Talk From The Rock Room: Rock Room on the Road: Martin Barre Band - Live at Fort Hill Performing Arts Center October 9, 2023

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Rock Room on the Road: Martin Barre Band - Live at Fort Hill Performing Arts Center October 9, 2023

Legendary rock and roll guitarist and songwriter Martin Barre of Jethro Tull fame brought his "A Brief History of Tull" concert tour to the Fort Hill Performing Arts Center in Canandaigua, NY on October 9, 2023. An intimate and beautiful sounding room played host to a eclectic array of songs from Barre’s forty plus years as the lead guitarist in Jethro Tull. His guitar was a foundational element of Jethro Tull’s compositions, often blurring genre’s and rooted in complex excursions in melody. The evening was designed a chronological exploration of Tull’s impressive catalog. The songs handpicked by Barre were not his only favorite compositions, but songs that fit the abilities of his new band. The tunes well played tributes, as well as fresh reinterpretations. 

The four-piece group was comprised of Martin Barre on lead guitar, Alan Thompson, bass, Darby Todd on drums and percussion, and vocalist and guitarist Dan Crisp. No song was off limits for the lineup, and they explored the Tull catalog with power and grace. While there was a noticeable lack of flute for some Tull fans, Barre and Crisp’s dexterous guitar work more than made up for the potential loss. Crisp’s vocals resonated and hit the note consistently. A notated scroll was shown on the stage screen detailing the Tull era's being traced by the band and placing the music in a context.

Barre took the stage and stepped up to his mounted acoustic guitar and picked out the resplendent opening to “Look at the Sun,” from Jethro Tull’s 1969 Stand Up record. The song segued into “Someday the Sun,” a track from the group’s 1968 debut. Barre would move easily from acoustic guitar to electric throughout the evening, even playing a bit of flute. In front of a vibrant and ever-changing video screen thematically mirroring the on-stage narrative, the group bounced between songs from Tull’s first two records. After a deft scurry through the fuzzy instrumental “Cat’s Squirrel,” Barre picked up a flute and played his own delicate “Serenade to a Cuckoo,” from the Jethro Tull This Was record. 

The band was only testing the Finger Lake waters, and before long threw themselves from the shoreline into the deep with some serious jamming. “Bouree',” from Stand Up began the journey with stunning guitar work taking the place of some of Ian Anderson’s breathy blasts on the flute. Just like the album versions, “Bouree,’” fell into a multifaceted performance of the song “Back to the Family."

The band careened through the early 1970’s with deep and well-known cuts from Benefit and Aqualung, including “My God,” two halves of which were separated by a diversion into the classical piece “Palladio,” by Karl Jenkins. The band shows off, locking down the rhythm section while Barre explored every nuance of the melody.

Barre still plays with a vibrant and youthful ambition. His Paul Reed Smith guitar, a silvery sonic arrow slicing the air, dancing through the changes. The exclusive guitar driven arrangements soaring through the historical Tull back catalog. 

Dan Crisp’s multiple vocals were a highlight throughout the set. Especially evident on “Black Satin Dancer,” where out of the verses a sneaky jam coagulates featuring multiple guitar driven highlights throughout the song. A snippet of the cut “Back Door Angels,” is also deftly tucked into the arrangement.

Despite having some equipment issues which he took in stride, Barre and the band closed the set with a devastating three song run through 1974’s underrated War Child album. “War Child,” and the atonal central lick of “Sea Lion,” were an electric carnival, a medieval blues. Meter changes and heavy interchangeable melody lines by the string players brought the opening set to a well-earned conclusion.

The second set focused on the later portion of Jethro Tull’s career and in no way lost any momentum gained by the first. The powerful rhythm section of Thompson and Todd framing both Barre and Crisp’s cinematic lines. The riffing got fast and furious with “Acres Wild,” from 1978’s Heavy Horses. The pastoral riffing of the original turned edgy in the heavy hands of the Martin Barre Band. 

Barre changed over from his PRS guitar to a Fender Stratocaster for the first songs of the set. A surprising reading of the two versions of “Under Wraps,” from Jethro Tull’s 1984 LP of the same name followed. The record, a favorite of Barre’s, is a polarizing recording for Tull fans because of its use of synthesizers and preprogrammed drums. The Barre Band versions of the songs are stripped to their studs and given a new life with a fresh approach and sonic painting. 

Also freed from their constricting "of the time" production values, songs like “Under Wraps #2” and “Protect and Survive,” became pallets for orchestrated guitars and Barre’s oily tone. “Protect and Survive,” was played as complicated instrumental, a rolling cobblestone of progressive string bending. 

The churning paranoid intuition of “Watching Me,” was one of four songs played on the evening from Jethro Tull’s 1982 record The Broadstone and the Beast, with Barre lending some groovy, sonic manipulation and flittering flute to the song. After a poignant dual guitar driven “Slow Marching Band,” the band closed the second set with a towering “Steel Monkey,” from 1987’s Crest of a Knave.  
Eschewing the chronology and announcing the encore, Barre and his band blew off some steam with the two-fer of “Locomotive Breath,” and “Hymn 43.” Both songs spotlighted Barre riffs that epitomize the expansive breadth of his influence and abilities. The crowd responded in kind to the perfect choices.

By surrounding himself with able accompanists to help share his vision of the Tull catalog, Barre has brought a sense of unity to the separatism that has defined the Jethro Tull name since his departure in 2012. His guitar playing a critical piece in the Jethro Tull soundscape and concurrently in the guitar styles and approaches to come out of the 1970's and into the beyond.

Martin Barre Band 2022 Complete Show

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