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29 November 1980


JETHRO TULL, Royal Albert Hall, London

Here is a question that's difficult to resolve for any band with a decent history: when you have a huge catalogue of material, stretching back for 12 years, how do you correctly programme your stage act?

The problem is even more complicated with the release of a new album which the band naturally wants to promote. This, then, was the dilemma facing lan Anderson, who brought his revamped line-up to London for two nights last week at the end of a successful American tour.

He chose to err on the side of fresh material, and in doing so pawned his long-established reputation for one of the most driving, theatrical acts in rock. Stage dynamics and acrobatics took a back seat to musicality with the new-look Tull.

The leering, whirling figure of Anderson was replaced by a bandleader with precious little to say to the audience between songs. Instead he concentrated on jumping from song to song with an intensity that could have done with some animated light relief of the kind we enjoyed in his old stage act.

But musically, there was little to fault in the show. Even though it was dogged by monitor breakdowns and microphone problems, the act careered along at a fair old lick. Eddie Jobson, at 25 a veteran keyboardist who has worked with Curved Air, Roxy Music and Frank Zappa, lent a new impetus and kick to all the songs on the new album, which is called 'A', and Eddie's work on electric violin was especially inspired.

New drummer Mark Craney, from Los Angeles, was rather heavy-handed, not surprising in view of his recent history with American metal bands, and the old faithfuls Martin Barre and Dave Pegg maintained their extremely high standards. There was little to kick against, then, in the texture of the music. The fault lay in the recognisability, or lack of it, in the material.

There's a touch of arrogance attached to any performer who assumes the audience has come along totally familiar with his very new album, and the intricacies of all its songs. The harsh truth all artists must face is that the crowd have come partly to see them re-enact their famous repertoire. While Anderson relented with oldies like 'Skating Away On The Thin Ice Of A New Day', 'Songs From The Wood' and what seemed a reluctant encore of the great 'Aqualung', he gave complete emphasis to new stuff like 'Black Sunday', 'Crossfire', 'Working John, Working Joe', 'Batteries Not Included' and 'Uniform'.

All fine enough, and played with exemplary precision after the U.S. tour, but most of them needing lyrical study by the listener before being swamped with them in concert. And lan might have explained each song a little before playing it ... just like he used to in the old days.

As a band, Jethro Tull have received the kiss of life with the arrival of new blood. Nobody wants them to be living in the past. But if the new line-up is to continue, they will have to come to terms more gracefully with a creditable history.