In a rare intimate performance, progressive-rock legends Jethro Tull play an inspired set of classics and then-recent songs in Amsterdam in 1999. Originally filmed for “2 Meter Sessies.”
“No way to slow down,” Ian Anderson shouts with a dramatic flourish at the end of the classic-rock staple “Locomotive Breath,” concluding a half-hour performance at Wisseloord Studios in Amsterdam captured with pristine sound and video quality for Dutch TV in 1999.
For a moment there, he’s once again the preening, slightly sinister, bug-eyed Dickensian hooligan of Jethro Tull’s arena-rock heyday. Either as the leader of that famous band (which has released 21 studio albums since its 1968 debut) or as a solo artist (six studio albums on his own), he really never has slowed down. Now age 73 and suffering from a chronic inflammatory lung disease — though he says it has not affected his day-to-day life or his flute playing — Anderson has scheduled 63 tour dates with Jethro Tull in 2021 and 2022, now that the world is recovering from the COVID pandemic.
Mind you, we’ve had a kinder, gentler Tull/Ian for quite some time now, and that’s especially true of the quintet captured here. (I do miss the bombast of the arena-rattling progressive-rock band I first saw in concert at Madison Square Garden in 1979.) “The crew is somewhere on a ferry with the lights and the rest of the equipment,” Anderson explains in one of the short interview snippets sprinkled between songs. “We wanted to keep this simple. I said to the band, ‘Only bring to the TV show what you can carry in your hands.’”
As a result, this is essentially Jethro Tull in folkie hootenanny/campfire jam mode. But I’ll never understand the sneers from some music snobs who dismiss my fondness for Anderson & Co. with a crack like, “the poor man’s Fairport Convention.” Hey, four Fairport vets have played with this group over the years, and while its take on the centuries-old sounds of the British Isles is a bit more cartoonish, that only makes it more fun to me.
None of the Fairport fellas are onstage for this show, though we do get guitarist Martin Barre from the most storied Tull lineup, as well as drummer Doane Perry (whose stellar discography also includes playing on Lou Reed’s best solo album, “The Blue Mask”). This version of the group had just recorded the last Tull album of all-original material, “J-Tull Dot Com” (1999), and the setlist includes two songs from that effort, as well as two from Anderson’s solo albums.
It all sounds great, and it’s all of a timeless piece, which is what folk music is supposed to be, no?
Every diehard Tull fan will nitpick any setlist, including this one. Since they were in stripped-down folkie mode, I’d have loved to hear the band members give us a few songs from the group’s best stripped-down folkie albums, “Songs from the Wood” (1977) and “Heavy Horses” (1978). But I quibble. The bluesy, harmonica-heavy opener “Some Day the Sun Won’t Shine for You” from “This Was” (1968); spirited romps through the flute-driven instrumental “Bourée” and the title track of “Thick as a Brick” (1972); “Locomotive Breath”; even the more recent material — it all sounds great, and it’s all of a timeless piece, which is what folk music is supposed to be, no?
“I think when we talk about the Jethro Tull sound it’s a little bit more complex than just being a flute,” Anderson tells the interviewer. “It’s the mixture of acoustic music, which is what is what I do in the band — I’m the unplugged guy in a rock band — plus the very eclectic influences that come from Asian music, from classical music and from the folk music of northwestern Europe.”
Add to that Anderson’s distinctive showmanship, and it’s a winning combination that stands the test of time, at least for us fans. I’ll even forgive him for playing “Fat Man,” which, for obvious reasons to those who know me, has always rubbed the wrong way. “Don’t want to be a fat man… Too much to carry around with you/No chance of finding a woman, who/Will love you in the morning and all the nighttime too.”
Please, can we finally can the sizeism and fat phobia, Ian?
Jethro Tull “Amsterdam Sessions 1999” Setlist
Some Day the Sun Won’t Shine for You
In the Grip of Stronger Stuff
The Secret Language of Birds
Thick as a Brick
Born the year the Beatles arrived in America, Jim DeRogatis began voicing his opinions about rock ’n’ roll shortly thereafter. He is an associate professor at Columbia College Chicago, and together with Greg Kot, he co-hosts “Sound Opinions,” the weekly pop-music talk show heard on 150 Public Radio stations and via podcast. DeRogatis spent 15 years as the pop-music critic at The Chicago Sun-Times and has written 10 books about music, including “Soulless: The Case Against R. Kelly”, “Let It Blurt: The Life and Times of Lester Bangs” and “Turn on Your Mind: Four Decades of Great Psychedelic Rock.”