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14 August 1976
JETHRO TULL / ROBIN TROWER / RORY GALLAGHER
Shea Stadium, New York
Perhaps Deep Purple, who were once rated the world's loudest group, could have won a battle against the LaGuardia Airport runway which neatly bordered Shea Stadium. At the peak of rush hour flights on a Friday evening, Jethro Tull didn't have a chance.
Shea is normally a baseball stadium, capacity 55,000, and even with Tull's specially bulky outdoor sound system, it hardly constituted an ideal venue. For one thing, it took a bold leap of imagination to actually see anything resembling human beings at the several hundred foot distance from the stage. For some others, almost everything below 90 decibels was drowned out by the jet paths, and, as you can probably guess from Britain's many mud-filled festivals, it steadily rained on all but the few enclosed seating areas. Add circumstances together, and the bands themselves seemed to take on their physical surroundings in performance, mediocrity of setwork matching the greyness on the field.
Pity the unfortunate Rory Gallagher, who opened the evening forced to play his foursome of repetitious blues tunes while the bulk of the audience slowly filed in. Those who were seated didn't hesitate to show their opinions — one song done, and the first of the firecrackers exploded. An outdoor arena provided the jive bombers with new attack plans, and they threw combustibles off the top tiers, betting if they'd explode before landing on those at ground level. Foxholes anyone?
The concert's promoters bit off more than they could chew in battling with Shea's logistics. Gallagher was on stage for 20 minutes; over an hour later Robin Trower's equipment was finally ready for action. A system that would give surprising clarity to Tull's softish volume found no friend in Trower. His leads lost all differentiation, just as Jim Dewar's vocals were muddily obscured by an overbalanced bass control.
Struggling through the murk came 'Day Of The Eagle', 'Bridge Of Sighs', and new song, 'Long Distant Ways' and 'Too Rolling Stoned', Trower's normally delicate and sinuous passages now predictable to the point of boredom. He fared a bit better on the uptempo 'Lady Love' and 'The Fool And Me', only because the fast pace of those tunes eliminated any extended notes in favour of a quick melody, over and out. Trower has reached a dangerous point in his career, as his promised innovations are awfully slow to emerge, and what was once an acceptable Hendrix adaptation is now just so much rehash.
By now it was nearing the imposed time limit on use of the stadium, but Tull's show was preceded by another hour-long set change. Grand gestures introduced the almost full house to 'Tullavision', a group of large projection screens which made it possible for everyone to see at least one part of the stage action in close-up. Of course, 90% of the camera time was focused upon Ian Anderson, well-clothed in a neat, multi-colourful dancer's costume.
The rest of Tull played with brilliant complexity, defying my belief that no one could sound discernible notes in such a large place, but they might have been hidden behind the stage for all we got to see of their musicianship. Only when Anderson played his one-legged flute trills, introduced a song via acoustic guitar, or physically left the stage, was any instrumental work illustrated.
Anderson gave the audience the clever, warble-voiced madman they had waited four hours to see. He introduced 'Too Old To Rock 'n' Roll' pushing a baby carriage, and, growling, menaced his way through 'Aqualung'. Much of the set was fairly new; none of it was introduced, and songs had the uncanny way of blending into one another.
Mostly, they began in quiet; always, they crashed into full force with great energy, Anderson careening around the stage bug-eyed, mugging for the camera. And that bothered me most -- the use of long distance concert giving as a lucrative live show substitute. To pay the ten dollars for a slightly more personal 'Top Of The Pops'? The choice may soon no longer be yours to make.
Thanks to Mike Wain for this article, and Gerrit de Geus for confirmation of source and date.