I haven't seen Jethro Tull in concert in something like thirty years.
But back in the day, there was a point in time where I was a considerable fan. At one point, as the lead singer in the rock band I fronted in my pre-high school years, I even took up the flute. Which drew a more or less collective "WTF" sort of reaction from my young bandmates at the time.
Eventually I lost interest in Jethro Tull, right after they hit it really big with the Aqualung album. It was somewhere right after this time, that Tull subsequently abandoned putting individual songs on their albums altogether, in favor of album-long concept pieces like Thick As A Brick and A Passion Play. These were albums that required considerable devotion and patience just to get through. As a then sixteen year old fan, I guess I just didn't have the attention span.
Years later, I was of course reminded who Jethro Tull were when they somewhat infamously won a Grammy for best heavy metal band over the likes of Metallica. Prior to that however, what I do remember was that I used to go to lots of Tull's concerts back in the seventies.
What I recall most about those shows back in Tull's seventies heyday, besides the great opening acts Tull always seemed to have — Yes, The Eagles, and Robin Trower were among those I saw open up for them — was the wild abandon that characterized the band's live performances. This was particularly true of frontman Ian Anderson — the wild eyed, flute playing vocalist many used to actually refer to as "Jethro Tull" himself.
Anderson at the time had one of the coolest personas in all of rock music. In those concerts, Anderson would run amok about the stage like some sort of wildman, dressed in a shabby looking checkerboard trench coat, matching codpiece, and always with one leg cocked strategically high. He literally looked every bit the part of the seedy old pervert "sitting on a park bench, eyeing little girls with bad intent," of his best known song "Aqualung."
In this relatively new concert recorded in 2003 as part of the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival, that sense of wild abandon is the first thing you notice that is missing. Anderson is still very much the guy directing traffic — and he still sounds great playing the flute here. But the codpiece and wild long hair and beard are no longer there, replaced instead by a comparatively tame blue headwrap and silver vest.
Anderson, who of course has aged himself some thirty years since, is no longer the wildman in concert who made you once ponder the line between genius and insanity.
He is however, still every bit the flamboyant showman. Some thirty years plus removed from their heyday as one of the top grossing concert attractions in the world, it is still no wonder watching this DVD why Jethro Tull maintain a rabidly devoted following all these years later.
Here Anderson plays the role of the perfect host, playing the part with both class, and equal amounts of humor. Introducing their classic flute instrumental "Bouree" for example, Anderson describes the piece as "sleazy cocktail jazz played at the worst Holiday Inn you can imagine."
There are plenty more of those Tull classics you love and remember here as well. From early songs like "Nothing Is Easy," and "With You There To Help Me," to the classics from Aqualung like "My God" and "Locomotive Breath," all the bases are covered here. For those wondering what Jethro Tull has been up to all these years since, the newer material from more recent albums like the title track from J Tull Dot Com is also here.
Other than Anderson, the only remaining member of Jethro Tull from their seventies heyday is guitarist Martin Barre (who has also taken up the flute). Barre, by the way, still sounds great here. Rounding out the band these days are keyboardist Andrew Giddings, bassist Jonathan Noyce, and drummer Doane Perry.
In addition to this DVD, Jethro Tull's Live In Montreux album is also available as a 2-disc audio CD which is divided into both acoustic and electric sets. On this DVD however, things are more evenly mixed, and the 5.1 audio mix alone is well worth the investment for those with high-end systems.
Although lacking the unpredictability of their more youthful years, Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull show they have aged both gracefully and quite nicely in this concert. As Ian Anderson himself once said at a concert I saw back in the seventies, "Jethro Tull is still kicking ass."
And indeed they are here. Live At Montreux 2003 comes out this Tuesday August 21.