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LOS ANGELES TIMES

24 July 1973

TULL'S AMBITIONS EXCEED CREATIONS

By the time Tull left the stage Sunday night, nearly 75,000 persons had paid upwards of $400,000 to see the English rock group during its unprecedented four-night stand at the Inglewood Forum. I only hope they found the show more rewarding than I did. There were, to be sure, moments of high style and imagination, particularly in the use of film, but there were also some moments of extremely tedious music.

From the series of standing ovations Saturday night, I'd have to assume the audience did find the concert satisfying. For me, flautist Ian Anderson, the guiding force behind Tull, has many of the same problems — and fewer of the benefits — he and the group exhibited when I first saw them at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in 1970.

While the group's stage antics at that time — highlighted by Anderson's flitting around like a wild-eyed, super-charged Captain Hook gone mad — and fire-breathing instrumental arrangements dominated by a sort of huff-and-puff flute sound - were among the most colorful in rock, there was a lack of strong, central focus to Anderson's lyrics that kept the group's music from realizing its full potential.

MORE SPLENDOUR ... LESS TROUBLING

Because Anderson's stage antics were so entertaining (they have been greatly reduced recently), the fact there was more splendour than substance to the group's music was not as troubling in live settings as on record.

The Aqualung album in 1971 was a major artistic advance for Anderson and the band. Several of the songs in the album — including 'Cross-Eyed Mary', 'Locomotive Breath' and the title tune — offered portraits of some offbeat characters which fit nicely into the theatrical nature — both visually and musically — of Tull's act. In addition, the album contained some thoughtful works ('My God' and, particularly, 'Wind-Up') that made one look forward to a larger, more extended work by Anderson, something in the nature of a rock musical or rock opera.

But Thick As A Brick, Anderson's 1972 attempt at a more ambitious, extended work, was riddled with monotonous, repetitious passages, again far more splendour than substance. Similarly, the heart of Tull's new concert, A Passion Play, grew agonizingly tiresome well before it reached its 40-minute end Saturday. Anderson's lofty ambitions far exceed his creations.

Things did, however, begin impressively at the Forum. Following a spirited set by Steeleye Span (an English group which has effectively merged traditional folk with modern electronics), the Tull portion of the evening began when a small white dot appeared on a movie screen at the rear of the stage. The dot flashed off and on in time with an amplified heartbeat. Slowly, the dot grew larger and larger.

A MERCIFUL INTERMISSION

After several minutes it turned red, and a ballerina joined it on screen. At first, the dancer was lying motionless on her back. Slowly coming alive, she eventually leaped through a mirror in what was a stunning piece of film. At that instant, the screen was raised and the group came on stage to begin A Passion Play, a chiefly instrumental work that alternates, in typical Tull fashion, between gentle moments and sudden, dramatic bursts of power.

While it holds your attention for a while, its instrumental repetitiousness and its unarresting, inaccessible lyrics eventually undercut its impact. After 20 minutes, mercifully, the group gave way to another engaging Anderson film. After the film, the group returned with another numbing 20 minutes of A Passion Play and then 15 minutes of Thick As A Brick. It then moved into some of the better known tunes from Aqualung.

If there was ever any question about the rambling, disjointed nature of Anderson's longer works, the placement of these punchier, crisper, more concise pieces from Aqualung on the same show answered it. Anderson remains a talented, serious, imaginative artist, but his extended works need more easily identifiable, engaging themes and varied musical elements if they are to be worthy of the attention he wants for them.

ROBERT HILBURN


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Thanks to Annette Jones for this article.