1967-68 | 1969 | 1970 | 1971 | 1972 | 1973 | 1974 | 1975 | 1976 | 1977 | 1978 | 1979 | 1980-81 | 1982-84 | 1987-89 | 1990-94 | 1995-98 | 1999-2001 | Home
26 June 1971
Ian Anderson fixed his frightening eyes on the first few rows at the Anaheim Convention Hall. They had been giving Jethro Tull a slow hand clap for a long gap between songs while the group tuned up.
"It's actually easier than you think," snarled Anderson, "to play out of tune. We are trying to tune up. So be a good audience and BELT UP!"
He is a man with a rasping tongue and this turning on the crowd could easily have rebounded.
By the end of the show, half an hour later, the 9,000 crowd was beaten into total submission. Encore demands were deafening, overwhelming. They stood on their seats to cheer their thanks to a group that had put on a masterly performance. And it seemed to clinch the growing success story of Jethro Tull in America. They are now gigantically popular ...
Jethro Tull are on a month-long tour of the States. On two successive nights they sold out the Los Angeles Forum (19,000 seats) and Anaheim (9,000). They have been working hard in America for eight tours — and now all the evidence is here. They have become Britain's hottest rock export.
These eight tours in 2½ years have been pretty gruelling, but then Jethro is a phenomenally hard-working group which takes just three weeks holiday each summer. The fruits of their dedication are now ripening.
From Salt Lake City to New Orleans, from San Diago to Oklahoma, this tour is clearly a milestone for them, pulling in huge crowds all the way. The estimated total audience being reached during the month is about 158,000.
And yet one gets no triumphant boasting from Ian Anderson. The wild man of the stage views it all with an almost unnerving coolness:
"Every gig is the same to me. You know, there's a routine on a tour like this and I'm sure it's similar to a guy in an office job. Up in the morning, travel to the hall, sound checks in the afternoon, the gig at night, then a meal and bed — it all follows a pattern so that in the end I'm hardly aware of a gig being big or small, important or not. They are all important anyway, whatever the size of audience."
Anderson does himself a bit of disservice with such humility, for in fact, he is a perfectionist, a catalystic leader with great cunning, sharp observation and supers reaction. He is a giant of rock showbiz and the self-generated success of Jethro is his. He will be around as a force for a long time.
This is a group whose cool and passive off-stage personality clashes drastically with the demonic, devastating stage act that mesmerises an audience. All the players have beards or at least embryonic moustaches, which must at least equal unity; they all toil conscientiously to present a moody, aggressive stage presence.
But nothing any of the other four can do overshadows the omnipresent figure of Ian Anderson. Every good group has its colossus. The ring master of this particular circus is, at 23 years old, the most theatrically compulsive actor British pop has produced. Watching his every move, show after show, one is struck by the elegance — yes, elegance — of his act.
Looking exactly like Fagin in Oliver Twist he monopolises the stage, dressed in check cloak, clinging yellow trousers and hair getting wilder all the time.
"He is a Leo," said a butterflying American girl student of the Zodiac, eyeing Ian back-stage at the Forum. Before I could say "What sign are you?" she announced: "Leo characters have to be the centre of attention. I knew he was a Leo when I first met him."
It's true: he signs autographs "Hello — Ian Anderson". Contrasting with the silent signatures of his colleagues, thus elevating himself to a different position, subtly establishing himself as the one who stands out.
Certainly Ian adores the limelight. He worships those spotlights with a searing attack rarely equalled in rock. Strutting, skipping and leap-ing about the stage, he combines the campness of Jagger with the lashing verbal bite of early Lennon.
His acrobatics and energy put him right up there in the thinly populated division of true rock entertainers. It is this quality, together with some abrasive song material, that is making Jethro scale the dizzy heights in the States.
Their act lasts 1½ hours and centres on Aqualung, the innovative album about a lecherous old man who eyes little girls in the park. Combining that powerful story line with some strong tunes, the group manages to present a fiercely exciting rock opera, perfectly blending the visual appeal of Anderson with some blisteringly atmospheric music. It's rather cold and heartless music, but how it drives!
The musicians are well drilled to act as Ian's foil. They project themselves to varying degrees, the most animated being keyboards man John Evan, who must have seen rather too much of Leon Russell.
On-stage, things are careful and cleverly timed: Ian knows exactly how long to keep an audience waiting before he leaps out for solo acoustic guitar work on 'My God'. Soon after this, he is joined by the rest, blasting out a thundering wall of sound: Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond and Martin Barre (guitars), John Evan and Barriemore Barlow, a long standing friend of Ian, who replaced Clive Bunker on drums at the start of this tour.
