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4 August 1973
TULL: CAN 72,000 FANS BE WRONG?
I don't know how it is in England, but in this country the minute you get too big, too powerful, people start gunning for you. Therefore, it was with some caution that I approached Jethro Tull's A Passion Play performance here in Los Angeles.
The advance critical word had not been good; oddly enough, though, it had been cautious. No diatribes about how this super-group had gone down the drain, only sad regret that his new log in Tull's book was not up to the high standards they had previously set for themselves.
For audiences, the short-comings of A Passion Play didn't matter in terms of ticket sales. Over 72,000 fans plunked down their money in record time to see their favourite group perform. The Friday night concert I attended at the Los Angeles Forum had people almost seemingly hanging from the rafters, intent on receiving every nuance from the stage.
It must be almost impossible for a group or artist to have any kind of critical evaluation from today's audience. Cheers filled the air, greeting everything from a throw-away kick to a major drum solo with the same enthusiasm.
Ian Anderson had only to raise an eyebrow to bring the first ten rows to their feet. Why should he do more?
Any review of the concert Passion Play must rest with the work itself. Sad to say I found it almost impenetrable. Careful study of the lyrics did little to alleviate the confusion of the work itself. Granted, further study is warranted; there's no reason to assume it's possible, or even advantageous, to grasp a work in one gulp, but it does leave a concert audience floundering.
A strong clue to the work itself must come through the film. Opening with the ballerina, prone, eyes closed in a dream-like state, she gives credence to the Jungian theory that all works of art are simply the creator's dream.
If we take that tack, the non-plot and action of the work and the film become at least discernible. Her first and only words are, "Something wonderful is going to happen," and we weave in and out of a real and fantasy world, courtesy of colour and black and white and the presence of a mirror.
Clear separation of reality and fantasy is not the sole province of the mirror; for our ballerina moves from a theatrical stage to a garden setting with an ease that defies rational explanation and fulfils instead the dream-like quality of the whole.
Obviously in some sense out ballerina is being pursued by the ravages of success and the pressures of performing; the movie camera shot with a fish-eye lens to give the impression of rape is the give-away here. And the original Passion Plays were, of course, about the life and death of Jesus.
Anderson has steadfastly refused to "explain" any of his works to his fans, which, perhaps (of course) is the right decision. For an audience it should hardly matter what the artist says, it's what the audience gets out of the work for themselves.
When Jethro Tull went into 'Thick As A Brick' I breathed a sigh of relief and settled back to enjoy the rest of the concert. Anderson was in rare form, leaping about the stage with the precision of an athlete.
His band is, of course, as fine a group of musicians as can be assembled and give them something melodic to play and there is no stopping them. I can only wonder how they enjoy playing A Passion Play.
The audience was with Jethro Tull all the way; it would be impossible to read the reactions of 18,000 fans who shouted, clapped and screamed for more any other way. The overall evening was a colossal success and remarkably enough it was one of the only concerts at the Forum where the floor didn't turn into a battleground with lighted matches and sparklers being hurled to the ground in a furtive remake of World War I.
Steeleye Span, who opened the show, making their L.A. debut with drummer, proved and excellent accompaniment for Jethro Tull. Steeleye's set was a little over 30 minutes and included old folk songs, complete with dancing and some a cappella singing. Unfortunately too many of the audience ignored the 7.30 start time and wandered in during the group's set. Steeleye, with their intricate harmonies and non-amplified (at least not loud) sound required a certain amount of concentration. But to my mind, they were fine.
Thanks to Greg Morrell for this article.