how to open it. Inviting a support act to open up is often seen by the die-hards as an open invitation to spend another half hour in the bar. Opening up with your new concept album with which very few of your audience will be familiar is a very high risk strategy, particularly if it starts off with dodgy amateur theatrics but this is the route that Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull, as he likes to be styled these days, chose to adopt at the G-Live in Guildford the other day.
Homo Erraticus, for that is the name of the concept album, is based on the unpublished manuscript written whilst under the influence of malarial delirium by an amateur historian, one Ernest T Parritt. It examines key events in British history – a sort of poor man’s London Olympics opener – through the eyes of a nomadic Neolithic settler, an Iron Age blacksmith, a Christian monk, a turnpike innkeeper and Victoria’s consort, Prince Albert, and is laced with prophecies about the current day and the future.
Actually, it is not as bad as it sounds and the music is the usual blend of prog rock, folk and heavy metal laced with quirky lyrics, beautiful flute parts, electric organ and guitar on top of a solid rhythm courtesy of bass and drums. As the first half wore on it kind of made sense and there were some memorable tunes. The maestro shares vocal duties these days with Ryan O’Donnell and he managed a few arthritic trade mark solos on one leg.
The second half saw the band on surer ground and the difference in the crowd reaction to an hour of old faves ranging from Living In the Past to Aqualung and Locomotive Breath as an encore was astonisihing. The version of Aqualung was probably the best version I have heard live and the band were really firing on all cylinders by then. Even Anderson had loosened his joints and was hopping around on one leg like a good ‘un.
For a man who has made a living from pushing out the boundaries, the mix of new and old was no less than we would expect from Anderson – it was disconcerting to see footage of the old Tull and Anderson in his pomp, thin, hirsute, bug-eyed, projected behind the band while you had a stocky balding 66-year-old performing in front of you – but it made for an unsettling evening. I couldn’t help reflecting that whilst erraticus in the title of the album means wandering, many fans might have wondered whether it was really a mistake.
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