During the summer of 1970, Bill Graham presented an extraordinary series of concerts at Tanglewood, the renowned classical music venue located in the scenic Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts. At the time, presenting rock music in a classical venue was a surprising and precarious step to take. To many, hearing The Fillmore and Tanglewood in the same sentence equated to "when worlds collide." Much like his approach at the Fillmores, Graham's "The Fillmore at Tanglewood" series presented diverse handpicked triple bills, but with the added advantage of a beautiful open-air venue and plenty of informal lawn seating. With the Fillmore East crew providing technical support, these concerts would be hailed as a technical and artistic triumph and would entertain the largest Tanglewood audiences to date. In a year plentiful with memorable concerts, these Tanglewood performances truly stand out.
The July 7th presentation at Tanglewood, featuring the Who as headliners (also available here in the Convert Vault) was certainly one of the most highly anticipated of the three concerts presented during the 1970 series. Also on the bill that night were San Francisco's It's A Beautiful Day and an up and coming English group Jethro Tull, then in the midst of their first tour of America as headliners.
1970 was a pivotal year for Jethro Tull, when their relentless roadwork and perseverance began paying off. The group's third album, Benefit was their most ambitious and original work to date. In terms of the band's profile in America, 1970 was the year Jethro Tull had truly arrived. The previous album, Stand Up introduced guitarist Martin Barre to the fold and found the band stretching well beyond the parameters of the blues-based debut. Both albums conveyed Anderson's growing confidence as a songwriter and with Barre on board, the group's originality and style had come into sharper focus. By the time of the Tanglewood concert, Anderson was becoming a prolific songwriter with increasing range and depth.
The 1970 American tour would find the group expanding to a quintet, with Anderson's longtime cohort John Evan joining the group on keyboards, further expanding the sonic palette. With Evan on board, the group's sound became more compelling. Classical elements now entered the already heady brew of blues, jazz, traditional English folk, and hard rock that defined the band's sound. Extended soloing, often featuring an extraordinary amount of spontaneous improvisation, became a major ingredient on stage. This tour would primarily focus on choice material from the group's first three albums. The one notable exception was the introduction of a new song, more scathing than anything Anderson had written before, titled "My God." Destined for the center position on Aqualung," the most popular album of Tull's career, this new number wouldn't see a release until the following year, and then in considerably shorter form.
Here, presented in full, is Jethro Tull's performance from that legendary summer night at Tanglewood opening for the Who, freshly mixed from Bill Graham's original multitrack masters for the first time ever. For decades, the only professionally recorded evidence of Tull on stage during this tour was two tracks recorded live at Carnegie Hall, included on the compilation album, Living In The Past. More recently, Tull's performance at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival has also seen official release. There, they performed a similar setlist admirably, despite challenges with the monitors and PA system and as serious tension brewed between the audience and the promoters. Tanglewood proves to be a far more musically conducive environment, resulting in an inspired performance, just as Jethro Tull was entering the prime era of their career.
Following some sound checking and tuning up, Jethro Tull get down to business as Ian Anderson introduces one of the most vigorous tracks from their second album, "Nothing Is Easy," which opens this set. Heavy and blues-based, this features interesting time signature changes, while conveying the manic hard rock intensity of early Tull at its best. This also provides listeners an excellent opportunity to hear just how much the original rhythm section of bassist Glen Cornick and drummer Clive Bunker contributed to the early sound of the band. Next Anderson encourages the Tanglewood audience to listen carefully so they can hear the rather quiet beginning of the band's newest number, "My God." Clearly conveying Anderson's contempt for organized religion, this would become the centerpiece of the band's monumentally successful next album, Aqualung. The song vacillates between the quiet acoustic guitar/piano/vocal sections and the crunch of the entire band kicking in, achieving dramatic effect in the process. This number also introduces a new characteristic of the band's live performances, where the song serves as a launching point to showcase an individual musician, in this case Anderson's flute work. For this solo flight, Anderson clearly emulates one of his idols, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, applying similar breathing, grunts, and groans into his solo. Interjecting familiar melodies, both comical and classical and at times adeptly accompanied by Evans on grand piano, the dynamic shifts of this new song and Anderson's lengthy solo combine into one remarkable performance that clearly delights the Tanglewood audience.
