Reviews

Jethro Tull

Larry Rodman

The platinum-wigged female string quartet has been conspicuously absent since 1974's Warchild tour, and the bassist who once sported a matching diagonal black and white striped suit and guitar has long since moved on.

Jethro Tull

Jethro Tull

City: Vienna, Virginia
Venue: Wolf Trap Filene Center
Date: 2000-07-30

Boomer Blues The platinum-wigged female string quartet has been conspicuously absent since 1974's Warchild tour, and the bassist who once sported a matching diagonal black and white striped suit and guitar has long since moved on. The bandleader wore neither his long, ragged coat nor his mutant minstrel get-up, accessorized with a distinctive silver codpiece. There was a guy in a rabbit suit, though, and enough moonstruck madness to convince me that I was seeing Jethro Tull at some earlier point in the band's flamboyant history. They were, in my circle, one of the defining bands of the Seventies, and they're still an internationally popular act. The years haven't dimmed these rockers' power, at least in terms of the will, if not the flesh. They have, in effect, stood their ground for so long that the music world has been forced to grow around them. For some reason, Willie Nelson's tune "On the Road Again" has been going through my brain lately. Particularly the line where he likens himself and his buddies to a "band of gypsies." Well, Tull front man Ian Anderson, a similar iconoclast in some respects, is a Chaucerian figure, leading his erstwhile mates on to Canterbury. Jethro Tull has toured perennially for going on 33 years, and their press asserts that they've done over 2,500 concerts. Now in the autumn of their collective career, they're frankly overqualified for the mono-dimensional tastes catered to by popular music. How can one account for the rousing character and apparently limitless self-perpetuation of this musical unit? For one thing, there was never much question of Tull fitting in with the norm, so they've avoided dating themselves. They occupy a fringe of that branch of rock dubiously labeled "progressive;" a term recently saddled with marginal, suspect implications when applied to music or politics. Since Tull has shown itself to be adept at Brit folk rock, blooze and skiffle boogie, hard rock, and classical or jazz idioms -- ye gods, you name it -- categorization of any kind is basically insupportable. Singer/songwriter/flautist Anderson is one of only two of the original members. The other is guitarist Martin Barre. But this is no pack of geezers coming out of retirement, backed by a few studio musicians. Keyboardist Andrew Giddings, a band member since the early '90s, is indispensable to the overall sound, and also adds his touch of well-rehearsed irreverence to the live show. (To name drop some other '70s chart gods for an example to the contrary -- The Guess Who -- well, they tour with a mere skeleton of the original group. The rhythm section, to be specific. Nothing like reliving your adolescent angst to great old tunes being recreated by a band that are, in essence, their own tribute group!) Tull's evolution was more organic than mercenary. Its reconstitution has been similar to the biological process of the sloughing off and regeneration of the body's cells every seven years. Obviously, a Jethro Tull show is going to include a majority of the songs from the back catalogue; stuff you still hear on Classic Rock radio, or as period window dressing for the occasional movie or TV show. But there's a healthy dollop of new music, besides. Jethro Tull have suffered no unreasonable gaps in their recording career, so they've pretty much always had an excuse to tour. While Tull didn't necessarily emerge unscathed from the faddish electronica of the '80s, an era which purists may well discount entirely, they've pulled things together admirably during the last decade. Anderson, in particular, has persevered and prevailed, in recent solo projects, and within the Tull format. Anyway, this is all leading up to a report from the front; I saw them doing their stuff over the summer. It was at one of those "sheds," a roofed-over amphitheatre, where yuppies and trust fund kids get the assigned seating under cover, and the rabble and their coolers are strewn over the back lawn. The place was positively bursting with humanity. Finding a perch with clear sightlines would have been next to impossible, but being free to amble about, following the crashing waves of music, shopping for outrageously priced T-shirts, or to take a piss during a drum solo, was pretty cool. They performed a complete retropective beginning with their second album Stand Up (1968), and moving at random through Dot Com (1999). The old stuff and concert mainstays were done with a twist or two that belied how often these guys must have played them by now. For the initiated, I hardly need to list some of the selections; you can count on hearing an improvisatory version of "Bouree," the Bach cover tune that probably runs through Anderson's head on a loop only perceptible when he wakes at 3 a.m. to complete silence within his secluded estate. "Nothing Is Easy," from the same album, is more of a novelty. The lyrics directly invite listeners, dragged out by adversity and anxiety, to take comfort in the restorative power of the music. This elemental offer of succor hit me very close to home back when I originally heard it. The evening wended along on its way, in both full-bore rock and acoustic modes. Highlights from latter day works included "Beside Myself," from Roots to Branches (1995), an autobiographic tale of the well-off Western tourista, helpless to do much but observe the ravages of life in the Third World. Also, "In the Grip of Stronger Stuff," from Anderson's Divinities (also 1995), an instrumental for keyboard and flute dedicated to a hard-drinking Tull alumna. Notably, they excerpted Thick As a Brick (1972). This is an epic, unified song-suite comprised of discrete passages and movements -- a blatant parody of concept albums, which also functions as the ultimate concept album. This record blew the roof off, back in the day. I've heard countless live versions of it. Yet, I've begun to notice an interesting effect: instead of the music stagnating, it seems to recombine a little differently each time. It's a maddeningly intricate piece, but not only do they seem to excerpt a different segment of it each time out (which I could understand), I think they also know it so well now that they can shuffle its sequence. In other words, it's become a truly modular composition, and playing it's a hellacious party trick. I'm probably imagining all this. All the same, considering the difficulty of the piece, we were definitely treated to a grandiose chunk of it. Such hardened professionals as they are, they probably consider this feat no big deal. Anderson, a jocular and ribald MC, teasingly threatened that if we didn't behave, he'd play "the whole damn thing." Anderson's flute playing is staggeringly skillful. I've seen him listed alongside the late Jean-Pierre Rampal recently in the music press. Sadly, though, as Tull aficionados have known for some time, Sir Ian's public singing voice blew itself out somewhere between the 1000th and 2000th live date. Watching him gamely struggle through some of the material amounts to an exercise in compassion. After all, it's his sacrifice for the benefit of the fans. And the audiences' tolerance for imperfection and age is indicative of the boundless goodwill the band engenders. The fact remains that great gobs of people, old and new devotees alike, are willing to pay big bucks for the privilege of returning to see them year after year. After the guaranteed encore of medley-fied versions of "Aqualung" and "Locomotive Breath," and the ritual oversized helium balloons playfully batted out over the dispersing crowd, it was time to bid our old friends adieu. Then, on to the dreaded festival parking lot, where the touchy-feely, communal vibe was abruptly shattered by the horrendous death march of gridlock. This underscored a vintage snippet of Tull lyricism from the *Warchild* album, a philosophical reference to the struggle for existence, "the fight for your life that is everyday." In a show of civilized restraint, no vehicles were overturned or burned. It was another measure of our loyalty to these great musicians that we were willing to put up with each other's presence, if just for one night.

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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