BROOKLYN, NY—Ian Anderson presented his rock opera, adding some breath to the classics he’s juxtaposed over a storyline based on a fictionalized and updated Jethro Tull, who perfected the horse-drawn seed drill in 1701. Sounds confusing and a little awkward at first but as with most things done by the Tull founder and self-proclaimed “singer of these ageless times, with kitchen prose and gutter rhymes,” everything worked out fine.
In Anderson’s opera, the current Mr. Tull is once again a pioneering visionary, scientist and businessman. However, this time around, he develops genetically altered seeds and crops until he ultimately sees the light of his wicked ways (sounds a lot like what Monsanto has been doing) and returns back to the farm for a more organically free lifestyle. Using songs from the band’s catalogue, Anderson strategically places them as the onscreen actors fill in the gaps.
Starting with “Heavy Horses,” an agrarian theme merges. “Wind Up” was next and then came the pounding riffage of “Aqualung.” Florian Opahie nicely reproduced original guitarist Martin Barre’s bluesy runs that Anderson weaved his melodic flute around. “Songs From The Wood” ended the first act on a high note as the band took a breather then returned for the second set that started off with “And The World Feeds Me” and was a more rocked-out affair. On “Living In The Past,” old images of Anderson looking like a scruffy minstrel flashed onscreen, bringing us back to another time.
By the time “Locomotive Breath” went down, ending the second set, the crowd was bloodthirsty for the hits, and Anderson delivered. Prancing left and right onstage “in the shuffling madness,” he got the crowd on its feet for the guitar-centric classic. Pianist John O’Hara did a fine job of twinkling the keys and teasing the crowd with the song’s prelude that led up to its grinding signature riffage. “Requiem And Fugue” was the encore that ended the opera as Mr. Tull goes back to the farm, completing his shot at redemption.
The band was a stellar unit as they played to the backdropped images perfectly. Anderson’s fusion of the pastoral and folksy over some hard-driving psychedelic rock has always been at the core of the band’s sound and continued so here. Guitarist Opahie’s thick tones were softened by Anderson’s heavenly overtures as the bands light takes on the tunes allowed the onscreen actors to be heard above the mix.
The first set was beset by sound problems that were solved by the second set and it would have been nice to get a Playbill or a free program guide detailing the opera’s plot like at a Broadway show. Otherwise, it was incredible seeing Anderson pull this one off. A master entertainer, musician and songsmith who belongs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he worked new life into the band’s catalogue over an intriguing and relevant storyline bridging the past to the present and proving that this rocker’s not living in the past.