Ian Anderson Rocks On The Road!

by John A. Wilcox

Ian Anderson returns to the Northeast for more dates celebrating the 50th anniversary of Jethro Tull. We sat down quite comfortably to discuss the show, the band, and much more...

PS: What are attendees in for musically & visually on this tour?

IA: It's a concert in 2 halves with a 15 minute intermission. It consists of a lot of video material accompanying most of the music. Giving it context. Sometimes it's quite abstract. Sometimes it's historical references. Sometimes it's illustrating the lyrics of the song. We try to make the content of the videos varied. It's a big image so it's a lot to see as well as watching the band and listening to the music. That then means that every night we're working with exactly the same show because you can't change at the last minute and say "I think we'll do this song instead!" The video and everything is programmed - and synced to the music so you have to really, really stick to what you're doing. In some ways that would be, perhaps, constricting if you'd been doing it night after night after night for 6 weeks, but because I do relatively short tours and take a break sometimes as has been the case in recent months I'm doing a different kind of show - I'm playing outdoor shows with no video. Just doing generic Best Of Jethro Tull so to some extent that can be a little freer and you can do some other material if you feel like it because it's not something to be synced to a video.

We focus mostly on the period of time when I think longstanding Jethro Tull fans will have got to know Jethro Tull during that first period of 3 or 4 years I suppose, into the very early 70s when the name Jethro Tull's cropping up and we're getting played a lot on radio. Focusing not exclusively but mainly on the first 10 years. A few of the songs sit outside that range. It is, as you would imagine, a little bit of focus to begin with on the origins of Jethro Tull at the Marquee Club where we began, and so there are a few songs from the very first Jethro Tull album. We kind of set the scene for how that developed over the months and years to come into what people refer to from 1969 onwards as progressive rock. And of course taking in some of the things that were referred to, at least in our case, as being folk rock. We kind of explore the genres and try to make the songs different to each other. Planning a setlist is a bit like doing a compilation album. You've got to make sure you choose the right songs and make sure that adjacent songs are not in the same key or the same tempo or perhaps the same subject material. It would be rather boring. You're trying to create some light and shade. Some ups and downs. Some variety in the experience for an audience. That, for the most part, I think we're able to do.

PS: What was your criteria for choosing the songs for the 50th anniversary show?

IA: Well it's usually going to be a mixture of songs that I enjoy because they're part of my very public history, or a few of what I refer to as the heavy hitters. The things that many people are familiar with. For me those are very iconic songs in terms of defining different parts of my musical career so they've gotta be there. And then the rest of it you try and pull out of the shadows things that maybe you haven't played for a long time and maybe even find a couple of songs you'd never played at all live on stage. So I suppose that's going deeper into the catalogue and finding things that you know that the audience will not have heard live on stage before. We're able to do that with 2 or 3 things that I'm pretty confident people wont have seen us do before. We don't play them one after another so you can use it as an excuse like Keith Richards' solo spot in a Rolling Stones to go to the toilet. You've got to be back 3 1/2 minutes later, otherwise you might miss one of your favorites.

PS: I think of the Keith Richards moment as the T-shirt moment to check out the merch!

IA: Merchandise is something people will very often buy something on the way in and then change into their brand new T-shirt at the concert. Other people will go to the merchandise place in the intermission. Some obviously on the way out is another time to buy things. I don't personally get involved in the tawdry business of selling shmatte. I'm usually blissfully unaware of that except when I see our merch guy. Perhaps the next day I might say "Oh how was merch last night, Tom?" And he'll say "Oh, it was really good!" or "A bit slow." or "They took a huge commission last night." That gives me a bit of feedback of that sort, but I don't actually have to do it. On the other hand my son, when he was a very young teenager, sold merch at the merch stand. My daughter, when she was still in school she had a stint doing merch. My wife sold merch. Last year or the year before, in Austin Texas it was, my son-in-law had a couple of days off from his work in The Walking Dead and made it over to Austin Texas with his family, so my 2 grandchildren ended up selling merch in Austin Texas, and they were paid for it! That's good experience because you've got to count and take money and give change. For a 7 year old and a 9 year old you've got to quickly have your wits about you.

PS: How time consuming a process is putting together the visuals for the show?

