Pfeiffer Hall - Naperville, IL
October 16, 2014
By Scott "Dr. Music" Itter
If you're reading this you are familiar with the legendary music of Jethro Tull, and in course you know the immense talents of the band's minstrel frontman, Ian Anderson. His distinct voice, his jaw-dropping flute runs, and his unique brand of folk rock songwriting has been the foundation of one of the greatest, most unique classic rock bands in history. Anderson brought all of those elements to the intimate Pfeiffer Hall in suburban Naperville, Illinois as he started yet another tour in a career that has spanned nearly 50 years.
Having released his Homo Erraticus album earlier in the year, the show was billed as The Best Of Jethro Tull featuring Homo Erraticus. Anderson would run through the highlights of the Homo Erraticus album to start things off, and then finish the night with a list of Tull classics. I really don't have to say much more than that, do I? How can a format like this be unsuccessful?! Well, it would be difficult to ruin something as special as this, but it always takes a top notch band to keep things above average, and this group of players was stunning.
As the show began with a song called "Doggerland," it was chilling to hear Anderson's voice hit the first note. It was true confirmation that the man, myth, and legend really was standing before me on that stage. His voice sounded perfect for this new material, as did his talented band. The venue's sound was pristine on the night as well. Even though there might've been a number of people unfamiliar with the new material, they remained captivated by these songs for the first 45 minutes of the set. As Anderson scooted from one side of the stage to the other, occasionally putting foot to knee in his signature pose, he looked to be fit as a fiddle. But, as you might expect, it was his flute that stole the show. I think anyone that witnesses Ian Anderson play flute in the live setting will tell you, there is nobody that does it quite like he does. He re-invented the instrument long ago, and he continues to keep his play progressing through the decades. After the highlights of Homo Erraticus finished, we found the band finishing their first set by running through their rendition of the classical Bach piece "Bouree," and the Jethro Tull radio staple "Thick As A Brick."
After a 20-minute intermission, Anderson and his band would take the stage to play the Best of Tull set. This is where some of the biggest surprises would take place. This second set started with the popular favorite and appropriate "Living In The Past," but things turned quickly toward the more obscure parts of the Tull catalog. "With You There To Help Me," "Sweet Dream, and the "Critique Oblique" segment of A Passion Play were all unexpected gems. Yes, Anderson traded in the more popular "Skating Away On The Thin Ice Of A New Day" or "Bungle In The Jungle" for these deeper cuts, but I found the song choice to be fresh and exciting. Even as he ran through some of the slightly popular songs like "Too Old To Rock And Roll, Too Young To Die" and "Farm On The Freeway," you got the feeling that Anderson did not want to be stale or predictable. Again, I found the song selection to be excellent.
In recent years, Anderson has had a young singer named Ryan O'Donnell singing some of the parts for him as he plays flute or rests his voice. Anderson seemed to be struggling with some of the highs in this second set, so to have O'Donnell was a welcome addition in most cases. O'Donnell is a more than worthy singer that does a fine job as Anderson's alter ego. The only place I found his presence a little intrusive was on "Aqualung." As a song with almost every phrase being turned in Anderson's very own unique style, it was a bit disappointing to hear anyone but Ian Anderson delivering those lines. You want to hear Ian Anderson sing the "snot's running down his nose" line. You want to hear him do the "greasy fingers smearing shabby clothes" line. You want to hear him deliver the "salvation a la mode" line. Anderson only singing half of "Aqualung" had this spoiled Tull fanatic looking for a diaper change. But with that said, the interplay between Anderson and O'Donnell really is something that keeps things interesting and refreshing. And probably the best example of that interplay came when they did "Teacher." Anderson asks O'Donnell what song he would want to sing more than any other, and he answered with "Teacher." Knowing that this is not a very liked song on Anderson's part, I was thrilled that they chose to do it. It happens to be one of my favorite Tull songs.
One of the best things about this new tour is the film screen that plays behind the band. At times there will be comedic snippets of the band being silly, other times there will be colorful graphics to accompany the song, but the best clips were those of a young Anderson singing in the studio. As the black and white clip in the background showed Anderson laying down a track way back in the day, he stood in front of that same screen as an older, more distinguished gentleman and sang the lines in almost perfect unison with his more youthful self. The "then and know" effect was something that really worked well. As the whole two hour show culminated with the rambunctious "Locomotive Breath," guitarist Florian Opahle got to play along with himself on the big screen. Although the "then and now" effect was obviously not quite the same, it was nice to see another great solo from the talented Opahle, who had been ripping things up the entire night.
If you're reading this review because you've never seen Ian Anderson live, all I can tell you is "GO." Go see the man. You won't be disappointed.
If you're reading this review to find out if Anderson is still a force to be reckoned with, I would simply say "YES.”
For more info on tour dates, merch, and all things Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull, visit: http://jethrotull.com/
Enter The Uninvited
Puer Ferox Adventus
The Turnpike Inn
The Pax Britannica
Tripudium Ad Bellum
After These Wars
New Blood, Old Veins
In For A Pound
The Browning Of The Green
Per Errationes Ad Astra
Cold Dead Reckoning
Thick As A Brick
Living In The Past
With You There To Help Me
Too Old To Rock And Roll, Too Young to Die
Songs From The Wood
Farm On The Freeway