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WEEKEND REVIEWS : Pop : A Lack of Imagination Traps Jethro Tull

It’s tempting to dredge up the old Jethro Tull title “Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll, Too Young to Die” to explain the mediocrity of the group’s performance on Saturday at the Universal Amphitheatre. But that would be too easy. After all, Neil Young has a couple of years on Tull’s Ian Anderson, and he continues to make provocative, unadulterated rock.

The real explanation for the irrelevance and tediousness of the Universal show goes beyond a few gray hairs. While the English band has inspired long-term loyalty from a devoted audience, it never really displayed the imagination and power of its art-rock peers, even in its earliest days.

But at least 20 years ago Tull’s highly mannered, theatrical “art-rock” sounded fresh. At the Amphitheatre, watching a youthful-looking Anderson play the flute as he stood on one leg--a gimmick he’s been using for two decades--while the band churned out “Aqualung” and “Locomotive Breath,” it was easy to imagine you were seeing some sort of “Tullmania” tribute staged by a bunch of look-alikes. The material from the group’s “Catfish Rising” and other recent albums uses the same heavy-handed formula Anderson has relied on since Tull’s inception, and it did little to break the spell.

Among some silly staged restaurant scenes and Anderson’s posturing, there were a few moments to enjoy. Longtime member Martin Barre is a dynamic guitarist, and the breezy “Living in the Past” (indeed!) hasn’t yet had every ounce of its appeal wrung from it. But whatever there was to savor about the show was overpowered by the sour taste it ultimately left. Tull also appears at the Spreckels Theatre in San Diego tonight.

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