The summer concert season is coming to an end. We're down to the last two weeks of the Ravinia Festival in suburban Highland Park.
This was the week of fifty's at Ravinia. It started with Jethro Tull bringing their fiftieth anniversary tour to the north burbs. It ended with Yes bringing their fiftieth anniversary tour to the same venue. Oh yeah, 50 Cent also made his debut at Ravinia (words I never imagined I would ever say) but for this review, we'll concentrate on the two legendary bands in the world of Prog Rock.
There have been thirty-nine musicians that have played in Jethro Tull. But there is one constant, Ian Anderson. As long as the flutist/vocalist/frontman is still around, there will always be a version of Tull. The other pieces are interchangeable. I don't mean to disrespect guitarist Martin Barre, who was with the band for more than four decades, but this always has been and always will be Ian Anderson's band.
To celebrate these fifty years of music, Anderson has taken the band out on a world-wide tour, because that's what rock bands do.
The concert is almost two hours of classic prog rock. Anderson uses a multi-media presentation which adds to the music. He shows former band members and other rock legends introducing their favorite Tull songs. He also uses the screen to add to his vocals, which are strong in the beginning of the show but fade some towards the end....understandable for a man who is now seventy and has been singing for five-plus decades.
The show is divided into two sections, with a fifteen minute halftime break. The opening is highlighted by "A Song For Jeffrey" and "My God", which Anderson said got the band into some trouble in the southern USA. The second set has a powerful version of "Aqualung" and the encore finale of "Locomotive Breath." The only song you were left wanting to hear was "Cross Eyed Mary." C'mon Ian, in a greatest hits show, you have to do that song.
Overall, it was a very good show. Anderson is still able to run back and forth across the stage, playing his flute and keeping the audience engaged. I left wondering how is this band not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
Talking about R&R HOF bands, one of it's newest inductees is the band Yes. They're part of the 2017 class. Like Tull, they started playing music in 1968, and they're also celebrating with a tour.
This version of Yes features Jon Anderson, Rick Wakeman and Trevor Rabin. I say "this version" because there is another group of musicians, which includes Steve Howe and Alan White, that also is labeled as Yes. That band played in Chicago earlier this year. Confusing? Well, yeah...a little. But they all decided that instead of wasting time and money on court fights and lawyers, to just be cool about the name, play the music and keep the cash themselves. Sounds sensible.
When "Yes" hits the stage, you'd look at the way they were dressed and you wouldn't think classic rock band. No outfits except for one....Rick Wakeman is standing by an impressive set of keyboards, wearing a flowing gold cape. It almost matches his shoulder length blonde hair. He reminds you of either Greg "Hammer" Valentine or Ric Flair walking into a WWE wresting ring. Wakeman is a true musician from the classic rock era. He has the look and he's ready to rock.
It brings us to the music and the musicians. These guys can play! Anderson still has that high tenor voice you heard on all the hits. Rabin is an outstanding guitarist and the tunes give him time to shine. Wakeman is still among the greatest on the keys. You watch him moving back and forth between a group of different boards and he's still making those incredible sounds that you remember from the 1970's albums.
But....as technically perfect as it is, it sounds like these guys have been playing the same thirteen songs over and over and over for more than a year. It sounds that way because this is exactly what has happened. The set list never changes and the music is missing a lot of the heart and soul you like to see when hearing a band play live.
There were some highlights. My favorite was an excellent version of "Perpetual Change" and while doing "Owner of a Lonely Heart", they break into a few verses of Cream's "Sunshine of your Love."
One word of advice for Jon, Trevor and Rick, when your audience is in their mid to late 60's (like you guys), knock off the twenty-five minute songs. We don't have the attention spans to keep interested for that long anymore. Thanks in advance.
So that's it for Prog Rock week at Ravinia. It was a reminder of the olden days when you could have seen both these bands, on the same bill, for FOUR BUCKS! Man, those were the days. Hmmm....I wonder what became of the band Kimberley?
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