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Jethro Tull's aged schtick is still working


© St. Petersburg Times, published June 23, 2000

[Times photo: John Pendygraft]
Ian Anderson plays air guitar with his flute during Wednesday's performance at Ruth Eckerd Hall.
CLEARWATER -- It's a good thing Ian Anderson is a famous rock star. Nobody could stomach his pretentious antics if he weren't.

The lead singer/flutist of Jethro Tull, the classic progressive rock act known for its medieval sound, Anderson spent two hours Wednesday night prancing around the Ruth Eckerd Hall stage and bugging his eyes out at the sold-out audience as he played his flute.

The crowd, mostly white and middle-aged, responded with cheers, sing-alongs and several standing ovations.

Thirty-year-old favorites such as Nothing Is Easy, Thick As A Brick and Cross-Eyed Mary got most enthusiastic responses, while the audience politely accepted the lackluster, riff-heavy new material from the recent J Tull Dot Com. But it was Anderson's stage theatrics that resonated most.

Like a Riverdance performer, or someone wigging out at the Renaissance Fair, Anderson, long black scarf on his head, twirled and clogged, introducing each song with eloquent Elizabethan wit.

Anderson soloed on flute several times. At the end of nearly every song, he dramatically crossed his legs and thrust his hand skyward. Not that songs ended -- no, Tull is the type of grandiose band that milks it. Reprises? Oh, yes, with bombastic drum filling, flute trilling, and Martin Barre's electric guitar pageantry.

Anderson's pomposity is almost balanced by his camp. The singer's sense of humor showed in stage patter, even if he was ridiculing Tull for making "cocktail jazz" of a J.S. Bach composition. Such pretentiousness is hard to fault when delivered with such pluck.

Tull makes a merry time of it, for sure, with Anderson interrupting the show to answer a fake cellular phone call, tossing gigantic balloons into the audience, not to mention the grown-up person who ran across the stage in a bunny suit.

Ardent fans enjoyed the band's tight jamming. Those there for just the hits may have grown restless during the show's second hour, but the strains of Locomotive Breath helped revive pulses. Tull gave that chugging number new life, with Anderson's maniacal singing -- and eye bulging -- emphasizing the song's chaos. The band's encore medley, including Aqualung, brought fans to their feet a final time.

To reach Gina Vivinetto e-mail gina@sptimes.com.

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