Concert Review: Ian Anderson journeys through time and sound
As I walked into the Sands Steel Stage area the final day (Aug. 13) of Musikfest in Bethehem, there was electricity in the air, and everyone could feel it. There was a camaraderie to the chatter, a feeling of connection unlike at most other concerts I’ve been to.
Waiting in line for food and drink, other attendees spoke of how the music of Jethro Tull had changed their lives, made them feel at peace. “It takes me to another world,” one person said, a glistening in his eyes, his voice breaking with honesty.
Suddenly, a single flute could be heard above the chatter, and as if on cue, listeners abandoned their places in line, racing to their seats, as if guided by the Pied Piper himself. To them, they truly were.
With that, the concert began in a surreal, almost magical manner, venturing through the history of Jethro Tull and beyond. Pieces hailed from various time periods, as recent as 2008 and as early as the 18th century.
Strikingly, every song had a clear purpose defined by the man with the flute, Ian Anderson. Most songs would start with him prompting the audience as to the history and the background of each work, providing much needed context to those in the audience who were unfamiliar. Not only was the music captivating, it was educational.
Songs such as “Fruits Of Frankenfield” and “Banker Bets, Banker Wins” retold tales of social injustices which we still face, recounting those days when the public was just becoming aware of problematic practices on Wall Street and in the creation of our food.
“Bourree” and “Pastime With Good Company” modernized songs created by Bach and King Henry VIII, paying homage to times long past while creating entirely new ways to perform and hear songs that have been in western culture for centuries.
A handful of songs was chosen to highlight members of the band, providing solos for each of the instruments that showcased their vast skills in their respective crafts. Whether it be keyboard, drums, guitar, bass, or, of course, flute, each instrument was brought to life by the performers, stretched to their limits in creative and exciting ways.
Notably, every song ended in a rather unpredictable way, leading to laughter, surprise, or sheer fascination in what would come next.
“Bourree” ended with Anderson snorting and braying as he performed, providing a certain comical perversion to a commonly dignified piece.
Another concluded with Anderson feigning that he had pulled a muscle, cussing audibly as the lights cut out.
This sort of irreverence helped to remind the audience why they were there: to have fun, to tease social norms and challenge what otherwise might be accepted as commonplace.
Something noteworthy about anything Anderson creates is the imagery he associates with it, being a visual thinker himself. Grand, animated backdrops spread across the screen behind him, capturing the essence of each song. “Thick As A Brick” featured the image of a wall, evolving over time to present graffiti. Footage of farm tillage moved in a rhythmic and powerful way behind “Farm On The Freeway.”
Most memorable, though, were those pieces that featured artists that weren’t present. “Heavy Horses” and “Aqualung” incorporated artists who were digitally included, both singing along with the band and having their own solos. While slightly distracting, the performances were solid enough that these cameos didn’t detract from any one piece.
At the end of the day, though, all eyes were on Anderson, whose energy and excitement radiated out to the crowd. Prancing and slinking about the stage, the 70-year-old performed with a gusto and passion that simply couldn’t be competed with. When he spoke, it was with an air of confidence and charisma that couldn’t help but draw anyone who listened to the edges of their seats. He was as witty as he was intelligent, showing the care and knowledge that fueled his work.
As the final song, “Locomotive Breath,” came to a boisterous and flashy close, I couldn’t help but feel as if I had witnessed one of the greatest history lessons. Anderson and company took listeners on a journey not just through their own works, but through a musical journey that mocked just as much as it taught.
The concert was an entirely unique and memorable experience. Anderson should be witnessed live if you have the chance, simply to experience a performer with stage presence unparalleled.