Traveling Music Reviews: Ian Anderson, Portland; Manic Street Preachers, Seattle
By Andre' Hagestedt
|Manic Street Preachers' bassist Nicky Wire photographed with the reviewer (sorry Nicky, I got you with your eyes closed)
(Portland, Oregon) – David Bowie predicted it with the song "Changes" when he sang: "Watch out you rock 'n rollers."Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull further explored aging and rock with 1976's "Too Old To Rock 'n' Roll."
Now Ian Anderson himself came to face that music this month at the Schnitz in Portland, as did the cerebral punk/pop outfit Manic Street Preachers in Seattle back in September. Both had some interesting results.
Ian Anderson, lead singer and power flutist of the seminal band Jethro Tull, played the Schnitz on November 13 with a decidedly organic, acoustic version of Tull tunes – as part of a tour that emphasizes the softer side of his compositions. Unlike the rest of this tour, however, Anderson played with an orchestra, Portland’s own Oregon Symphony.
Anderson and his furious flute weaved in and out of old and newer material, performing with Tull members David Goodier on bass and John O’Hara on piano and accordion, as well as new additions Mark Mondasir on drums, flamenco guitarist Florian Opahle and violist Meena Bhasin.
|Ian Anderson signs autographs outside the Portland show in November.
62-year-old Anderson is certainly among the lucky ones of his generation: he and Tull are not relegated to playing casinos and state fairs, rehashing the same old material with a Lawrence Welk-like stupor. There are still new compositions being produced and more territory being explored, mainly Indian-influenced gems like the heady “Change of Horses” and its nod to Celtic music that he performed here.
There is, however, an understandable yet unpleasant tendency for bands of this ilk to stick to many of the hits from their career; in this case it spans some 40 years. For hardcore fans like myself, who dig the deeper cuts and not the hits, this is where it all starts to feel worn out: more of “Aqualung,” “Locomotive Breath,” and numerous others you still hear on rock radio – decade after decade. Luckily, these were often redone in some surprisingly creative ways, sometimes coming across like a different song altogether. Still, no matter how creative the remakes, you sometimes feel stuck in time and aesthetically claustrophobic.
While Anderson’s flute playing was nothing short of awe-inspiring, he seemed to have considerable trouble vocally at times. His stage moves remained spry and even slightly crazed, while his somewhat blue sense of humor was razor sharp, yet dry in that beautifully English way. A highlight was making all manner of strange noises and grunts into his flute, then faking a kind of hernia incident – all to uproarious laughter.
The show started with some younger classics like the folksy, heady “Dun Ringill,” as well as rarer tunes like “March the Mad Scientist” and “King Henry’s Madrigal.” A goofy Christmas tune was a definite low point, and then mostly classics followed after. These were well received by the audience, but I found the newer material and more obscure tunes far more interesting and even brilliant.
While Anderson and his band have been around for 40 years, Brit outfit Manic Street Preachers has been around for about 20 years. For most, that would be enough to put them in state fair territory as well. But the Manics (as they’re called by fans), finally came to the U.S. again in September and October, kicking things off in Seattle by showing they are still one of the most powerhouse rigs in rock – albeit nearly unknown here in the states.
Back home, they play to 50 thousand easily. Here, at Seattle, Washington club Nuemo’s, about 1000 folks (many from Oregon) basked in the Manic Street Preachers’ decidedly manic array of musical styles, always fused with their intricate songwriting and intense lyrics.
Appropriately, they began the show from the beginning of their career: the soaring, achingly beautiful yet hard rock-meets-punk of “Motorcycle Emptiness.” To satisfy the masses, they often stuck to more top-40 tunes like “If You Tolerate This,” “Let Robeson Sing,” and “You Stole the Sun,” but plenty of their raucous, punk-like material from their first two albums, as well as gems from their dark and heavy “Holy Bible” album, made it into the set.
They then wandered their later, mellower material, moving between twisted, atmospheric pop and solemn acoustic songs. And there was plenty from their new album, “Journal for Plague Lovers,” which featured resurfaced lyrics from deceased lyricist Richey James Edwards, and a return to their more gut-wrenching nature.
Noticeably missing was any material from the 2004 gem “Bloodline,” but presumably that album has become controversial in the eyes of many Manics’ fans for its atypical sound that had more of an electronic edge.
Two interesting epiphanies came from the evening: singer James Dean Bradfield said the band admits it doesn’t understand the “new” lyrics from Edwards; and that some couples have taken dark but soft tunes like “Small Black Flowers” close to their hearts in a romantic way, even though there’s nothing vaguely pleasant about the subject matter.
For whatever reason, the Manics are not a big deal in the states. Perhaps it’s their often defiant stance against parts of American politics and culture. The nearly 1000 in that Seattle club that warm September night were ecstatic to have them back after a ten-year wait, however, with many following them to the San Francisco or Vancouver, B.C. shows later that week.
At about 20 years of being in the biz, the Manic Street Preachers show no sign of slowing down or becoming any shadows of themselves – yet. Plus, it’s almost impossible to imagine them as a bunch of old dudes dropping the F bomb as much as they do.
While Ian Anderson is definitely showing the wear of years, there’s still some vibrant exploration of musical worlds. He is undoubtedly enslaved by the masses’ hunger for all the old stuff he’s likely tired of playing after 40 years, so that Lawrence Welk-like feel of too much nostalgia will be around as long as Anderson is.
Heck, I’d probably tire of the Manics’ more top 40 material as well, if I saw them six times in a 40-year period as I have Tull and Anderson. Still, both the Manics and Anderson show that age doesn’t keep you from being brilliant and on some cutting edge, even if it does slow some of us down eventually.
I’d give the Manics a ten out of ten points for a monstrous, powerhouse show; and I’d give Anderson eight out of ten for new material and new versions, but docking a couple points for the vocal problems and the snoozy nostalgia (which I will admit may not be his fault).