Judge Bill Gibron often enjoys skating away on the thin ice of a new day, even if this DVD will leave all but the most ardent Jethro Tull fans feeling thick as a brick.
Where the flowers bloom like madness in the spring.
Poor Jethro Tull. No, not the 18th century agriculturalist from which the famed band took its name inspiration (he invented the seed drill, don't you know). Ian Anderson and his merry band of prog rock minstrels have been around since the mid '60s (!), producing albums that defined early '70s album-oriented FM radio before disappearing into the post-punk oblivion of a music industry that couldn't comprehend their British country manor swagger. Now, they're a fancy footnote and part of a funny anecdote, known mostly as the group that beat Metallica for the first Best Hard Rock/Heavy Metal Performance Grammy in 1989. Unlike Rush, who've somehow parlayed a less than flattering critical past into reigning old school God status in the new millennium, Tull's attempts at remaining relevant and respected have folded back onto themselves. Even as their tours sell out and their albums reach satisfied audiences around the world, their perceived irrelevance is startling.
Collecting performances from different appearances of German television, this latest DVD entry from Eagle Vision probably won't change that opinion. Shown in mode both startling (the earliest material) and pedestrian (anything after '85), we see how one man's devotion to his own internal muse made his musical legacy likeable if limited. Anderson may be a right sprite onstage (no matter the age or era), but his songs still sell the same moribund mysticism that keeps the Tolkein estate in fine wines and caviar. For those interested in the set list, here are the various live performances presented:
From Rockpop in Concert (1982)
From Rocksummer (1986)
From Out of the Green (1986)
Beat Club (1970-71)
For many, Jethro Tull as both an act and an overall musical concept and approach, will always be expertly personified by frontman/flautist Ian Anderson, and Jack in the Green Live confirms this brilliantly. While his elfin Englishman in codpieced tights takes a bit of getting used to, and the orchestral element of his appeal—the flute—is hardly the stuff of serious metal machismo, his songs and style are easily approachable. Tull's take on prog—if they can even be considered part of said bloated genre at all—was more stripped down and twee than many of their baroque brethren. They were more of a Gothic "Greensleeves" (without the morose fascination towards death) than something overblown and faux epic. Sadly, the set list selections here avoid many of the group's musical mainstays. While "Aqualung" and "Locomotive Breath" are present, missing in action are teacup classics like "Skating Away on the Thin Ice of a New Day," "Living in the Past." "The Whistler," and the band's sole AM triumph, "Bungle in the Jungle." While it's clear that their latest release The Broadsword and the Beast is on Anderson's mind (gotta sell those newfangled CDs, right mate?), the DVD could have delved deeper into their catalog.
Another issue that some may find disconcerting is the lack of a true band dynamic, both from the behind the scenes direction and the sonic decisions. Anderson's leadership is unquestioned, but that doesn't mean he has to dominate every shot. When long time guitarist Martin Barre rips into the solo from "Aqualung," the camera stays on him for a second or two before returning to Anderson. And while the vocalist's preening is pleasant enough, it's clear who the cameramen think the viewing public prefers. There are very few long or establishing shots here, compositions constantly giving us limited, front row access only. In addition, because Anderson is so animated, so captivated by his own jester's knave demon dance, the frame can barely keep him centered. Our view goes pear-shaped more than once. While the music is uniformly good (even the early '70s slip up which sees Anderson stop "Nothing is Easy" to complain about the performance), the visual element is slightly lacking. True fans won't care—Tull never triumphed on the back of brazen showboating or stage theatrics. But for those unfamiliar with the reprobate Renaissance Fair quality of their output, this may be a weird digital document.
With material dating back to 1970, one might expect a scattered set of tech specs from package producer Eagle Vision. Oddly enough, that's not the case at all. All the footage here looks fine, the analog element of the videotape used being the only old 'defect' detected. The 1.33:1 full screen image looks mighty fine, colors clear and details well defined. On the sound side, things are vastly improved. Three different mixes exist—a definitive Dolby Digital DTS Surround presentation, a slightly less impressive 5.1 Surround offering, and your standard two channel Stereo setup. Stick with the high end arrangement and you'll have no aural qualms whatsoever. As for added content, this disc is truly lacking. There is a wonderful insert pamphlet that offers an intriguing essay on the band, but the only "extra" on the DVD itself is a menu-based ability to select a specific song. For a contextual perspective, that's a rather underwhelming option.
While it would have been nice to see more vintage era efforts (no "Me Decade" teen was without a copy of M.U.: Jethro Tull's Greatest Hits in their record collection), Jack in the Green Live is an interesting artifact for those who've enjoyed the band in all facets of their musical morphology. They may never live down that Grammy win, but Jethro Tull is clearly more than a headbanger's afterthought. These live appearances definitely prove that.
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