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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Jethro Tull Demonstrates Its Spunk at Universal Amphitheatre

December 16, 1987|DUNCAN STRAUSS

Say what you will about Jethro Tull, but Ian Anderson is still rock's best bug-eyed rock singer who stands on one leg when playing the flute. OK, he pretty much has the field to himself. But Tull's show Monday at the Universal Amphitheatre demonstrated that there's surprising spunk left in the band--and in the man.

Indeed, as the group lit into the opening tune, "Songs From the Wood," Anderson hit the stage fairly bursting with manic energy, gliding around, twirling his flute and gesturing to punctuate the music in a way that recalled the band's early '70s heyday.

Anderson didn't maintain that pace throughout, but the band (this year's model has keyboardist Don Airey and drummer Doane Perry joining the core trio of Anderson, bassist Dave Pegg and guitarist Martin Barre) can still put on an entertaining show--if you don't take it too seriously. The nice--and redeeming--thing is that they don't.

For instance, while introducing an excerpt from "Thick as a Brick," Anderson acknowledged that the full version had been "excessive." And at the end, when he flung huge balloons into the crowd, as he's done for the last few tours, they bore the message "Oh no! Not the balloons again."

If that self-mocking had gone a step further, maybe the band would've seen fit to trim the 20 minutes-plus, back-to-back block of an extended "Living in the Past" (no jokes, please) and "Budapest," and to cut the bombastic keyboard and drum solos.

But Ian and company recovered nicely from the sonic overkill of those solos, moving immediately into the lovely "Wond'ring Aloud" and a nifty version of "Skating Away on the Thin Ice of the New Day," featuring instrumental support from Fairport Convention (whose plugs for its new album during its opening set grew tiresome, as did some of its songs).

The three-show engagement ends tonight.

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