The remaining songs of the set will also feature extended solo spots, where another musician gets an opportunity to improvise and solo at length. This new structural element in their performances emulated the jazz musicians they admired, and while at times tedious, it clearly displayed daring and a growing self-confidence as musicians. Following a typically wry introduction from Anderson, one of the most haunting songs from the Benefit album follows in the form of "With You There to Help Me." A perfect vehicle for showcasing new band member, John Evan's contribution to their sound, this is another strong performance that demonstrates the group's mastery of dynamics. Evan's piano work is superb, but it's the structure and approach to the song that is so compelling. This flows along with Anderson singing in a world-weary voice on the verses and becoming forceful on the choruses. The band performs likewise, reinforcing the back and forth momentum that propels the song along. This segues directly into Evan's grand piano solo, commonly referred to as "By Kind Permission Of." This is an appropriate title, as he borrows liberally from numerous sources, proving himself adept at a wide variety of forms, from barrelhouse to Beethoven. Prior to the song, Anderson mentions that it is the Beethoven's bicentennial birthday, which perhaps inspires the emphasis on his piano sonatas within Evan's flamboyant solo.
For their final number of the set, they venture back to their debut album with the heavy-hitting "Dharma for One," written by Bunker and Anderson. Far more exhilarating than the album version and with a new organ prelude section and lyrics added, this is not only a drummer's delight, but has the entire band, especially Martin Barre, playing most aggressively. In fact, Barre and Bunker equally fuel this song; Barre with the thick crunchy rhythm guitar style that he would soon perfect on songs like "Locomotive Breath" and Bunker with his powerful drumming. Here, the entire band is superb, with Evan wailing on organ, and Anderson providing his most furious flute work, and Barre his most blistering guitar work of the evening. Cornick's bass also plays a critical role, paving the way into the otherworldly drone of the midsection chant. Throughout, Clive Bunker plays like a madman. During this era, Bunker had few equals (and one obvious one, Keith Moon, was in-house) so he launches into a pummeling drum solo clocking in at nearly 13 minutes! Despite its length, Bunker's power and velocity rarely linger, and his sheer stamina alone is a wonder. Following a searing return to the final vocal section of the song, Jethro Tull brings their set to a slamming close.
The Tanglewood audience has no intention of letting them leave without an encore, and when the group returns to the stage, Anderson says, "We'll do one more, but it'll have to be as short as it can be." However, nothing could be farther from the truth, as the group proceeds into a nearly 24 minute sequence of music that begins with the straightforward ballad "We Used to Know" and then veers off into an extended showcase for guitarist Martin Barre. The end of "We Used to Know" serves as a launching point for Barre, who for the next five minutes solos alone, with a barrage of bone crunching guitar riffs. When the audience begins clapping along, Barre becomes quiet and introspective, at which point Evan joins him for a guitar/organ duet sequence. Right around the nine-minute mark, Evan drops back out. Barre begins emphasizing the infectious riff, which through repetition has become the focal point of his solo, a riff Bunker can no longer resist. He and Barre lock in for a killer ten-minute jam that has these two musicians functioning as their own power duo. This intense improvisation, referred to here as "Tanglewood Jam," at times sounds remarkably similar to Cream, with Barre peeling off a barrage of ferocious leads while Bunker provides an agile and powerful bottom end. It eventually quiets back down, only to build back up to a second frenetic frenzy. It concludes with the howling sustain of Barre's guitar feeding back, at which point the entire band slams into the blistering hard rock of "For a Thousand Mothers." This comes across like a pummeling wave, other than the softer bridge section providing one last dynamic shift, and then they bring the performance to a powerful close. With the audience cheering and Anderson even saying "thank you," it proves only to be a false ending, and Tull fly off into one last sequence before concluding this monumental encore.
Although occasionally self-indulgent, this recording clearly captures an inspired moment in Jethro Tull's career, when their creativity was soaring. Anderson's songwriting was becoming distinctly original and the musical chemistry of the group on stage had become more seductive than ever. Yet as powerful as this performance is, for the Tanglewood audience it was only the middle of an extraordinary night of live music, as the Who would soon follow Jethro Tull onstage.
Written by Alan Bershaw