Jethro Tull: The Rock Opera at the Pantages

Wow. Really, wow. I hope you were fortunate enough to be at the Pantages Theatre last night to enjoy Ian Anderson and the Boys perform Jethro Tull: The Rock Opera.

If you were, you witnessed the most innovative multimedia modern music presentation probably ever presented on the rock music stage. Using an extensive array of video snippets projected on a huge 30′ x 50′ screen behind the five-piece live ensemble, the band played seamlessly and constantly with primarily a pair of top notch virtual singers trading lines and singing harmonies with Ian throughout the show. Only Pink Floyd’s The Wall show comes to mind as even close to the level of this show (which it wasn’t).

Furthermore, the band was tighter than a duck’s behind in a snowstorm. It is no wonder that cover bands do not play Tull’s music, not only for the expert flute playing but for the complexity of each song. (It took my three-piece band ten rehearsals to get Aqualung down well enough to perform in a bar.) Guitarist German-born Florian Opahle led a wonderful supporting cast of players throughout the evening, and would have made Martin Barre proud indeed.

And if you weren’t totally wowed by the musical presentation, then the highly creative use of lighting would have impressed you as well. Each song had lights and effects crafted to suit the overall feel of each piece, most notably on the new Frankenfield, a near-robotic ode to GMOs.

The general thrust of the show dealt with Ian’s lamenting the loss of home-grown agrarian wholesomeness to the unassailable, cold and impersonal manipulated technocracy that our world has sadly succumbed. Opening with Heavy Horses, the band played about two dozen numbers, tracing the life of a mythical Jethro Tull as he (convincingly played by Ryan O’Donnell) grew from a young idealistic man into a disillusioned and troubled old codger trying to make sense of a world grown icy and unforgiving. In addition to O’Donnell was Unnur Bjornsdottir, an Icelandic singer that blew everyone away with her powerful soprano voice and violin playing. Adding new lyrics and changing lines from older songs, Ian breathed new life into some iconic pieces (“Aqualung, my shadow,” for example) and brought them into the present. To be sure the audience was treated with a frenetic Locomotive Breath complete with racing train video, and updated versions of Wind Up, Living in the Past, Farm on the Freeway, Weathercock, Songs from the Wood, Jack in the Green, and Cheap Day Return plus a number of rather old and comforting songs like Witches Promise, A New Day Yesterday, Back to the Family, and With You There to Help Me. In addition were five or six new songs all received as well as they were played. As an encore Ian played a medley of Requiem, the Dambusters March, and Bouree to the delight of the very well-behaved and appreciatively loud “elderly” crowd.

Kudos to the management of the beautiful Pantages theatre who instructed their staff to have the audience put down the annoying video recording phones that plague so many modern concerts. Personally I saw an usher do exactly that to one of the patrons at the show. How refreshing.

In closing, it felt like you were witnessing the pinnacle of rock achievement, a PhD class in presentation, and one of the greatest overall shows this writer has ever attended. If you have a chance, go see their show on the 18th in Riverside.

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