Jethro Tull’s acoustic side gets showcased on A Little Light Music



By Steve Newton

“So how’d it go last night?” That’s a question I’ll often start an interview with, to loosen things up when I know a musician has played a gig the night before. Usually, I get a response along the lines of, “Really good, actually,” or—if I’m talking to a young metalhead—“It was unbelievable, man!”

But Jethro Tull isn’t your usual band, nor Ian Anderson your usual frontman. He had an uncommon response to my casual query about his L.A. show the night before.

“Umm…it was okay. I mean, you have to remember that, for me, to answer the question of ‘How was the concert last night?’ has got a different set of parameters than those that might be applied by members of the audience or a rock critic or whatever. It’s easy to say, ‘Oh we had a great show,’ but that would be a nonsense. Very few shows are great shows—they’re a series of musical errors, struggling with acoustics, moments of things going exactly your way followed by something horrible happening where you make a total balls-up of it.

“I mean, the two hours on stage probably mirror in some ways the 24 hours of a typical day in the sense that there are good moments and bad moments. But the good bits make it worthwhile. The bad bits you try and either forget or…you take it all apart, listen to the tapes, try and sort it out again, and play it better tomorrow night.

“But it’s been like that for 24 years,” he says with a laugh, “and I’m still working on trying to get it right.”

Anderson will still be working on it when his band plays the Orpheum on Friday (October 23), touring behind its new live album, A Little Light Music, which showcases the group’s large stable of acoustic-based tunes. On the band’s current tour, it’s opening up with a one-hour semi-acoustic set, followed by a heavier rock set.

“We do mix it up a little bit,” adds the scholarly sounding rocker, “but the focus is there on the first set to include the more esoteric, more gentle parts of the music. And I explain it that way to the audience so that, I hope, I have their sympathy and understanding—at least the sympathy and understanding of the more volatile elements of the audience—to kind of just pipe down and listen to the music. In the second part of the show, there’s more emphasis on the up, the more aggressive side of the music.

“But for Jethro Tull it’s very difficult, when you look at the music, to separate the acoustic side from the rock side, because classic Jethro Tull songs like ‘Aqualung’ consist of musical extremes in themselves. There’s the sort of loud, heavy, archetypal guitar riff followed by a solo acoustic guitar and voice. So when that degree of difference in dynamics and instrumentation is inherent in individual songs, it is difficult to know whether to put it in a more acoustic set or whether to include it in the rock side of the set.

“As it happens, we use ‘Aqualung’ to close the first half of the show, then in the second half of the show, again, you’ve got the problem of there being at least two or three pieces where the acoustic stuff slips back into it again.”

Tull’s new album was recorded in eight different countries, including such non-typical rock towns as Cæsarea, Israel, and Ankara, Turkey. In light of next year’s 25th anniversary, it’s safe to say that the band is one of the most well-travelled acts around today. But one might wonder whether all that moving around gets tough on a guy as the years pile up.

“I think it actually gets easier as you become more experienced in reducing the stress factors in touring life,” says Anderson. “I mean, I would say that I was probably the last one awake last night at somewhere around 2:30 in the morning; I would lay any money on it that all the other members of the band were well asleep by two o’clock, even though we don’t have to travel today. They were probably all looking forward to having a relaxed, good night’s sleep.

“I mean, as musicians, you tend to be responsible in the sense of thinking about the next show and not getting crazy about getting yourself short on sleep unnecessarily or overly stressed by perhaps reacting in too volatile a way to the pressures of travelling life. The pressures are there, you just have to roll with some of the punches and not let it get to you.

“But you get better at that as you get older…oh, well…I think we do, anyway. Either that or you go crazy. Not a viable option, either musically or economically.”

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