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Ian Anderson wants to show Jethro Tull fans unplugged can rock

Fri., Nov. 13, 2009

How many rock gods can pronounce the word “soporific,” much less use it correctly in a sentence?

Ian Anderson can, in explaining exactly what his concert on Sunday won’t be.

“It’s not laid-back, soporific, comfort-blanket music,” said Anderson, by phone from his Swiss home. “It’s not John Denver with a flute.”

This show, billed as “Ian Anderson Plays the Acoustic Jethro Tull,” will be an unplugged concert featuring a variety of tunes familiar to Tull fans – “Skating Away on the Thin Ice of a New Day,” “Aqualung” – performed by Anderson and an acoustic backup band.

There will be no electric guitar – but there will be a violist.

Anderson has never exactly been the usual strutting rock singer. As the leader of Jethro Tull, he burst onto the rock scene in 1968 looking like a ragged character out of Dickens. He stood on one leg like a flamingo and played the most non-rock instrument of all, the flute.

Jethro Tull went on to create an esoteric rock catalog, influenced by Celtic music, Elizabethan folk, jazz, blues and European classical music. One of its early hits was titled “Bourree,” a flute re-working of a Bach bourree for lute.

Yet Tull was even more famous for creating some of the heaviest riffs in hard rock, in songs like “Aqualung” and “Locomotive Breath.”

Jethro Tull is still alive and well, having just come off an extensive tour. But don’t expect to hear those hammer-blow guitar riffs Sunday night. This is billed as an Ian Anderson show, not a Jethro Tull show, for good reason.

“If we bill things as Jethro Tull, we invite people who are coming to hear a rock concert at excruciating decibels,” said Anderson. “I know from experience that even a Jethro Tull orchestral concert will result in a lot of people screaming and shouting and hollering during all of the places where the audience needs to pay attention.

“We end up with a giant train wreck courtesy of the buffoons who think they are at a major league baseball game instead of a music concert.”

While he still enjoys shaking the rafters, Anderson admits that “I’m a little more in my element playing with other acoustic and classical musicians.”

The group he’s bringing to Spokane includes two Jethro Tull members – David Goodier on bass and John O’Hara on piano and accordion – along with jazz drummer Mark Mondasir, flamenco guitarist Florian Opahle and violist Meena Bhasin.

Anderson promises it won’t be soporific – which means causing or inducing sleep. In addition to acoustic Tull songs, of which there are many, he’ll also be playing stripped-down versions of the heavier hits “in a way more akin to their origins, being strummed on an acoustic guitar in a hotel room somewhere in America, back in 1970 or 1971.”

You’ll probably even hear an unplugged “Locomotive Breath.”

Mostly, though you’ll hear music mixed from Anderson’s unusually broad palette of classical, jazz, blues, Celtic and folk.

“The talent is to bring these influences together, so that, unlike an Elton John hairpiece, you can’t see the joints,” he said.

Anderson paused and added, “That was an unnecessarily bitchy thing to say, but I do remember him wearing a hairpiece that looked like a cat had landed on his head.

“I speak as one who decided, a long time ago, that hair loss was just something to accept. Like my near neighbor Phil Collins, here in Switzerland, we sport fairly shiny heads and don’t give a (blank).”

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