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12 February 1977
TULL: NEVER TOO OLD — YET
You know how supergroups are supposed to open the show with the 1812 Overture complete with real facsimile nineteenth-century Muscovite cannon and a battallion of the Green Howards rented for the day to pose as Napoleon's army (all marching on their stomachs for authenticity)?
Or if that's felt to be a little tasteless perhaps just a Ben-Hur chariot race round the aisles?
Well, the lights came up on the City Hall stage and Ian Anderson strode on alone with no special effects, no scenery bar the amps and drum kit, stared 2,500 people in the eye (for his gaze is always directed at you like the bottoms in Cezanne's nude 'Baigneuses') with the roguish glint which hints at Fagin, Captain Hook and the Lincolnshire Poacher, and unleashed an earthquake of applause that would have done credit to the San Andreas fault.
Anderson was magnificent. I can't remember when I last saw such crowd rapport generated. They whistled, shouted ("Where's your codpiece?") and roared ("Ah that new Indian restaurant? Yes, I sympathise," said Anderson), sang all the words in the quiet verses of old favourites, and were vibrant with reaction to every move — particularly the first time he took up the flute and perched on one leg, left foot against right knee. His chat was as dazzling and dirty as ever.
And I've hardly mentioned the music till now because it really was a secondary pleasure. But it was about as good as Tull music can be on stage. His classics 'Aqualung' and 'Thick As A Brick' (the fourth number and a standing ovation) really threw the switch. They are so nakedly heavy between the more delicate flute and acoustic passages. Four 'Songs From The Wood' made it past the oldies and it seemed to perk up the band to be playing them though Anderson gave some credence to the Tull-go-Steeleye-Span lobby by describing 'Jack-In-The-Green', about a sprite-like protector of England's verdant pastures, as "typical folkie bullshit".
Anyway, the title track won over the doubters of this country cuteness with a lovely acapella vocal erupting into get-down rock that even outweighed 'Brick'. My own favourites from War Child were interesting: 'Skating Away' was all light and airy beauty but 'Back Door Angels' suffered from Anderson's razzmatazz and was pretty but not touching as on the record.
All round, that was entertainment and proved that Anderson isn't too old to rock 'n' roll — but you have to add 'yet' and he knows it. The olde Englishe stuff seems to be a pleasant diversion rather than a whole new direction and he's got to find one some time. The rather stereotyped pattern of all Tull's work was wearing thin after nearly two hours.
So try this on for size. I see him as a kind of rock Lennie Bruce, talking more, playing less, getting more serious and more funny both, bouncing off hecklers, insulting them, hitting the audience where they live on subjects like sex and politics which he already flirts with. Between raps the music would be more wild, the lyrics more pointed. He's committed to entertainment and it's great to receive that, but I'm sure that a pyrotechnic mind like his has even more to offer.
Thanks to Mike Wain for this article.