IA: Some of it has been specifically filmed in the first place. Some of it is taken from archival footage. Some of it is more abstracted and therefore doesn't really have obvious elements of performance in it. We've been doing this for quite a while. I suppose we kind of got into it mostly in 2012. So the last 7 years have been fairly intensive on the video side of things and there have been a huge number of changes in the show of course over that period of time. It's done by my son, who is the videographer and cameraman and edits all that stuff. We work together on the creative side of the outline of what material we're looking for. He comes up with some ideas, I come up with some ideas. We throw that in and he comes up with a rough cut that has elements in it and we talk about it over the phone or by email and then usually I go and spend the day with him to run through a bunch of new videos that are taking over from previous songs when we make changes. It's a process that for him particularly is very time consuming but I think he does it a bit more quickly than he used to when he first started because it's quite complex software to use and to learn all the shortcuts and some of the details and some of the tricks and expressive ways of using visual material that is tied up in the operating software. You've got to keep learning. By the time you've done it, version 12.9 has come out. Download the new version of the software and find they've changed a bunch of things and you've got to start all over again in some areas.

It's the same with audio recording too. I've been working with some software since 2005. Some Apple software for audio recording called Logic that's been through a whole number of changes until the current one. It automatically updates on my computers every so often. I just hope it isn't going to throw me any curve balls when I have to do something in anger and don't want to waste my time having to spend time, usually online, trying find out "How does this work?"

PS: Has this tour been recorded for future release?

IA: No, it hasn't. I suppose I'm just too lazy. When people come along and ask if they can record this and record that, I know it's gonna tie me up for days and days of extra work because obviously I'm going to have to be involved in a number of different ways. Frankly, at this point in my life I'm enjoying having 2 or 3 days off every week, so I do relatively short tours. I try to never be away more than 7 days at a time if I can possibly help it. I'm usually away for 2 or 3 days at a time. It means that every week I get to sleep in my own bed for 2 or 3 nights. That's the way I like to work these days. I feel I spent so much of my time not being around and now of course I have children and grandchildren and live in a nice house that begs me to come around and walk in the gardens and enjoy the environment in the context of where I live in the sense that it is a rural idyll perhaps in some peoples minds and most of the time it is in mine too.

PS: What do you feel in terms of playing and energy is unique to this current band?

IA: In terms of energy and playing, I'm not really spending my time watching them but I obviously interact to some extent here and there on stage. I think what I do notice is that they, unlike the musicians before them, have to have an even more encyclopedic knowledge of all the Tull repertoire because, let's say 20 years ago, guys in the band needed to know maybe 20 or 30 years of music. Now these guys have to know about 50 years worth of music. And of course much of it is different arrangements of the same song. A whole lot of stuff that they have to be able to quickly brush up on and then execute with no real rehearsal, or maybe we run through something at sound check if we haven't played it for a year or something. Hopefully everybody comes in fully prepped, ready to roll. That's really necessary. I can think of previous editions of the band where they certainly weren't of that mind. They would just think "Oh, we'll busk it on the night" or "We'll try and learn it in the dressing room before we go on stage" or something. Which of course doesn't work. You've really got to be prepared to do your diligent homework and come to work being able to do the job. These guys - they've all been with me for 12,13,14, 1 of them 15 years. So it's people I know and have worked with obviously over this long period of time. We know how each other work. We know and I think above all trust each other to be safe pairs of hands when you're on stage. Because you really do depend on someone to dig you out of a hole if you go awry in terms of an arrangement or forget where you are. It's very useful knowing that people are part of that secret function that perhaps an audience don't notice but a lot of little signals and cues and eye contact that are the elements that we all depend on during a show to make sure that we are in the right place at the right time. We are all half musicians, half traffic cops.

Ian Anderson Presents : Jethro Tull 50th Anniversary Tour

Wed. Sep 11, 2019 8:00 PM
Chevalier Theater, Medford, MA

Fri. Sep 13, 2019 8:00 PM
Parx Casino and Racing, Bensalem, PA

Sat. Sep 14, 2019 7:00 PM
Forest Hills Stadium at West Side Tennis Club, Forest Hills, NY

Sun. Sep 15, 2019 8:00 PM
Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, CT


All photos are copyright their respective owners.

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