It’s not a coincidence that Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson has chosen the 1969 classic “Living in the Past” as a show opener during the British group’s current tour. The past is, indeed, hard to resist when it involves Tull’s catalog of folk-rock madrigals.
Like most veteran groups from the progressive rock era, Tull has matured gracefully. Furthermore, contemporary bands such as Radiohead and Air have given the much maligned genre a new aura of hipness. With its tricky time signatures, relentless fusion of styles and grandiloquent lyrical content, prog-rock today offers, at the very least, an intriguing collection of memorable soundscapes.
In Tull’s case, Anderson’s vitriolic humor and his love for English folklore, jazz and the blues have kept concept albums such as “Thick as a Brick” safely away from overbearing pretentiousness. In fact, Anderson’s abridged, highly energetic version of the 1972 opus was one of this perf’s highlights.
At times, it was hard not to suspect that the singer and his talented quartet of musicians were simply going through the motions, albeit with enviable professionalism (this became particularly apparent during the unavoidable “Aqualung”). Still, Anderson did everything in his power to keep things fresh. An acoustically tinged version of the Arabic-flavored “The Water Carrier” offered a Monty Python-like blend of music and silly histrionics.
As should be expected, perhaps, Tull’s older material sounded more vital and exciting than its latest compositions. Although the band continues to enjoy a strong following as a concert attraction, it remains to be seen whether Anderson can produce an album of new material that matches the urgency and originality of the group’s live shows.