Front man Ian Anderson was 28 when Jethro Tull released “Too Old to Rock ’n’ Roll: Too Young to Die!” in 1976. Judging from his performance at Hong Kong’s Asia World Expo, the passing of 37 years hasn’t slowed him down much.
In between jokes poking fun at his advancing years and memory loss, he’s determined to live up to the tour’s subtitle “Never Too Old to Rock ’n’ Roll.”
Dressed in a black skull cap, white t-shirt and black pants, he leaps around like a leprechaun, now perched on one leg during flute solos (if you’re unfamiliar with his trademark playing, think Karate Kid), now wildly gesturing to incite band members to play better, then doing high kicks that would do a can-can girl proud.
This athleticism overcompensates for the fact that the years have taken their toll on his voice. At times it’s painful to watch him strain for high notes on “Thick as a Brick” and “Too Young to Die,” a situation exacerbated by a heavier rock sound than the original versions.
The crowd, which is full of sixtysomethings, is willing to cut him plenty of slack. I meet one fan who’d seen him play at a free Hampstead Heath show in 1968 and another who caught him a few years later in Sydney’s Hordern Pavilion.
Anderson’s flute and acoustic guitar playing have improved over time, showcased in a moving rendition of “Hunting Girl.”
Unfortunately, there’s little chemistry between Anderson and 30-year-old lead guitarist Florian Opahle, whose flowing locks are like a blond Jack Black from “School of Rock.” His solo of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue is ill conceived and leaves us missing Martin Barre, who is now touring with his own band.
Things get better when Anderson joins local flautist Melody Chuan for “Griminelli’s Lament.” Her classical sound is a fine counterpoint to Anderson’s Rahsaan Roland Kirk-inspired playing on “Bourree.”
There isn’t much toe tapping, let alone dancing, until the band blasts into the title track from “Aqualung.” One white-haired guy somewhat self-consciously holds his lighter aloft.
With an encore of “Locomotive Breath,” people rush to the edge of the stage, unfettered by the absence of security guards: Hong Kong rock concert goers are famously well behaved. After 16 numbers, Anderson has barely broken a sweat, and clearly has as much fun as anyone in the audience.
The band’s next performance is on June 30 at London’s Royal Albert Hall. Information: http://www.j-tull.com/tourdates/
(Frederik Balfour is a Reporter-at-Large for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include Scott Reyburn on the auction market, Hephzibah Anderson on books, Ryan Sutton on New York dining and Stephanie Green’s Scene in D.C.