Jethro Tull was my favorite band when I was in high school. The flute and voice of Ian Anderson defined Tull, though the rest of the band's musicians were no slouches either. I particularly loved the blues and jazz influenced stylings of their earlier albums, culminating (for me) in their album Living in the Past.
That album contained every element that attracted me to their music. Unfortunately, that was their last album that I unreservedly loved, with subsequent albums starting with A Passion Play starting to veer off into less special areas. Despite what to my ears was a decline, the pre-Passion Play Tull has always remained a favorite.
When I discovered that Ian Anderson and his band would be venturing to Proctor's Theater in nearby Schenectady, N.Y. for an all-acoustic performance, I jumped at the opportunity and purchased seats for my wife, my son and myself. I can't say that I didn't have any trepidation, though. Would he play the music I liked or would he insist on playing "new" stuff? Would he even still sound like the Ian Anderson that I knew?
Unfortunately, we arrived late to the concert and missed the very beginning. It didn't take us long to settle in, however. The first song that we heard from the beginning was "Skating Away (on the Thin Ice of a New Day)." I feared that I missed what I had hoped to hear. I shouldn't have worried. Ian Anderson. looking to be in great shape for his 60 something years, was also in fine voice and flute, as he pranced about the stage and struck his signature one-legged flute pose. While they certainly didn't play everything I wanted to hear, they played quite a few of my favorites and played them well. They played a great rendition of a song that was very influential to me personally, "Bouree," based on a piece by J.S. Bach. This piece, when I listened to it as a teenager, actually opened up the doors to Classical music for me. It even (briefly) inspired me to try to learn the piano. To this day, the only thing I ever learned to play was the right hand to that piece! Fortunately, our kids get their musical genes from my pianist wife.
Interspersed amongst the songs that brought me back to my youth, Ian and Co. played a few pieces I had been unfamiliar with, including a pair played during a visit to India a couple of years ago, at which time they missed by one day being at the Taj Mahal hotel in Mumbai when it was attacked by terrorists. These songs were dedicated to Ravi Shankar. In addition to his songs, the concert featured a couple of pieces from some of the players including their guest viola player, Meena Bhasin and a virtuoso piece of Spanish guitar by Florian Opahle called "Andantino," which proved to be one of many concert highlights.
While they didn't play "Living in the Past" they did play "Fat man" and "Mother Goose" as well as "Serenade to a Cuckoo," Anderson's homage to the jazz-flute great Rahsaan Roland Kirk, who was the principle influence on Anderson's flute style. The concert finished with a rather unusual version of Aqualung. It was almost totally unlike the original version of what was Tull's biggest hit. While it may not have hit the same chord in me that a faithful rendition of the original would have, I found it appealing nevertheless. That along with an amazing encore version of "Locomotive Breath" managed to provide something elusive but quite satisfying. They brought back the past, but updated it in a way to keep it fresh and relevant for today. My mind, body and soul may have gone to that concert hoping to be "living in the past," but ultimately I emerged happy to have touched upon the past at a concert very much of today.