Concert Review: Jethro Tull, Aqualung 40th Anniversary Tour, Centre for the Performing Arts, Vancouver, 6/19/11

(Article first published as Concert Review: Jethro Tull, Aqualung 40th Anniversary Tour, Centre for the Performing Arts, Vancouver, 6/19/11 on Blogcritics.)

In a recent interview, Rush drummer Neil Peart commented that stamina and smoothness are the key attributes he feels the 58-year-old version of himself has over the younger models. Jethro Tull, on the Vancouver stop of their current tour commemorating the 40th anniversary of their monumental Aqualung, proved Peart’s hypothesis correct.

Working through various tracks from other albums while intermittently working through Aqualung, the 60-plus-year-olds demonstrated a steadiness and resolve that was the foundation of the evening.

Their meter and pacing were hypnotising and showed no sign of slowing down. The hour-and-45 minutes they were on stage rushed by, even with the half hour "pee break AKA intermission," which seemed more for the grey-haired majority in the audience than the musicians onstage.

Starting with “Living in the Past” could have been an ironic move, but its soft-jazz intro blossomed into a driving force complete with heavily articulated off-beats. The statement was clear: this is not your granddad’s Tull! An odd sentiment, because the youngest song played was over 20 years old.

Ian Anderson of Jethro TullAge was a presence but never became an elephant in the room. It was addressed head-on by front man cum comedian Ian Anderson, who acknowledged that after his last colonoscopy he realized his backside housed a great view and was a good place to insert his prog-rocker head.

To confirm his theory, the band wheeled out prog-rock classics, including a truncated 10-minute version of the 40-plus-minute “Thick as Brick” along with other 10-minute opuses including “Budapest” and, of course, the encore, Aqualung’s FM hit “Locomotive Breath.” With such communal appreciation from the assembled Tull-heads, these epics seemed far from self-indulgent.

This current trend of tours based on seminal albums must be close to running its course, though. While it might have been a great idea at one time a fitting tribute to a deserving piece of art two elements are making the practice seemingly less savory: 1) the sheer number of bands jumping on the bandwagon and 2) the tedious predictability of the setlist when the album is played in sequence.Aqualung, on the other hand, was given its due this night, transcending the monotony of predictability. Tull’s homage to “the snotted one” kept the show as fresh as their renditions of most of its 11 songs. Anderson's Behind the Music bon mots added a witty, self-effacing element to many of the featured tracks.

Instead of opting for a boring song-by-song linearity, the band’s approach of interspersing Aqualung pieces in no particular order throughout the night kept the evening fresh. “Mother Goose” benefited from the revisitation as did guitarist Martin Barre’s riff-heavy version of “Cross Eyed Mary;” second-set opener, the non-snotted “Songs from the Wood,” seemed even more invigorated, possibly because it wasn’t expected.

The set closer, the title track, and the aforementioned “Locomotive” encore were the only non-surprises, as most of Aqualung had been performed up to this point. While the whole show seemed spry, these two songs in particular were especially rejuvenated with the stamina, smoothness, and focus that can only come with age, experience, humour, and a "colonoscopic" point of view.

Setlist:

Living In The Past
Beggar's Farm
Thick As A Brick
Up To Me
Cheap Day Return
Mother Goose
Wond'ring Aloud
Farm On The Freeway
Bouree

INTERMISSION

Songs From The Wood
Hymn 43
Cross-Eyed Mary
My God
Budapest
Aqualung

ENCORE

Locomotive Breath / Teacher (snippet)

--Chris "Gutter" Rose

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