Jethro Tull – Regent Theatre, Dunedin – 18/04/17

Spoiler Alert – this isn’t fucking Jethro Tull. This is Ian Anderson plays the songs of Jethro Tull.

A bit like this dumb fuck, I didn’t read the advert properly, OK?  I just thought, ‘yay – I’ve never seen Tull and I really like them and they’re coming to Dunedin and yes it’s a fuckload of money but I’ve always wanted to see them so what the hell’. So I splashed out $150+ smackers for a seat in the stalls at the Regent. Then a few weeks later I discovered that it was Ian Anderson and some session musicians coming to visit, not Ian Anderson, Martin Barre, Dave Pegg etc. Oh. In my defence though, the ad below was not the one I saw. It was far less obvious.

Jethro Tull
Always read the label, kids

I have to say, I have never been part of a crowd quite so elderly and un-rock as this. These people around me make the crowd at Midge Ure last month seem positively adolescent by comparison. I don’t know what I was expecting, but jeez, I am gobsmacked by how few people have hair and how many people have beige cardigans. Thinking about it, Ian Anderson (in his late 60s? early 70s?) must be the oldest performer I have ever paid to see.

No support, on stage at 7:30 prompt. The lights dim and the bassist cranks up the intro to Living In The Past. Cue much cheers. Then on comes a secondary school geography teacher waving a flute about. It’s not a teacher, it’s Ian Anderson. Hang on though, when he starts blowing it, it’s not a half bad sound. Maybe this is going to be OK. Then he opens his mouth and I realise that $150 is going to be very hard to justify. FUCK ME he can’t sing. I mean really can’t sing. Out of tune, wheezing and out of time. It’s a disaster. It immediately puts me in mind of Vic Reeves’ club singer routine, it’s that poor. It would be funny if I hadn’t shelled out so much to see it. When he stops singing and goes back to blowing the flute, it’s OK. The band are tight as a gnat’s chuff, and the sound in the Regent is pretty good too. But the vocals? Man, it’s going to be really difficult for me to get past the vocals.

We are treated to all the favourites that you would expect – Thick As A brick, Sweet Dreams, Heavy Horses, A New Day Yesterday, Aqualung, Locomotive Breath etc plus a couple of new ones (apparently they were releasing albums up until last year!). The new ones are pleasant enough, but really I doubt if more than a handful of punters are aware of them. The surprise for me though was one off Crest of a Knave (Farm On The Freeway) and not one but two from Songs From The Wood (eponymous title track and Jack-in-the-Green). Great songs, but all utterly ruined by Ian’s (lack of) voice.

Visually, it’s impressive. Each song is accompanied by a large video projection, usually of the musicians themselves in action, occasionally archive footage and promo videos, but synchronized with what we’re hearing from the stage. There is quite a lot of backing vocal coming from the video feed too. As a multimedia presentation it kinda works, but as a live concert it kinda flops because they are essentially playing to backing tracks, with no scope for improvisation.

Apart from the creaky voice, Anderson (mostly) still has it. He plays the acoustic guitar on a few songs, and extremely well. He plays the flute like a boss. Definitely the best flautist I’ve seen, but off the top of my head though, I can’t think of anyone else apart from Jumping John (Ozric Tentacles). I do wish he’d stop trying to do the standing on one leg thing – I know it’s his trademark but he can barely get his foot up to the other knee, and it’s most unbecoming for a gentleman of his advanced years. The musicians with whom he has surrounded himself are all very capable session guys, and they are obviously extremely well rehearsed, but it’s too staged for my liking. He grants the drummer (Scott Hammond) a ‘mini drum break-ette’ during Dharma For One, but it’s quite pedestrian and he’s really not a good enough drummer to be getting a 5 minute solo. I will only accept a drum solo if it’s performed by Neil Peart anyway. The bassist and organist are basically middle-aged music teachers, and even though they don’t put a foot wrong, they do nothing to inspire. The guitarist is a different story. A young German fellow, sporting long hair and a Les Paul, he clearly wishes he was in a metal band, because he is introducing fiddly notes and flourishes all over the shop, that definitely weren’t there when Martin Barre played them. Martin Barre is (was) the best bit about Tull. One of my favourite practitioners, he was the epitome of control and restraint, but this guy (Florian Opalye) is all about cramming in as many notes as possible before teatime. He’s very good, granted, but this is Jethro Tull, not Van Fucking Halen. It’s just not necessary. It is sacrilegious. It’s hurting my ears.

Overall, I regret to admit that this concert is a big disappointment. With the hefty price tag comes a certain level of expectation, an expectation that just hasn’t been met. It’s not as expensive as Black Sabbath last year, but it falls a long, long way short as entertainment. Prices go up all the time, I appreciate that, but if this were a Premier League transfer, it would be the equivalent of Teddy Sheringham with a gammy leg, going for 25M in 2017. Undoubtedly worth the figure once upon a time, but now? Not a chance.

Too Old To Rock And Roll. Give it up, Ian.

Jethro Tull ticket