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Tag: ian anderson

An Intimate Show with Art-Rock Guitar Legend Martin Barre

by David Koral

I used to hold onto my concert ticket stubs, when such things existed. But if the nosebleed-red cardstock from the 1979 Jethro Tull show at Madison Square Garden is still around, it’s likely at the bottom of a landfill, keeping Staten Island warm. I couldn’t help thinking back to it prior to the show last Saturday night, when I overheard some longtime fan lament how it wasn’t right that Martin Barre, who had played large venues in the past, should now appear on such a small stage at the Rockwood Music Hall on the Lower East Side. But back then, as I recall, from an elevation of a mile or so, Martin Barre and his bandmates appeared more or less as stick figures.

Not the case in this ground-floor space, however. On the contrary, it was a great opportunity to see Jethro Tull’s longtime guitarist up close and personal. Taking the stage promptly at seven, he struck the graceful warm-up pose one might expect from a seasoned club performer: with his left arm extended outward, like a ballerina or a Greek statue, he touched a toe to the digital tuner on the floor, and he was ready to rock.

And were those really the opening notes to “To Cry You a Song” I heard? Yes, I do think so. In Dan Crisp, Martin Barre has found a clear-voiced front man with a strong stage manner and well-honed guitar chops, who effortlessly harmonized the lead line on his drool-worthy black Les Paul Custom. Dan was given the first solo, but in no time, Martin was working the neck of his gray Paul Reed Smith, shredding faster than any metalhead I’ve ever seen while anticipating new chord positions and adeptly rolling back the volume to restore dynamics. Watching his fingers like a hawk, I couldn’t help but wonder what gauge of strings he uses; with every subtle touch they bent and quivered, producing sweet squalls through the Marshall cab backed against the wall.

The band continued the momentum with “Minstrel in the Gallery,” but simmered down with the title cut of Barre’s new solo album, Back to Steel. Ably backed by the pulsing bass of Alan Thompson and the steady beat of George Lindsay, the intricate guitar interplay between Martin and his foil recalled Dokken and the mid-’90s progressive metal band Extreme.

Experimenting in the same vein, they covered “Eleanor Rigby,” combining light arpeggios and Spanish guitar figures to re-imagine the refrain from the Beatles’ psychedelic classic. “The English are people of so few words,” Martin said as an introduction, explaining the major difference between “bollocks” (rubbish) and “amazingly bollocks” (the Beatles, in his opinion). It’s a distinction worth bearing in mind, to avoid winding up in a fistfight.

“I take out the bits of songs I don’t like and leave in the ones I do,” he said, revealing a keen sense of humor and setting the stage for what would be the climax of the show. What parts does he like? “Only the guitar solo.” With that, the band launched into a taut rendition of the “Poet and the Painter” section of “Thick as a Brick,” and smoothly transitioned to the “Childhood Heroes” passage.

“We’re just another cover band,” Martin said, introducing tunes by Warren Haynes and Porcupine Tree, before picking up his mandolin for an adaptation of Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads” that strangely recalled Songs from the Wood. In a black T-shirt and jeans, he looked so much younger and leaner than those very woolen country squires on the cover of Heavy Horses or Bursting Out.

The show concluded with tasty versions of old favorites such as “Teacher” and a bluesy version of “New Day Yesterday.” At the beginning of the show, Martin’s ax was polished so bright you could see your face in it, but rock ’n’ roll does involve sweat, and by the end, great big bullets were rolling off his forehead and onto the flaming maple top.

So, finally, all of us middle-aged teenagers stomped hard and cheered real loud. And guess what happened? He decided to come back out to do an encore, “Locomotive Breath,” with chukka-chukka so delicious it was worth the price of admission, and proving once and for all that flute solos are not necessary for honest rock ’n’ roll.

Dinosaurs Still Roam the Earth, Less Dangerous But Still Interesting

“The crowd’s pretty undead,” a grey-ponytailed guy marveled to his friend, alluding to the surprising diversity, agewise, genderwise (lots of older couples out on a date) and even ethnicwise, in the audience at the Beacon Theatre Friday night. “Would you like a Werther’s Original?” a friendly dude in a plaid shirt asked the pale black-clad guy next to him, a total stranger, who was making a halfhearted attempt to conceal that he was recording the concert. Behind them, a trio of Dallas Cowboys fans were bemoaning their team’s fortunes in thick Long Island accents. These are a small sample of the Jethro Tull fans who packed the venue to see bandleader Ian Anderson and his latest cast of minstrels play Tull’s 1972 stoner classic Thick As a Brick all the way through for the first time ever on a New York stage.

