Live at the Los Angeles County Fair 2000 (The Snippin´ Engineer, 2006-1)
Los Angeles County Fair, September 17th, 2000.
Intro/ For a Thousand Mothers / Nothing is Easy/ Medley: Songs From the Wood, Too Old to Rock and Roll, Heavy Horses/ Thick As a Brick/ With You There to Help Me/ Pibroch/ Hunting Girl/ In the Grip of Stronger Stuff/ My God/ Locomotive Breath/ Aqualung/ Cheerio (not listed on the CD).
Some audience recordings have the advantage of communicating the feeling and environment of the performance better than a finely-mastered soundboard would do, and this is clearly the case with this particular Jethro Tull CD. This has been released in silver by “the Snippin´Engineer”, a label that is perfectly unknown to me, but which has made a very attractive and elegant package, with photos from the late nineties line-up of Jethro Tull. While its sound quality could be improved, the source tape allows us to hear all the interplay of the instruments with clarity, and even though the participation of the audience is loud (even including some singalong close to the taper), it certainly contributes to making the listener feel part of the crowd at the Los Angeles County Fair in the evening of September the 17th, 2000, as Jethro Tull goes through a fiery, very electric revision of their repertoire. This CD does not reproduce the whole concert, though, as a few pieces from Roots to Branches and the then-latest Tull album Dot.Com have been edited out in order to foreground more classic material, thus reducing the length to 80 minutes.
The band for this tour included, apart from Ian Anderson, two very long-serving members of the band: the indispensable Martin Barre on lead guitar and the great Doane Perry on drums (Doane had been going in and out of the Tull from the mid-eighties onwards, occassionally replaced by Dave Mattacks). Along them were two relatively new, and certainly younger, Tull members: Jonathan Noyce on bass, who had to fill the shoes of longtime member Dave Pegg, and Andrew Gittings on keyboards (ex-Sniff and the Tears); both Jonathan and Andrew had been in Tull since the mid-nineties, so at this point this particular line-up was well tested and tried. Doane Perry´s drumming is particularly clear in the source tape, and this allows us to appreciate his dexterity and driving power in ways that are not noticeable in his studio recordings with the Tull. The same can be said for Andrew Gittings, whose good taste and melodic capacity certainly make him an able successor to the illustrious roster of Tull keyboardists.
The CD opens delightfully with some bright, uplifting flute figures played by Ian over Andrew Gitting´s keyboards; these figures will later be developed in the instrumental “In the Grip of Stronger Stuff.” Doane Perry charges in immediately with a mighty drum roll, and the concert properly begins with “For a Thousand Mothers”, a classic Tull number from the very early days. The crowd goes wild as Martin Barre´s guitar riffs and Perry´s percussive power drive the piece onwards with a keen sense of energy, showing that this band has not lost its edge over so many years; on the contrary, this version has far more bite than the studio original. “Nothing is Easy” follows, signalling the importance that Ian gives to the early, blues-rock work of Jethro Tull. But the audience clearly shows an even warmer reaction to a medley from Tull´s late-seventies catalog, made of fragments from “Songs from the Wood”, “Too Old to Rock and Roll, Too Young to Die” and “Heavy Horses”. Then comes a ten-minute selection from the complex “Thick as a Brick”, executed with immaculate precision by the five-piece ensemble and which elicits some enthusiastic clapping from the audience, particularly in the central “march” section. This is perhaps one of the moments which have become most reiterative at Tull shows through the years, since it is always the same fragments from “Thick…” that are played; it is, nevertheless, a necessary concession to the most progressive aspect of the band, without which the show would be incomplete. Ian is well aware of the fact that works such as this have been frowned on and been considered overlong and pretentious by musical critics since the post-punk era, and he takes the opportunity to joke about this with the audience as soon as the piece is over: “That was a fragment from the infamous concept album “Thick as a Brick” …and behave yourselves out there, otherwise we will be forced to play all of it!!” And he hastens to add: “Just kidding, just kidding…We would not do that, at least not in this millenium…”
Some magical moments follow with two often forgotten pieces from Jethro Tull history. The first is a six-minute version of “With you There to Help me”, from Benefit, showcasing the powers of Ian as a composer and a flute player: a haunting, suggestive piece, with the flute melody being underlined, over and over, by Andrew Gitting´s piano. Then comes a majestic fragment of “Pibroch” from the Songs from the Wood album, here offered in the form of a guitar solo by Martin Barre.
One of the problems with this`particular CD is that the in-between song editing is not smooth. This is painfully evident immediately after the performance of “Hunting Girl”; as soon as the song is over, the tape jumps straight to the middle of one of Ian´s introductions, just in time to record that he is dedicating the next piece to ex-Tull bassist Dave Pegg, but evidently leaving out his previous comments. The piece dedicated to Pegg is “In the Grip of Stronger Stuff” (taken from Anderson´s solo career) and, if truth is told, one soon forgets about the shortcoming of the editing once Ian drives this beautiful piece onwards with his flute, in full coordination with the Tull, who work here as a precise ensemble of virtuosi, with Andrew Gittings once more offering delightful keyboard figures alongside Ïan´s flute.
“Locomotive Breath” is introduced by a lengthy instrumental section, in which Ian plays the songs´s melody on the flute over a slow instrumental accompaniment; there is then a piano segue by Andrew Gittings (deliberately evocative of John Evan´s pianistic intro to the song in the seventies); the song itself only takes place…after full four minutes of jamming! Ian finally says goodbye to the cheering crowd, and presents the members of the band one by one. The first encore is, of course, “Aqualung”, and here we are treated to a powerful intro: Doane Perry creates a potent percussive backdrop with a deep drumming sound (quite reminiscent of Phil Collins) over which Ian executes some beautiful, enticing flute figures. After two minutes Martin Barre takes the lead, playing a variation on his famous solo in “Aqualung”, with extraodinary feeling and virtuosity; only after that do we reach the real body of the song. But there are more surprises to come: the outro to “Aqualung” is in fact a shortened revision of “Cross-Eyed Mary”, so that this final piece turns out to be a lengthy jam including both the two first songs from the Aqualung album and an extended instrumental section (based on “Protect and Survive”) at the end. The very final piece, however, is the brief, evocative “Cheerio” (not listed on the CD credits): a gentle goodbye to a very energetic evening.
There are certainly quite a number of better-sounding Jethro Tull live documents out there, and hopefully this page will include reviews of some of them in the near future. But if what you are looking for is feeling, warmth and the sensation of sharing an evening with a band at the peak of their powers, this CD is definitely worth adding to your collection.