Ian Anderson at Park West

16 October 2006
Categories: Music appreciation

What a wonderful show. It was so fabulous that I was unable to compile a set list. That’s saying something: ordinarily my left brain has room—while my right brain groks the music—to memorize the list, using mnemonic devices that attach a song title or verse to the song’s number in the order.

Yet all I could do at Ian’s show (Friday, 13 October 2006 at the Park West Theatre in Chicago) was watch and listen and smile until my face hurt. So many of my favourite songs, of course, and played by an extremely talented group… but moreover the music had such a depth of complexity that I found myself befuddled with amazement.

For instance, I’d always known about the influence traditional English folk music had on Jethro Tull’s music—I mean, it’s fundamental—but this was the first time I’d noticed how much jazz played a role. Combine that with an ensemble numbering nineteen (including Ian), and some brilliant arrangements, and you have one excellent show.

Ian’s voice, well… he was just getting over a cold, and of course he’s been singing for quite a while, and the result was on-key but thin… lovely yet wispy, almost ethereal. The good news is that the sound mix was geared for it, so when the band rocked out it still didn’t totally wash out the lyrics.

Backing him was a quality rock combo (guitar/keys/bass/drums), but then also a chamber orchestra of around ten strings plus a handful of winds—including the first bass clarinet I’ve seen in years. They were all from the Boston Conservatory of Music, and Ian swore that the fact that all but one were women was merely the result of the applicant pool.

To be honest, though, the star of the show was the solo violinist, Ann Marie Calhoun. Not only is she disastrously, wars-are-fought-over-less beautiful, but she is an exceptionally talented violinist. She’s also a virtuosa bluegrass fiddler, and introduced a traditional bluegrass tune by saying that before she ever met Ian she had seen a picture of him on an old Tull album sporting his beard “like clouds” I think she put it, and she said she knew right then that Ian had “a little mountain man inside him.”

Anyway, she had consummate stage presence, fearsome violin licks, and, well, to be crass, a killer bod. I couldn’t take my eyes off her as the waves of sound washed over me, smiling with glee the whole time.

Apparently, having at least as much fun as me, was the orchestra. These kids were having the time of their lives. Years of practice and performance in stodgy orchestral concerts had not prepared them for a thousand adoring Jethro Tull fans cheering and swooning and giving multiple standing ovations. Ian mentioned that they had been getting used to life on the tour bus—“a little too used to it,” he said. Whether that’s true or just a wry joke, they certainly were still awestruck at being on tour. At Park West the route from the green room to the stage is a twisted path that passes through a public hallway, so security cordons it off during performer transitions. One of the musicians was overheard to remark how cool it was to have security staff holding back the people for them. It must have been a genuine rock star moment for them—a far cry from a black-suited string quartet.

  1. B
    March 15th, 2008 at 22:52 | #1

    Great review of this show…totally agree…Have you found any video of this show on youtube by chance?

  2. March 19th, 2008 at 12:03 | #2

    Thanks… and nope. Not sure if anyone was shooting, except maybe the usual camera-phone crap.

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