Anderson is a self-taught flautist whose dexterity and speed on the instrument is quite amazing. He coaxes and caresses it, chants gibberish to it equivalent to scat singing, and really makes it work. That flute is a brilliantly original 'trade mark' for Jethro. 'With You There To Help Me' follows — after John Evan, an interesting pianist, who believes in physical contortions a-la Jerry Lee Lewis. 'Sossity', with Ian on acoustic guitar and with piercing eyes: 'To Cry You A Song', a wild roaring song, giving Ian full reign for leaping and gesticulating about the stage like a man possessed; 'Aqualung', 'Cross-eyed Mary', 'Nothing is Easy', then an encore, 'Wind Up'.
Anderson leads this band with staggering power and musically he is pretty well backed up. The dazzling guitar work of Martin Barre is especially pungent, providing a powerful sound desperately needed by a group relying every moment on mind-blowing dynamics.
At Anaheim, Barre did a solo during the encore that deserved recording, so flashy and note-perfect was it. There have been no signs of bootlegging in the audience here — but Martin is just one of the players concerned at the prospect.
With a crowd of 19,000 at the Forum, Ian Anderson was disappointed at the lack of intimacy — but that's one of the penalties of big American crowds.
Having come to a concert by a group they dig, thousands of the crowd seem inexplicably happy to roam the auditorium during the actual show.
This wrecks any concentration, creates too much noise and scuffle and can give a wrong impression that they don't like the performance. That is not necessarily true. It is simply another peculiar American characteristic which prefers restlessness to concentration.
"People in the front row rabbiting all the time destroyed my attention and enjoyment," Ian complained after the Forum concert. "It affects my concentration and it's such a big place that we can't see beyond that first row, we are playing into total blackness beyond the first row, like blowing into the night. It's very disconcerting."
It's now 3 a.m on Sunset Strip and Ian is consuming lentil soup and Eggs Benedict like a man who knows what it's like to starve.
"I don't think people realise in England how popular you can be in the States,"
he says. He speaks with his hands.
"There comes a point when you have to cut down on British appearances because the country's small compared with the States and you can soon tire out people with too many shows in England. Look, considering how many copies our last album sold in England, it wasn't a success. Yes, it got to 7 in the charts here. We sold 85,000 copies in England and 450,000 copies within four weeks in the States."
He strongly denies that this means a switch of allegiance to the USA as a matter of policy.
"We still get more kicks playing in England because that's home. People are starting to say to us now: 'Ah, all you want is the money.' But that's not it. We don't play here because we want loads of money or even want to be superstars. If I wanted super-stardom I'd rather have people chase my autograph in England than down Sunset Strip. No, we like playing here because we can get more gigs here, and we can vary the audiences."
And so on to San Francisco on Sunday for a concert at the Berkley Community Centre. It is a city that has been slightly sceptical of Jethro in the past. Perhaps because their work was at one time too extrovert for the many self-appointed "we know where it's at" types who tend to populate the place.
But now, before 3,000 plus, Jethro were in fantastic form and the reception recognised it. The show began with odd vibes, but Anderson's sledge-hammer showmanship, perfect timing and remarkable talent for extricating the band from dodgy situations quickly got a mainly student crowd on their side.
They loved his one-legged stance, vulgar jokes and raucous English humour. Maybe at last British music and style is becoming fashionable in insular San Francisco, for an announcement of a forthcoming concert by Emerson, Lake and Palmer at the same venue received a huge ovation.
Of course, there were predictable slogan-chanters in the audience. The girl sitting next to me nodded her head throughout the show and uttered: "right on" all the time, which was irritating enough to put anyone right off. But Ian Anderson coped very well with the hippies.
Here was an odd thing about San Francisco: many of that crowd undoubtedly adopted Jethro Tull because they figured that the group's wild hair and observant songs proved Jethro were on their wavelength. Pot smoking and committed.
Ian is explicit in his attitude towards that cult.
"Those people think that because I look a wild eyed mad man on stage, we all smoke dope, and I'm a freak who's going to bash people over the head with my flute. I am sorry to disappoint them, but we are not a smoking band and, in fact, off that stage we are quiet, well-spoken gentlemen. People are unwilling to believe I can be one person on-stage and a different person off. Well, it's true. I believe in putting on an act to entertain the people."
That attitude and Jethro's punchy, straight-ahead delivery, is catapulting them to the top in the USA, where word of mouth has made so many acts.
A back stage girl, commiserating with them over a stage hitch, bubbled a typical, piece of Americana: "Don't worry — its all just a cosmic giggle."
Jethro's refusal to take things so casually, and to care about their performance, will make all the difference.
Watch out Zeppelin.
Thanks to Harry Auras for this article.