Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Passion Play on Tour, 1973

The old Kiel Auditorium in St. Louis came up in a church conversation recently, which in turn reminded me of seeing Jethro Tull there. Forty year ago this past May, the parents of my best friend took him and me and our dates to see the show, which, including Brewer and Shipley’s opening set, ran about three hours.

As I recall, Tull performed all of Passion Play (which had yet to be released), about half of Thick as a Brick, and songs from other albums like “Aqualung,” “My God,” and “Locomotive Breath,” interconnected with other music so that the band played almost continuously (broken up by a shtik, a telephone on the center of the stage ringing, causing the whole band to stop while Ian Anderson answered it). Tull’s show opened with a short film of a dead ballerina (who appeared on the album’s cover) raising, dancing, and smashing through glass. I found a set list online and would have sworn that the band also played “To Cry You a Song.” There are also clips on YouTube from different shows on Tull’s 1973 tour, which are fun to see after all this time. I remember bassist Jeffrey Hammond skipping around the stage in his cream-colored outfit and hat. Martin Barre, John Evan, and Barrie Barlow all took solos.

In my young mind, this concert was a very significant life experience. Never a big concert-goer, I basked in the joy of this one for a long time. My cousins’ gift shop in downtown Vandalia included LPs---I think that's where I purchased the 1972 collection Living in the Past, and for sure Thick as a Brick---and I watched each week for Passion Play to be released on LP, which it finally did in August. To tide me over, I purchased a 45 with two then-unnamed sections from Passion Play's side 2, “Overseer Overture” and “Flight from Lucifer.” I even asked the band director if I could learn to play a soprano saxophone, an instrument that featured as prominently on the album as Anderson's flute. He was patient and explained that I should stick with my clarinet.

If anyone is interested in reading about this complex and perhaps impenetrable album, I found a pair of sites with quite a bit of information (don’t forget the sidebars).
The first includes Ian Anderson’s assessment (which I sensed but in my enthusiasm couldn’t bring myself to admit) that the album needed the humor of Thick as a Brick. In fact, if I relisten to Tull now, Thick as a Brick is the one I turn to; combined with the newspaper of the LP release, it was musically enjoyable and also good satire in a Monty Python vein. I purchased that album at my cousins' store and then found a shady tree at the county courthouse under which to sit and read the famous newspaper cover.

Speaking of John Evan (upper left in this picture), the few things I’ve read about Thick as a Brick do not mention something about that album: how keyboard-driven it is. His work really carries the music.

A college friend, who reconnected with me on Facebook, remembered that I was a big Tull fan. But at the time, I thought “Bungle in the Jungle” was such a stupid song that my ardor cooled somewhat after the next album, War Child. (I was being snobbish. I also didn’t know that this song was part of an album that Tull tried to record after Thick as a Brick and abandoned.) I loved subsequent albums Minstrel in the Gallery and Songs from the Wood but then segued into other areas of music. Something about the epic prog-rock songs that filled one or two sides of a record---which Tull did on two albums and which ELP and Yes continued to do during the 1970s---appealed to me somehow. (You’d think I’d like Mahler’s symphonies, which I don't particularly.)

Whatever happened to my date to the concert? I found her on Facebook once and was glad to learn she’s married and working somewhere. Of course I didn’t friend her or message her, which would be inappropriate, and I didn't linger on her page. But I still know some of my best buddy’s family, and I visited his dad when he was in the same nursing home as my mom. “Life is a long song,” as Ian Anderson sings on a Living in the Past cut.

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