Although billed as an Anderson concert, the members of his band had all previously done time in later editions of Tull over the years. Of course, there are plenty of people who think that Anderson’s name actually is Jethro Tull, and in a sense they’re pretty much right. And as much as that band has been the butt of innumerable jokes, there never was another group who ever delivered anything like Tull’s psychedelic, bitingly lyrical blend of Scottish folk and heavy metal. Thick As a Brick – which the band delivered in its entirety along with a full-length performance of Anderson’s 2012 follow-up album – was the band’s most psychedelic and rhythmically tricky effort. While it only bears a passing resemblance to bands like Yes, it remains one of the holy grails of prog rock.

What did it sound like this time out, after all these years? Pretty much like it did back then, like Procol Harum on mushrooms. The star of this show was keyboardist John O’Hara, who nailed original keyboardist John Evan’s rapidfire organ and synth licks note for note, in addition to supplying electric piano, harpsichord, and frequent accordion during the second half of the show. Orginal Tull guitarist Martin Barre long ago abandoned his hard-blues edge for a florid metal attack, so new guitarist Florian Opahle’s garish Gary Moore tremoloing and divebomb effects didn’t come as much of a surprise. Bassist David Goodier played intricately, often in tandem with O’Hara while drummer Scott Hammond handled the suite’s tricky tempos with an evenhanded, understated approach. Anderson sounded 70 back when he recorded the album, and sounds closer to 90 now: this year’s American tour is still young, but he’s already blown out his voice. But he had singer Ryan O’Donnell to do the higher, more challenging vocal parts. And Anderson played guitar (a tiny acoustic Taylor travel model) and flute with the vigor of a man a third his age (he’s pushing 70), dashing across the stage and doing the one-legged flute dance which became his signature forty-plus years ago.

As far as the original album is concerned, the band really put their hearts into it. Maybe one of the reasons why it sounded so fresh, and so close to the bizarre catchiness of the original, is because only Anderson had ever played it live before, and hadn’t at all in the past forty-one years. His spiky, circular, dancing guitar interludes and O’Hara’s smoky Hammond organ menace were spot-on, as were the virtually all the original keyboard voicings. That the group’s drummer played it as close to his vest as he did only enhanced the dynamics; only Opahle made it sound particularly post-1972.

And the follow-up was good too. If Anderson focus-grouped this like he notoriously did in the mid-80s for Jethro Tull’s big comeback/reinvention as a straight-up metal band, the latest focus group gave good advice. This follow-up suite posits several different scenarios for what might have become of Gerald Bostock, the alienated child prodigy/poet credited with the lyrics to the original TAAB. This time out, Anderson has backed off a little on the tricky tempos and jigging in favor of a somewhat more four-on-the-floor musical approach (think Tull’s underrated 1983 Broadsword & the Beast album) and vastly more attention to the lyrics. If anything, Anderson’s caustic worldview is more relevant now than it was then. And the music matched: a vaudevillian sendup of clergy extorting from New Depression-era parishioners; a deceptively dark yet rhythmically lively account of a gay guy fallen prey to the temptations of pretty much whatever tempts; a sardonically lush predator banker’s tale; and a sweepingly haunting narrative from the point of view of a mercenary fighting (presumably for the Bush regime) in Afghanistan. Although it wasn’t a central theme, there is an antiwar stance to the original TAAB: it’s good to see its creator still very much in touch with the world around him.

They encored with a surprisingly fresh, longscale version of Locomotive Breath, stretched out with lots of piano from O’Hara. There was also a self-effacing video component that sometimes drew a few chuckles and was otherwise pretty beside the point; a public service announcement about prostate cancer awareness (no joke) involving a couple of audience members, which might have been more scripted than it was supposed to seem; and an obscene gesture involving Anderson’s flute which was even more obscene than usual, by Tull concert standards. While tickets for this show were obscene in their own pricy way, any fan of Tull, or artsy rock in general, won’t be disappointed by this tour. Considering how many others from the dinosaur-rock era are still out there, phoning it in, that’s all the more impressive.