It was most interesting to watch “Jethro Tull: Live at
Montreux 2003,” the very next evening after viewing
“Jethro Tull: Nothing Is Easy: Live at the Isle of Wight
1970.” I preferred the earlier concert in terms of the raw
energy, as well as being able to hear five classic songs,
shortly after they were written. In addition, the earlier
concert had the advantage of a performance before a
“period,” counter-culture audience.
However, the set performed 33 years later in front
of a Montreux Festival audience was a generous,
one-hour and 56 minutes, consisting of about 18 songs.
It was given under the ideal circumstances available at the
Stravinsky Auditorium in Montreux, which is the location of
most of the concerts at the Festival.
In recent times, Jethro Tull has adapted Classic and Classical
music (i.e. Gabriel Fauré’s “Pavane in F-sharp Minor, Opus 50”
and the traditional English Christmas carol, “God Rest Ye
Merry Gentlemen”), performing them in a comfortable
“smooth Rock” fashion. I guess this is okay, but it’s not
my cup of tea. Taking into account that their last album of
new material dates from 1999, the other more recent
songs they performed included “Dot Com” and “Eurology,”
which also left me under whelmed.
What wasn’t in question was the musicianship of the five
band members, including front man Ian Anderson and
guitarist Martin Barre, who were the only “hold overs” from
the early days. Anderson sounded wonderful on his electric
flute. From time to time, he also strummed a small,
acoustic guitar and a mandolin, as well as handling the
vocal duties. He’s still quite the entertainer, and danced
around while brandishing his flute like a crazed Pied Piper
who even made the occasional phallic gesture, as he did
during the Isle of Wight gig.
Jethro Tull’s music is often inflected with Elizabethan Folk
elements, as well as Jazz stylings, and is rather sui generis.
Even today, I can’t think of any other Rock band that
effectively features the flute so prominently. Their
performances were done without the extended “jamming”
that was common during the early 1970’s. On one song,
“Fat Man,” Martin Barre played the flute while Ian Anderson
strummed a guitar!
Special mention should also be made of the outstanding
sound quality of this DVD, which was probably the best of
the many “Live at Montreux” discs that I’ve heard. It was
also filmed in HD, with very good camera work.
As a singer-player-frontman, I must admit that Ian Anderson
has few peers, and he infused his eloquent, cheeky humor
throughout the set. It’s good to see that he’s kept
Jethro Tull going with such fine players all of these years,
and his abilities as a flutist don’t seem to have waned one iota.
Not surprisingly, based on what I heard here, their older
material was still the most effective.