Judge Russell Engebretson takes us back in time for a classic concert and tries to alter history to prevent the coming of disco.
On August 30th, 1970, Jethro Tull played one of its finest performances to an audience of 600,000.
The English Isle of Wight rock concert is usually compared to the Woodstock rock festival: Both drew hundreds of thousands of spectators and featured the hottest rock bands of the late 1960s, and both were captured on film by professional cinematographers. In fact, there were other mega-concerts staged around that time; as an example, few people have heard of a show in Lewisville, Texas (Texas International Pop Festival) staged two weeks after Woodstock, which included many '60s superstar bands and drew a crowd of more than 120,000 (ticket sales only). Never underestimate the power of public relations efforts to determine what is remembered and what vanishes down the memory hole.
Public relations darling or not, much of the Isle of Wight show was preserved on film and can be viewed and judged now, 35 years later. Unlike the footage of Woodstock, the concert footage is being released to showcase one band at a time—a better strategy than following the Woodstock movie route, I think, since it gives the buyer a chance to pick his favorite bands, and it allows the inclusion of more of each band's performances. One drawback to this release, however, is that it contains too much present-day commentary by Ian Anderson, which has led to song cuts (a more complete version was available on a VHS tape release).
Ian Anderson is intelligent, articulate, and slightly cocky—he calls The Who a "classic…commercial" rock band—although he seems mellower than I recall from interviews in the '70s. His occasionally disparaging comments on hippies (he does make some positive comments, too) match the negative portrayal of concertgoers depicted on film. There were certainly more than a few tie-dyed, self-righteous blowhards on the scene back then, but they were in the minority. Nevertheless, the film is edited to highlight scenes of screaming longhairs pushing down a corrugated metal barricade, bitching about the "establishment," and screaming abuse at the concert organizers. Evidently, a lot of the ugliness occurred near the end of the concert, about the time that Jethro Tull was scheduled to perform.
The band's performance is very good, but absurdly over the top at times; Anderson admits that they sometimes overcompensated at large venues, because "you have to accept that most of the people aren't there to see you; they're there to see the other guys…maybe there's a tendency to be a little bit in-your-face." And really, did we need a drum solo the length of the Cretaceous period? Well, only eight minutes, but it seemed geologically long. I realize that interminable instrumental breaks were a hallmark for bands of the time, but this is only a 79-minute DVD.
The songs are a mixed bag. It seems odd that the blues-rock "A Song for Jeffrey" was included here; it's from the never-aired TV special The Rolling Stones Rock And Roll Circus. Perhaps it was included because it features Tony Iommi, the lead guitar player for Black Sabbath, who played very briefly with Jethro Tull. "My God" is from the Aqualung album of 1971, which was released after the Isle of Wight concert, so the band does a fiery interpretation of what was an unreleased new song for them at the time. Ian Anderson does some backpedaling on the antireligious theme of "My God" in his commentary. "Nothing Is Easy" is a rock-solid, standout performance. The band obviously had played it many times and knew just how to deliver it with crowd-pleasing bravura.
The following songs are included on the disc:
The film looks very good for its age; it's rather soft, but with well-saturated color. There are a few scratches in some scenes, with other scenes looking almost pristine. The editing is good, with a decent mix of long shots and close-ups. The sound is clear and mixed nicely for the surrounds. There is a noticeable lack of dynamics (comparative to modern recordings, the bass is not as deep, and the highs are somewhat attenuated), but really quite good for concert footage that is over three decades old. The DTS 5.1 and Dolby 5.1 both sound good, with the DTS having a slight edge, but there is no dramatic difference between them.
Overall this is a good DVD for the Jethro Tull fan, but it is oddly conflicted: Does it want to be a documentary of the concert, an interview of Anderson, or a musical performance? I would rather have seen more music and less footage of the crowd; and Ian Anderson's commentary, engaging though it is, should have been included as an extra feature. Jethro Tull: Nothing is Easy is an early slice of the band's musical career, and it is essential for collectors; however, a rental should suffice for most casual viewers.
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