Seven Decades of Jethro Tull at Rady Shell

Back when I first saw Jethro Tull in 1972 the band was building its reputation as one of the most consistent live acts in rock. Over the ensuing decades Ian Anderson has helmed the band through a variety of stylistic and personnel changes. For the current tour Anderson sprinkled the expected fan favorites with a plethora of deep cuts. Building such an ambitious set list at this late date indicates Anderson is confident his fan base will follow him wherever. Many did at Rady Shell, but some of us would have preferred he replaced a few obscurios in favor of his more popular melodies.

Still adept at the one foot flute solo, Anderson back in the day confidently plucked an instrument eschewed by the rest of the scrawny kids looking for a toehold in the British music scene of the late 1960s.

The first wave pf the British Invasion had made a splash, but after Beatles, Stones, Who, Kinks and Animals what would be next?

Zeppelin and Tull got a grip and started scooting up the ladder. Both were drawn (as was the first wave) to electrifying the American blues idiom, Zeppelin to eventual toppermost.

Tull could rock heavily, but often hewed to a bucolic British charm (assayed by Zeppelin on their third / best album).

Both bands figured out the money was on the road, as that would buttress lucrative album sales. Tull became one of the most enduring certain full house draws. Tull’s recorded apogee was the Aqualung / Thick as a Brick pairing of 1971/1972. Albums a few years on either side thereof were remarkable, but the consistent quality wavered and tapered off in the ensuing years.

Zeppelin closed up shop at about the right time, sealing their legacy solidly with no acquiescence to demand for further gigs or product. Credit Jimmy Page with curating the band’s legacy with classy reissues and a culling of the sparse visual archive.

But Anderson soldiered on, assaying a variety of styles with varying success.

Now celebrating seven decades of making music, Anderson is leading Jethro Tull on a tour of the band’s songbook.

At The Rady Shell the well-tuned Tull offered a crisp survey of the band’s deep catalog. The setlist was perhaps too clever by half, delving into songs that only a few in the audience could hand on heart recognize.

I could have waited for the Winter Solstice to hear the several tracks pulled from the band’s Christmas album, especially if several moments from Thick as a Brick or A Passion Play were substituted.

An end of first set “Bouree” was a perfect distillation of the means by which Anderson has taken vintage material and reimagined it in clever fashion.

No one could complain about the sterling musicianship of the band, they acquitted themselves very well.

Earlier in the week Anderson told me about how he found new guitarist Joe Parrish-James. “A friend told me about a young guitarist who had YouTube videos with some Tull. Out of interest I listened and was impressed that he had stayed faithful to the music, yet he infused it with something of his own. He clearly had a liking for what you’d broadly term folk rock music. So I got in touch,” explained Anderson.

In concert at Rady, “We Used To Know” leveraged Parrish-James’ prowess. Anderson dedicated the song to Eagles, as the closing solo is apparently reminiscent of “Hotel California.” On record the former certainly has the guitar winding up to a crescendo, as does thew latter’s finale. On stage Parrish-James amplifies the similarity, accentuated by a Holiday Inn motif as backdrop. Maybe again too clever by half? I expect Don Henley grins a bit about it.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.