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12 February 1977
Life may be a long song, but staying in tune and on top of the shifting sands of the music scene has been achieved by few of the bands who surfaced in the late Sixties alongside Jethro Tull. Tull have remained a vital force due to successive line-up changes and skilful musical experiments conducted by the band's mainstay, Ian Anderson.
The long lay-off from touring in Britain, and Anderson's subsequent transformation from his wild and unkempt image of the past to the rural pose of the present, has produced some disappointing albums, but has seemingly not lessened the band's popularity.
Saturday night's show at Manchester's Apollo Theatre had sold out so quickly that a second one the night before had been hastily added and that, too, was packed to the roof. Absence has obviously made the demand to see them live even greater.
It was a two-hour set, well-timed and cleverly thought out. Anderson bounced onto the stage, taking much of the audience by surprise in his country squire's outfit and his simple greeting of "hello, boys and girls."
Accompanying himself on guitar, he launched into the whimsical 'Wondering Aloud', and then 'Skating Away On The Thin Ice Of A New Day', before the band had even appeared. He was clearly enjoying himself, and, despite his laryngitis, he sounded in good form.
The rest of the concert was a tour de force of Tull's extensive catalogue. They included four songs from Aqualung, four from the new one Songs From The Wood, and a couple from Benefit and Stand Up. But, apart from a 20-minute selection from Thick As A Brick, there was only passing reference to the conceptual epics like War Child and Passion Play, over which Anderson fell foul of the music press.
Despite his constant sniping at the critics, he seems to have returned to the more structured and commercial sound of Jethro Tull of the early Seventies, as those same critics have advised. Hence the heavy emphasis on Aqualung, still Tull's best-selling album, and the more attractive medieval arrangements of the new album.
All the familiar traits of a Tull performance were there. Anderson cavorted around the stage, maintaining a constant rapport with the audience as he switched from acoustic guitar to flute, which he still plays standing on one leg.
The band were also given room to display their talent, but are unable to take any of the limelight off their musical architect, and remain only as a competent vehicle for Anderson's performance.
But all in all, it was an impressive return. They did end up with 'Locomotive Breath', but the contrast and vitality of the set dispelled my pre-concert impression that they were just living in the past (which, incidentally, they didn't sing).
Thanks to Mike Wain for this article.