Ian Anderson & Jethro Tull Fail to Rock the Wellmont Theater

With his flute by his side, Ian Anderson, 67, took to the Wellmont Theatre in Montclair, NJ on Monday, Nov. 10, to bring fans back to the early days of his band Jethro Tull and the creatively distinct music they brought to life. However, it seemed the life had to be choked out of the night in order to be seen.

One hour, 60 minutes, 1200 seconds—that’s how long Anderson kept his crowd waiting to hear even one of Jethro Tull’s classic hits. He used the first hour of the show to play an “opening act of sorts” off his new album, Homo Erraticus, and to take a 20 minute trip to the bathroom. I’m sure all of the middle-aged men with prostate issues were elated to hear of the intermission, but all I could think was, “who takes breaks anymore?”

So, with a fresh bladder back on stage, Anderson mandolin-ed his way into “Thick as a Brick” and brought some energy back into the building. The anticipation that was fizzled out during his opening act was beginning to resurface.

Anderson molded the show into a kind of trip through time, showing the year the song came out on a giant screen behind him before he played, and a video of his 1970s-self singing the song while he performed. Almost obviously saving his last bullet of the show for “Aqualung,” he left the stage with a booming audience. Looking past that, however, I found some oddities with the show.

Firstly, the solos. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with a strong Hendrix-like solo for a few minutes in the middle of a song. When I saw Buddy Guy at The Wellmont, he would flourish a guitar-smacking solo on almost every song, taking a few seconds to gauge the audience’s reaction, which was almost always overwhelmingly positive. With Anderson, the solos seemed dragged out and tiring. But then again, it’s hard to compare the ear piercing electric guitar solo of a Buddy Guy to Anderson’s flute. It just isn’t fair.

In addition, Anderson had a young actor/singer/shadow on stage with him sharing the spotlight on all of his songs. To anyone that watched, it was more of a reviving than a sharing (although Anderson does and always has done a great job of sharing the spotlight with his band members, exiting the stage when there is a guitar solo). Anderson was glad to pass on the mic when the high notes were soon to come.

This concert, along with the surprisingly disappointing Chrissy Hynde show I had seen the week before, made me uneasy about some of these aging classic rock greats that are still on tour. In addition, their treatment of the audience with the way they organize the set lists they produce for these shows are sometimes perplexing, and almost rude.

I sympathize completely with the band’s desire to play their new music and get it on the audience’s mind, maybe convincing them to go out and buy their most recent album. However, starting the show with five new songs in a row like Hynde did, or spending an hour on new tunes like Anderson did, is not the way to go about presenting the material.

When I’m at a classic rock super-band concert, I want them to come out of the gates and punch me in the face with some of the greatest songs they’ve released, ones that I can sing along to. I don’t want to be saying to myself, “I don’t know any of these songs,” or, in other words, “what the hell are they doing out there?” within the first twenty minutes of the show.

An act that devised nearly a perfect set list was Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, whom I had seen at Madison Square Garden in Sept. promoting their newest album, Hypnotic Eye. Petty played 5 or 6 songs from Hypnotic Eye, but they were stretched out in bits and pieces throughout the performance. Let’s face it, Petty is no dope—he’s an entertainer. He knows what his audiences want to hear. But so are these other artists. Which can’t help but force the question out of my mouth past the lump in my throat: are some of these acts losing their touch with age, or do they simply not care?

Overall, I left the Wellmont with the same empty feeling in my gut that had come shortly after the Hynde show. It disappoints to see these great artists and entertainers not able to hold a crowd like they used to. However, with acts like Buddy Guy, Tom Petty and my soon-to-see The Who withstanding the years, there is still hope.

IMAGE TAKEN from newyorkcitytheatre.com