With 30 studio and live albums that collectively sold over 60 million copies, Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull have toured the globe countless times since it all kicked off at London’s Marquee Club nearly 50 years ago. But across all the eras and incarnations, the legendary leader and his cast of outstanding players have never staged a theatrical spectacle quite like “Jethro Tull: The Rock Opera,” which featured live performances intermingled with floor-to-ceiling visuals.
Even with the quasi-operatic nature of the program, the double act, two hour undertaking still incorporated all the key elements of a massive rock show, from Anderson’s theatrical singing and flute-playing stances to his backers’ killer chops and playful interplay over lights and smoke galore.
This time through the opulent Chicago Theatre (which rarely sounded better), Anderson, bassist Grieg Robinson, keyboardist John O’Hara, guitarist Florian Opahle and drummer Scott Hammond told the tale of the real life Jethro Tull (the English agricultural inventor from the 1700s), who’s transported to this century to tackle hunger and environmental issues. Along the way, the program didn’t just feature several songs from the band’s beloved progressive/folk/hard rock songbook (with tweaked lyrics at times to further reflect the premise), but also a solid chunk of fresh tunes written specifically for the show, both of which interplayed with the actors/singers on the screen and descriptive scenery.
Even with the quasi-operatic nature of the program, the double act, two hour undertaking still incorporated all the key elements of a massive rock show, from Anderson’s theatrical singing and flute-playing stances to his backers’ killer chops and playful interplay over lights and smoke galore. An early inclusion of “Aqualung” and fellow first half highlight “Farm On The Freeway” were downright epic in their delivery, though newcomers “Prosperous Pasture” and “Fruits Of Frankenfield” also suggested there’s loads of life left in this spry 69-year-old.
Part two also recapped some of Jethro Tull’s apexes (“Living In The Past,” “Witch’s Promise”), alongside narrative-fueling debuts “Stick, Twist, Bust” and “The Turnstile Gate,” though it was the charging “Locomotive Breath” (complete with a train racing around the big screen) that sent a collective roar through the crowd. Although the troupe didn’t tackle as many hits as the lengthy list could’ve warranted, this undertaking was nonetheless enthralling and adventurous from start to stop, reinforcing Anderson’s refusal to simply cash in on nostalgia, but rather, stay committed to making meaningful new music propelled by continuously intriguing concepts.