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Ian Anderson; Embraces `first love' - acoustic music.

Byline: Richard Duckett

Ian Anderson is not a musician living in the past.

"I do enjoy the challenge of something new," he said. "Sometimes it's because you write something new or you're working with new musicians."

Still, Saturday's concert at the Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts is billed as "Ian Anderson Plays the Acoustic Jethro Tull," a reminder that Anderson, 62, has quite a distinguished past. He is the founder and mainstay of the famous 41-year-old British band whose hits have included "Living in the Past."

"Distinguished" might not have been a description that exactly fit Anderson in the early years of Jethro Tull as he hopped around on stage playing the flute on one leg and looking, as someone once described it, like "a mad jester" (with often manic vocals to boot). But while the band was an unusual sight right from the start, it also distinguished itself from quite a few groups by having something to say and a willingness to try something new. There were rock songs, but the flute and the rest of the band also could wax acoustically poetic. There were concept albums (1972's satirical "Thick as a Brick") and rock opera ("Passion Play" from 1973). In "Aqualung" (1971) one of the targets was organized religion.

And now Anderson sounds very distinguished - at least he did on the phone Tuesday from Milwaukee, where he would open his current U.S. tour that night. And he is doing several things new with an interesting assortment of musicians on the 20-city trip. His band consists of German guitar virtuoso Florian Opahle, pianist and accordionist John O'Hara, bassist David Goodier, jazz drummer Mark Mondsir and violist Meena Bhasin (who Anderson, sounding protective, said was a bit nervous in advance of the U.S. opener Tuesday). The group will perform music from "Aqualung," previously unheard outtakes from sessions, specially re-arranged Jethro Tull rock songs, and three pieces that are brand new songs, Anderson said. Plus, "we do play a lot of improvised music."

Anderson's voice is deep, poised and English sounding, but not snootily so. Actually, he's originally from Scotland and spent part of his youth in the Northwest England seaside resort town of Blackpool, about which he didn't seem to hold a particularly high opinion. He now lives on a farm in the southwest of England, where he has a recording studio and office, and he's had a hand in several successful business ventures. Anderson and his wife, Shona, have two children. A few years ago Anderson had a serious problem with deep vein thrombosis, but he seems pretty robust these days, and has a nicely dry sense of humor. Last year he received an ultra-distinguished MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in the 2008 New Year Honors.

Honors notwithstanding, Anderson still works hard and tours a lot, both with Jethro Tull - which still exists as a band albeit with a multi-revised lineup - and in his individual ventures.

The acoustic tour is enabling Anderson to peer into some new musical directions, but it also harkens back to Anderson's roots and past. Acoustic music is what appealed to him first of all, not rock. "I was always much more interested in folk, blues and jazz. It was always acoustic music that got me interested. It's always been my first love," Anderson said.

A number of Jethro Tull's rock numbers "morphed into electronic rock" after beginning as acoustic compositions, Anderson said.

He pondered, "How might it have gone if I hadn't had such noisy friends?"

As Jethro Tull's longevity might suggest, Anderson and the band have maintained and continue to win new friends. He gets young and old audience members. "It's very much a young audience you see at the front. They're the ones I see. The older people are closer to where the toilets are ...

"We always did have quite a broad demographic anyway. It tends to be mixed gender. It tends to be boy, girl, boy, girl. I'm rather grateful for that. I would find it difficult to go out and play for an all male audience."

It would be easy, Anderson said, to fall into a safety blanket of performing all the old songs all the same way, time and again. There are artists who do, he noted. Indeed, "there's a demand for people to do just that. That's fine. It wouldn't suit me."

He likened himself to "an adventurous chef in the kitchen." In fact, he lists one of his hobbies as the growing of many varieties of hot chili peppers.

But back to the music. Besides the flute, Anderson plays a variety of instruments, including acoustic and electric guitar, harmonica, saxophone and balalaika. "I enjoy striking out a little bit and trying different things ... You find the common ground and you find the differences," he said.

"I'm not really just interested in just finding the common ground. It's these differences that make us as a species so interesting. I like that tension of finding that thing you can't really embrace. Sometimes through music you get to crack that open an inch."

Ian Anderson Plays the Acoustic Jethro Tull

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts, 2 Southbridge St., Worcester

How much: $35-$55. Call (877) 571-7469 or visit www.thehanovertheatre.org

ART: PHOTO

CUTLINE: Ian Anderson is shown performing in concert with Jethro Tull. Anderson is currently touring without the band.

PHOTOG: ASSOCIATED PRESS File Photo
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Oct 8, 2009
Words:910
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