The National Arts Centre here in Ottawa is a simply marvellous venue at which to host a concert, and the music of Jethro Tull is much more suitable for such a venue. Southam Hall at the NAC was filled to capacity last night, the concert having been sold out for many months, and the fans got their money's worth for the most part. That said, the show was a somewhat mixed batch as far as I'm concerned. First, though, the set list:
Someday the Sun Won't Shine For You
Living in the Past
The Donkey and the Drum
The Water Carrier
Pastime in Good Company (aka King Henry's Madrigal)
God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman
Sossity, You're A Woman/Reason for Waiting
Nothing Is Easy
My Sunday Feeling
We Five Kings
Thick As A Brick
Murphy's Paw (Martin Barre)
The band for the show consisted of Ian Anderson, Martin Barre, David Goodier, John O'Hara, and Doane Perry. For the most part, the musicianship was simply superb during the course of the show. As you can see from the set list, the music for this show as pretty much from the period of 1968 to 1972, with the exception of the new "Donkey and the Drum", and older stuff (relatively speaking) "The Water Carrier" (off The Secret Language of Birds album), the song formerly known as "King Henry's Madrigal", the Martin Barre "Murphy's Paw", and the stuff from the Christmas album.
The showmanship of Tull that we are so used to reared itself during the course of the show, with Ian Anderson cavorting on stage, popping his eyes like a hyperactive thyroid patient and shooting his eyebrows up and down. The show featured wisecracks from Ian Anderson about the colonies and former PM Tony Blair's high-priced speaking engagements, and he introduced "Fat Man" with the fact that the song from 1969 should have the more politically correct title of "(I Don't Want to be a) Clinically Obese Man". The final sequence of that song, with the epic dueling bongos and stuff, referred to by Ian as "bongo sex" after the song wrapped up, was superb, showing the camaraderie that the Tull musicians have, but for all of that the show lacked something, particularly the first half.
The first half of the show was...lifeless, passionless, for the most part, although the "Sossity/Reasons for Waiting" pair and "Nothing Is Easy" were the best parts of this segment, in terms of the passion. The churning, hard rock feel of "Nothing Is Easy" gave the show a bit of energy, and this continued into "Bouree" (one of my favourite pieces, but overplayed at Tull concerts over the years, although I did appreciate Ian's reference to it being "written by a guy even older than me"). On the other hand, the second half of the show had the energy and the passion that Tull can bring to the stage, beginning with a marvellous "My Sunday Feeling" and the Xmas-y "We Five Kings". This continued through the rest of the set, although I did find that the encore of "Locomotive Breath" was a bit lackluster and rather short. That's all the encore consisted of, something that disappointed me a bit.
However, Ian Anderson did not have his voice last night, as on several of the first half songs his vocals were off, and there were some strained vocals during the second half of the show. This may be due to the fact that this was the fourth or fifth show on consecutive nights, but perhaps it is just Ian Anderson showing his age finally. There were times I thought he was short of breath on the vocals, but these were more than made up for by the flute playing that he brought to to the show, particularly on "Bouree" and "My God" as well as the revised, bluesy parts of "Aqualung". That said, the rest of the band got in their chops exceedingly well, with John O'Hara doing a marvellous job with the ivories on several pieces, notably the "Sossity/Reasons for Waiting" mix, "We Five Kings", and the magnificent bits of the "Aqualung" revision and "My God". Martin Barre's guitars seared when they had to, and his "Murphy's Paw" (one of his own compositions off his third album) showcased his guitarwork, since he didn't really get to play the immortal guitar riffs from "Aqualung" this night. Dave Goodier's bass was simply beautiful on most of the songs, particularly the "Living in the Past" version the band played, but he also did great stuff on "The Donkey and the Drum" and "Nothing Is Easy". Finally, last, but not least, Doane Perry was superb on the drums for the entire show, playing with the ease of a Tull veteran, his best moments coming on the version of "Living in the Past", the "Fat Man" bongos/doumbouka (sp?) duel, "The Donkey and the Drum", and "Thick As A Brick".
My favourites of the night had to be the instrumental "The Donkey and the Drum" which contained all the elements of some of the classic Tull instrumental pieces, yet also showed off the band's blues roots; "Sossity You're A Woman/Reason for Waiting", which had the lushness of the flute, Martin's superb guitar work, and a somewhat simplified, muted bass strain (and which are two of my favourite songs); "Thick As A Brick", which was an extended 15-minute or so piece that was lovely, and had the band given some emphasis; the two Christmas songs, "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" (which used to be played in the middle of "My God") and "We Five Kings", both of which were brilliantly done; and "Aqualung", which was given a total makeover, that substituted some magnificent flute and piano work by Ian and John O'Hara and gave the first part of the song a melancholy, bluesy feel with the new arrangement.
However, the highlight for me was the magnificent "My God", which lasted a good 13 to 15 minutes, and featured one of Ian's blistering flute solos that is the hallmark of the song. Epic piece, just epic! To be honest, I would love a bootleg CD of this particular show, just for this particular song last night!
Overall, I liked the show last night, but wasn't sure that I was going to after the first few songs where I felt things weren't all that passionate. The mix of the old stuff was very good, and I got to hear some songs that I haven't heard played live for a while. While Ian Anderson's vocals were a bit raggedy at times, his flute performance more than made up for it. There were a few songs I would have liked to hear, "Sweet Dream" and "Witches' Promise" particularly, but overall I was very pleased with the concert. And a good time seemed to be had by all who were present.
I just want to add one other thing... This was the first Tull concert that I've been to at which I've worn ear plugs. This stems from the fact that, being a diabetic, one can have all kinds of problems with one's eyes and ears, and to be honest, I want to stay healthy and all that good stuff. The ear plugs really did not mute the sound at all, and made the concert that much more enjoyable to me. More importantly, this is the first time that I have ever come away from a concert when my ears weren't ringing and I couldn't hear clearly. As a result, today, I'm getting to enjoy music, and not having to take a day or two off from listening to any music at all. Just lovely. :)