Jethro Tull in Morristown: 50 years in one night

Ian Anderson at Jethro Tull 50th anniversary show in Morristown, March 12, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Ian Anderson at Jethro Tull 50th anniversary show in Morristown, March 12, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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The codpiece and wild mane are gone.

But Ian Anderson still is doing his best to keep the Jethro Tull locomotive chugging into its second half-century.

For two hours Tuesday at a packed Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown, the 71-year-old Anderson and four bandmates took appreciative fans on an energetic romp through five decades of prog-rock nostalgia.

Ian Anderson and Florian Opahle at Jethro Tull 50th anniversary show in Morristown, March 12, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Ian Anderson and Florian Opahle at Jethro Tull 50th anniversary show in Morristown, March 12, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Anderson, the show’s only original Jethro Tull member, launched this tour to commemorate the 1968 release of the band’s first album, This Was. A compilation, 50 for 50, also was released last year.

He used to prance around the stage like a puckish satyr. Now, Anderson scuttles and hops about like a crazed toad. The voice is rather froggy, too — at least, the bits of it that broke through the overabundant decibels.

But Anderson’s flute has gathered no rust, and his bluesy harmonica on Some Day the Sun Won’t Shine on You was stellar.

Slideshow photos by Kevin Coughlin. Click / hover over image for caption:

Ian Anderson at Jethro Tull 50th anniversary show in Morristown, March 12, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Ian Anderson and Florian Opahle at Jethro Tull 50th anniversary show in Morristown, March 12, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
David Goodier and Ian Anderson at Jethro Tull 50th anniversary show in Morristown, March 12, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Ian Anderson and Florian Opahle at Jethro Tull 50th anniversary show in Morristown, March 12, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
John O'Hara on keyboard at Jethro Tull 50th anniversary show in
David Goodier and Ian Anderson at Jethro Tull 50th anniversary show in Morristown, March 12, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
THE WINDUP... Ian Anderson at Jethro Tull 50th anniversary show in Morristown, March 12, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlinat Jethro Tull 50th anniversary show in Morristown, March 12, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
SINGING THE BLUES: Ian Anderson at Jethro Tull 50th anniversary show in Morristown, March 12, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
David Goodier, Ian Anderson and Florian Opahle at Jethro Tull 50th anniversary show in Morristown, March 12, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Ian Anderson at Jethro Tull 50th anniversary show in Morristown, March 12, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Ian Anderson at Jethro Tull 50th anniversary show in Morristown, March 12, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Ian Anderson at Jethro Tull 50th anniversary show in Morristown, March 12, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Ian Anderson at Jethro Tull 50th anniversary show in Morristown, March 12, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Ian Anderson at Jethro Tull 50th anniversary show in Morristown, March 12, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
BALANCING ACT: Ian Anderson at Jethro Tull 50th anniversary show in Morristown, March 12, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Ian Anderson at Jethro Tull 50th anniversary show in Morristown, March 12, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
David Goodier, Ian Anderson and Florian Opahle at Jethro Tull 50th anniversary show in Morristown, March 12, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
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Throughout the evening, he survived several attempts at his famous one-legged performing pose (I think yogis call it “The Tilting Windmill”), and his wit was droll as ever.

Dedicating Dharma for One to the memory of drummer Clive Bunker, Anderson then reminded the crowd: “He’s not dead yet.”

BALANCING ACT: Ian Anderson at Jethro Tull 50th anniversary show in Morristown, March 12, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
BALANCING ACT: Ian Anderson at Jethro Tull 50th anniversary show in Morristown, March 12, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Hatched in 1967 in Blackpool, Lancashire, England, and named for the British inventor of the seed drill, Jethro Tull has scored 15 gold or platinum albums and two Number One LPs in the United States.

Yet somehow, Tull has been overlooked by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And the band’s lone Grammy was in the hard-rock category–an award so improbable that members skipped the ceremony.

Over the last half-century, Tull has churned through about as many members as Broadway’s Cats. Even Phil Collins got a turn behind the drum kit in the early 1980s.

Tuesday’s iteration featured John O’Hara (“Number Seven,” Anderson calls him) on keys, David Goodier on bass, Scott Hammond on drums and Florian Opahle on his blistering Les Paul electric guitar.

The band’s sixth member was a video screen. Jethro Tull was an early adopter of concert projections, and this one worked well after some first-half synching issues were ironed out.

David Goodier and Ian Anderson at Jethro Tull 50th anniversary show in Morristown, March 12, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
David Goodier and Ian Anderson at Jethro Tull 50th anniversary show in Morristown, March 12, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Resembling a pirate in his black skullcap, Anderson duetted with younger, shaggier, manic versions of himself that looked like John the Baptist after a lunch of bad locusts.

The video backing Too Old to Rock and Roll depicted Anderson as an impish old biker who hinted of Marty Feldman, Ygor in Young Frankenstein roughly when this song was current.

Former Tull-mates John Evans and Mick Abrahams made video cameos, along with guitar ace Joe Bonamassa and Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott.

Anderson also duetted with video of Icelandic singer-fiddler Unnur Birna Bjornsdottir on Heavy Horses, and with video of actor Ryan O’Donnell on Aqualung, introduced as “one of rock’s greatest songs” by Slash, again via the miracle of video.

As Tull roared through its encore, Locomotive Breath, grainy black-and-white footage of vintage trains hurtled across miles of tracks, a break-neck multimedia experience that should land the group in the Railroad Hall of Fame, at least.

Ian Anderson at Jethro Tull 50th anniversary show in Morristown, March 12, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
‘Aqualung’ brought the packed house to its feet. Ian Anderson at Jethro Tull 50th anniversary show in Morristown, March 12, 2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin2019. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Other curiosities included possibly the oldest number ever performed at an MPAC rock show: Pastime with Good Company, penned by that jolly 16th-century hit-maker, King Henry VIII. (Who would dare give him a bad review?)

There even was a holiday tune, sort of. Ring Out Solstice Bells (1976) sounded like something from a Mannheim Steamroller druid album.

The night’s only post-70s song was the political Farm on the Freeway, from 1987. Other numbers included the My God, Bourée, A Song for Jeffrey (more harmonica heaven!), Songs from the Wood, and excerpts from Thick as a Brick.

All in all, not a bad body of work for a Scotsman who picked up the flute almost by accident — and supposedly relearned the instrument millions of records later, when his classically trained daughter informed him he had been doing it all wrong.

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