Bluesfest goers flocked to the City Stage Friday night to enjoy the musical legacy of progressive rock giants, Jethro Tull. Spearheaded by founding member, Ian Anderson, the band is on a 50-year anniversary world tour, in celebration of debut album, This Was, released in 1968. The show also paid homage to some 36 musicians that were part of the band at different points in the timeline. Throughout the performance, a large backdrop screen displayed highlights of past shows, and ran reels of psychedelic scenes and luscious landscapes. In addition, there were featured clips of former members such as Jeffrey Hammond, John Evan, and Tony Iommi, along with well wishes from special guests such as Joe Bonamassa, who had recorded a cover of Jethro Tull’s “A New Day Yesterday” on his debut album.
Things got off to an appropriate start with the album’s first track, “My Sunday Feeling”, as Ian Anderson joined the other four members onstage. He wasted no time as he plunged into the first bright trills of his flute. It was by the third song, “A Song for Jeffrey”, that Anderson resumed his signature one-legged stance, to the delight of the crowd. More dedications and trips down memory lane came with songs like “Some Day the Sun Won’t Shine For You”, in ode to JT’s original guitarist, Mick Abrahams, who also popped in onscreen to say hello. It featured Anderson on harmonica, along with a smokin’ blues solo by current guitarist, Florian Opahle, whose Gibson packed a solid punch throughout the entire show.
One of my favourite pieces was the title track of JT’s 1978 album, Heavy Horses, which featured Icelandic singer/violinist, Unnur Birna Björnsdóttir, who appeared onscreen to add her crystal clear voice that brought out the song’s haunting medieval tones. Slash also popped up via video to introduce one of his favourite JT pieces, “Aqualung”, which possesses one of the most recognizable riffs in rock history. The backdrop now showed guest vocalist Ryan O’Donnell, who also lent his robust vocals to the song. Anderson switched from acoustic guitar back to the flute, and under the red light that shone on him, he looked every bit the devil’s imp as he flitted like a cat across the stage.
The pièce de resistance saved for the end was the classic, “Locomotive Breath”, which began with a gorgeous piano lead-in by John O’Hara before it exploded into the fire and brimstone the song is known for. Another spellbinding flute solo by Anderson, whose trademark of hums and breath bursts into his instrument added that extra garnish of insanity, while a video of a speeding train loomed behind. At the show’s end, a slide presentation of former JT members ensued as the band took their final bows, said their goodbyes, and left us in the throes of what was an absolutely riveting show.