Life is still a long song

A hardly winded Jethro Tull is back in Israel for three shows

Jethro Tull311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Jethro Tull311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
If you stay around long enough, you come back into fashion.
While that may be the standard working model for most Israeli politicians, it’s also not a bad career path for rock stars. Just ask Ian Anderson, the animated front man for venerable British progressive band Jethro Tull.
After a late 1960s to mid 1970s sterling decade of expansive, challenging albums focusing on Anderson’s intricate melodies, clever lyrics and stupendous flute playing, the band was swept under in the late 1970s punk explosion that deemed any music incorporating suites, long solos and flutes as utterly irrelevant, pompous and worse.
By 1989, Tull had become somewhat of a punch line in the rock world when the decidedly non-hard rock band was nominated for – and beat out Metallica – in the Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance Vocal or Instrumental category by the hapless Grammys. Even the band laughed at the inappropriateness of the award, taking out an advertisement in the music trade magazines with a picture of a flute lying amid a pile of iron rebars and the line, “The flute is a heavy, metal instrument!” However, somewhere along the way between topping the pops with ‘70s albums like Aqualung and Thick as a Brick and barely denting the charts in their nearly anonymous last two decades, something became clear even, though the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has continued to ignore them – a Jethro Tull live show is no joke.
40 years after their heyday, the quintet led by Anderson and guitarist Martin Barre, could still bring it on, with the same drilled cohesiveness, showmanship and flair that Tull built its name on.
And nowhere has that been more evident than in Israel, which the band has visited five times, most recently in the summer of 2007.
This time, they’ll be taking on three shows, at the Shoni Amphitheater in Binyamina on August 6, the Caesaerea Amphitheater on August 7, and at the Train Station in Talpiot, Jerusalem on August 9.
Between Anderson’s still-manic, flute-on-a-perch trademark playing, off-color quips and general star quality, and the grandfatherly Barre’s electrifying guitar solos, a Tull show is a lesson for all aspiring musicians in both professionalism and inspiration.
And lest one worry that the band would fall privy to the boycott fever that has dotted the summer’s other international shows, Anderson must have felt enough pressure to write a letter on Tull’s official Web site explaining his decision to perform in Israel.
“To those who tell me I should ‘boycott’ Israel (or, for that matter, Turkey or Lebanon), I can only point out that on my travels around the world I am continually reminded of atrocities carried out historically by many nations who are now our friends, and it serves to strengthen my resolve that some degree of peace and better understanding may result from my and other artists’ professional and humble efforts in such places.”
“If I had the opportunity to perform today in Iran or North Korea, hell – I’d be there if I thought it would make a tiny positive net contribution to better relations.”
He added that, like Leonard Cohen’s initiative when he performed here in 2009, the Tull shows in Israel “would be for the benefit of charitable donations to bodies representing the development of peaceful co-existence between Arabs, Jews and Christians, and the fostering of better Palestinian/Israeli relations.”
So, if that’s not enough reason to get out to one of the three venues next week to see Jethro Tull, then consider this – it’s a chance to witness one of the one-time great acts of rock & roll, against all likelihood, still being great.