Review & Set List: Ian Anderson's "Jethro Tull: The Rock Opera" @ London's Shepherds Bush Empire

by Andy Snipper,

It isn’t often that I go overboard about live performances but I have to say that if you don’t have a ticket for a show on this tour you need to be out there searching.

It wasn’t about the performances – although they were excellent – or about the songs – once more great songs. It is about a concept brought through to completion that is in itself circular and thoroughly original but also immediately familiar to anyone familiar with the band.

To clarify: Ian Anderson named his band Jethro Tull after an 18th Century farmer and agriculturalist who invented a mechanical seed drill and mechanised hoe. Jethro Tull (the band) were extremely successful and Ian Anderson decided to make a rock opera of the life of the man who the band were named after, set in the modern day and using the songs of the band to illustrate his life.

The performance at Shepherd’s Bush last night was superb and the use of filmed and digital backdrops with some of the performers on the album singing in the film and perfectly synched with the live performance happening on stage added immensely to the ‘show’.

The band were Anderson’s touring band of Florian Opahle on guitar, John O’Hara on keyboards, Scott Hammond on drums and Grieg Robinson on bass but there were also excellent filmed performances by Ryan O’Donnel as the young Jethro, David Goodier as the older Tull and wonderful singing and violin from Unnur Birna Bjornsdóttir as Jethro’s wife and mother. All were excellent but Ian Anderson is such a perfect front man that when he was on stage all eyes were inevitably on him.

Speaking of Ian Anderson, when the band started in 1967 he was whip-thin, lithe and as hairy as any of his contemporaries. He also had a great and very unique voice and occasionally played flute. In 2015 he is stockier, bald and has less of a voice than 50 years earlier. However, he is the same prancing and gesticulating actor/artist, can still balance on one leg while playing flute, plays more and better flute than in the past and is still utterly captivating onstage.

The show itself featured a veritable ‘best of’ of Jethro Tull music including songs not heard for years – Living In The Past, Witch’s Promise – tracks from Aqualung and also the later albums such as Heavy Horses. These were not shoe-horned in to fit but, where necessary, the lyrics were tweaked to add relevance.

It is NOT a bog standard concert, it really does have a readily understood theme and the show in toto is something remarkable to behold.

The songs included:

Set 1
  • Heavy Horses (from Heavy Horses, 1978)
  • Wind-Up (from Aqualung, 1971)
  • Aqualung (from Aqualung, 1971)
  • With You There to Help Me (from Benefit, 1970)
  • Back to the Family (from Stand Up, 1969)
  • Farm on the Freeway (from Crest of the Knave, 1987)
  • Prosperous Pasture (new song)
  • Fruits of Frankenfield (new song)
  • Songs From the Wood (from Songs From the Wood, 1977)
Set 2
  • And the World Feeds Me (new song)
  • Living in the Past (from Living in the Past, 1972)
  • Jack-in-the-Green (from Songs From the Wood, 1977)
  • The Witch's Promise (from Living in the Past, 1972)
  • Weathercock (from Heavy Horses, 1978)
  • Stick, Twist, Bust (new song)
  • Cheap Day Return (from Aqualung, 1971)
  • A New Day Yesterday (from Stand Up, 1969)
  • The Turnstile Gate (new song)
  • Locomotive Breath (from Aqualung, 1971)
  • Requiem and Fugue (Requiem from Minstrel in the Gallery, 1975; Fugue by Bach)

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