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Ian Anderson. Pic from video of his UK tour. Photos were not allowed at Palais

Palais Theatre, Melbourne Monday December 15, 2014

Ian Anderson’s ‘Best of Jethro Tull’ concert at Melbourne’s Palais Theatre was one for the die-hard fans. However, even the most enthusiastic follower of the eccentric Anderson’s career may have been scratching their heads in wonder at the show’s peculiar beginning. Instead of offering up a support act, the audience was shown a video of UK multi-instrumentalist Seth Lakeman performing in a park. The  video, finishing with a plug of Lakeman’s website was merely a taste-plate of an even more bizarre video of Anderson in a hospital bed surrounded by Victorian-era medics, who soon revealed themselves in real life to be members of tonight’s  band.

And so the tone had been set, treading a fine line between musical pantomime and rock show. The concept of Anderson’s new solo album Homo Erraticus, was to revisit Gerald Bostock, the child character of the classic Jethro Tull album Thick As A Brick, who by now would be a middle aged man. This also became the theatrical basis of the live show and is why Anderson began the evening with tunes from the solo album.

tull2The night had an air of a Tull tribute show about it but with the band’s original singer and songwriter fronting it. English actor/singer Ryan O’Donnell seemed to be playing the character of a young Ian Anderson. His singing range is similar yet stronger than the staccato delivery style of Anderson, who can no longer achieve the vocal fluidity of his salad days. With the plot now established and the audience beginning to come to terms with the flow of the show, it was time for the hits. A video clock clicked back the years to the date of the ensuing tune’s release, accompanied by old concert footage. First up was the main section from the iconic Thick As A Brick, followed by a track from its less-successful sequel, Thick As A Brick 2. While Anderson’s voice may have lost it’s power, his flute playing was still impeccable and for a 67 year old, he was remarkably agile. Those signature one-legged prances, mirrored behind him on screen with film from the 70s, were replicated with ease.

Guitarist Florian Ophale
Guitarist Florian Ophale

After a break, the band delivered what the audience had come to hear: Living In The Past, Teacher, Sweet Dream, Too Old to Rock and Roll, Farm On The Freeway, Songs from the Wood, and of course Aqualung, on which guitarist Florian Ophale was entrusted with the iconic Martin Barre solo. While Ophale played all the right notes, he didn’t have the deft touch and experience of Barre’s playing and at times seemed like he was restraining himself from breaking into a Guns ‘n’ Roses riff. Personally, I’m not sure what to make of Anderson’s new stage beast and was half expecting the band to launch into ‘Got to Pick a Pocket or Two’ from Oliver at any point. The final say though, belonged to the audience, who rose to their feet with rapturous applause upon the show’s end and I guess Anderson had achieved what he’d set out to do.

Greg Phillips

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