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Concert Reviews:
Jethro Tull sounds 50 years young at Freedom Hill
 

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

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STERLING HEIGHTS -- Ian Anderson made clear to the crowd on Sunday night, July 1, in the Michigan Lottery Amphitheatre at Freedom Hill that it was not at a Jethro Tull show but rather "a concert to celebrate 50 years of Jethro Tull."

A proverbial rose by any other name, in other words.

Semantics aside, Sunday's show -- formally billed as "Ian Anderson Presents 50 Years of Jethro Tull" -- was indeed the celebration he described, a chance for the (overwhelmingly male) batch of die-hards roasting, along with the band, in the early evening sun to do some living in the past over the course of its hour and 45 minutes (plus intermission). The 17-song setlist may have left some key music on the bench (notably "Living in the Past" and "Bungle in the Jungle"), but Anderson and company nevertheless pleased with both enduring favorites and rarely played early material.

It didn't start smoothly; An introductory video was nearly invisible in the bright sunshine, and Anderson lambasted promoters for not providing the technology specified in the contract. The screen became more effective as the show went on, showing plenty of vintage Tull footage along with pre-taped song introductions by former band members (Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond, Mick Abrahams, John Evans) and admirers such as Joe Bonamassa, Iron Maiden's Steve Harris, and Black Sabbath's Tony Iommi, who actually played one show with Jethro Tull back in 1968.

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, nary a mention was made of longtime guitarist Martin Barre, who parted ways acrimoniously with Anderson six years ago and was relegated to the photo montage of ex-members at the end of the show.

For longtime Tull fans, the show's treat was a batch of bluesy material from the group's first two albums, included seldom-played tracks such as "My Sunday Feeling," "Love Story" and "Some Day the Sun Won't Shine for You," the latter performed by Anderson and guitarist David Goodier as a duo. The quintet stretched out on "Dharma For One" and "Bourree in E Minor," as Anderson -- spry and energetic at 70 -- recalled glory days with his trademark one-legged poses and fluid flute solos. judiciously lowering the keys of some songs to mitigate the decades of vocal wear and tear.

1971's "Aqualung" album was showcased with four songs -- including a particularly potent "My God" -- while the group presented excerpts from the "Thick As a Brick" and "A Passion Play" concept albums. "Songs From the Wood" and "Heavy Horses" were also given epic treatments, the latter (along with "Aqualung") incorporating footage from Anderson's ambitious 2015 show "Jethro Tull: The Rock Opera" that featured actor Ryan O'Donnell and Icelandic singer-fiddler Unnur Birna Bjornsdottir.

Sunday's show featured only one non-70s song -- 1987's politically tinged "Farm on the Freeway" -- but that was just fine with the fans, many of whom sported vintage Tull T-shirts and knew the lyrics to those early blues songs. An extended "Locomotive Breath" brought the show to a muscular close and hammered home a point that Anderson is not too old to rock 'n' roll, and Tull's music, even at 50, is too young to die.

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