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Ian Anderson Brings The Best of Classic Tull

By Bruce Elliot

(11-20-10 Lowell, MA.)

What do you get when you combine three English gentleman musicians, a Bavarian guitar virtuoso, a brilliant ~ though slightly mad ~ traveling minstrel, and an enthusiastic, working-class, Central Massachusetts audience? Why, An Evening with Ian Anderson Live at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium, of course.

In the late 60s, Ian Anderson recognized the futility of his English contemporaries, many of whom were simply regurgitating Chicago Blues riffs and lyrics. He drew instead upon traditional English folk and classical music as his inspiration. Anderson is credited as being the man who popularized the flute with rock fans, and many are here tonight to pay their respects to the crown prince of flute-rock.

The lobby of the Lowell Memorial Auditorium is teaming with excited men in their mid fifties trying to recapture their miss-spent youth. Some have brought wives; some children; one proudly wears his mint Jethro Tull 1988 Tour t-shirt.  More than a few UMass Lowell progressive rock fans mix into the cheap seats. King Crimson’s 21st Century Schizoid Man plays on the PA awaiting prog-rock pioneer Ian Anderson’s arrival.  jethro-tull-copy

The crowd roars as Ian Anderson and his four band mates take their places across the apron of the stage for the night’s opener, the 1971 classic “Life’s a Long Song,” featuring Ian on mandolin. His band consists of Tull keyboardist John O’Hara far left, Tull bassist David Goodier, German rock and flamenco guitar virtuoso Florian Opahle, and Scott Hammond on drums on the far right. These veterans are tight and the sound quality and mix are impeccable.

For the first half of the show, there is a very relaxed, pleasant feel, like a VH-1 “Story Tellers” segment, with Ian sharing humorous anecdotes between mostly acoustic numbers. Early highlights include “Up to Me” from the Aqualung album, 1972’s “Nursie,” “Adrift and Dumbfounded,” “In the Grip of Stronger Stuff,” and the very topical “Wondering Aloud,” a 1971 song predicting economic globalization, population increase, pollution, and climate change. At this song, a self-deprecating Anderson notes that his predictions prove him to be “…a miserable bugger, but not as miserable as Roger Waters.” “Wondering Aloud” has this rock critic wondering what could have been, if only his fans had heeded his warnings back then. But alas, we were too high.

The first half ends with a stellar, jazzy rendition of Bach’s “Bouree,” which is extended to include the “Prelude in C Major.” The ageless Anderson shines on flute, while bassist Goodier and keyboardist O’Hara each take impressive solos.

After a brief intermission, Anderson and friends are back and ready to rock. Gone are the stools and acoustic guitars. Guitarist Florian Opahle now wields a mighty Les Paul Standard for the “Untitled Instrumental.” This is followed by the epic “Thick as a Brick,” which brings the Lowell crowd to its feet. Opahle is able to flex his muscles on an inspired, classically influenced guitar solo. “Budapest,” an eighties high watermark, showcases the band’s versatility, and the show closes with a reworked, well disguised “Aqualung.”

Back for an encore, Ian Anderson finishes strongly with the hard rock classic “Locomotive Breath” off 1971’s Aqualung. Anderson, who has been touring for 40 plus years, tirelessly stalks the stage, pausing only to assume the iconic one-legged flute pose. The crowd leaves thrilled and exhilarated, as does this reviewer.

Pictured: Ian Anderson

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