The band Jethro Tull has been many things over the years of its existence: first a blues-rock combo, then a prog rock pioneer, a folk revivalist, a synth-rock band, and so forth. But here’s what you know of Tull probably – wild-eyed and wild-haired Ian Anderson standing on one leg, playing that emblematic flute and wearing a codpiece. You probably also know that dirge-like riff that possesses the track “Aqualung.” That might be about it.
In some way, the release of the 4 DVD package Jethro Tull – Around The World Live which appears through the ever-reliable Eagle Rock Music company seeks to correct that interpretation, although that is never offered as a mission statement. With appearances spanning from 1970 to 2005, and comprising several iterations of the group (with only Anderson and, mostly, Martin Barre as the constants) it is impossible to deny that even from first principles this was a highly ambitious effort.
In other words, this is total bait for longtime fans and I’m not about to dissuade you one bit. As a fan myself, albeit one with strong opinions about what exactly Jethro Tull actually is, I was thrilled to find this was not four discs of Anderson trotting out the Aqualung album over and over, across continents and decades. In fact, there is a lot of weight put on latter albums including the criminally ignored Roots To Branches. That’s not to say the Aqualung material doesn’t get a workout. As one of the band’s most recognizable and best-selling albums, you were bound to get some “Cross-Eyed Mary,” “Locomotive Breath,” and healthy doses of the title cut interspersed throughout, but the viewer of these six hours of material never feels the new stuff is being shunted aside because “the fans only want the hits,” nor is there a sense that the older stuff is being derided.
Housed in a book-sized hardcover package with 32 pages of written material, the set makes a nice companion to last year’s remaster of Thick As A Brick. What the set does not do, however, is easily become a recruitment item for new fans, and that really isn’t the point anymore. There are some groups that will still continue to garner new devotees and I would not say Tull won’t hook curiosity seekers and fans of music that stretches common genre bounds. I will say that the idea of large audiences of the young suddenly rediscovering Tull is unlikely, especially as synth-driven electronic music is currently changing the structure of music, not just the sound.
Instead, Around The World Live is best enjoyed by people like me who break out the Original Masters best-of compilation on a frequent basis. This set acts in the same way, and for us the changes in audio/visual quality are not disruptive. A lot of the material on the set was shot on film, recorded with microphones placed not for the benefit of capturing music but of documenting a moment overall, and therefore might be a put-off for newer viewers. But again, a lot of this material was never expected to be a commoditized asset and so having some of this archival stuff is in itself kind of a miracle. This is for the fans who experienced alongside the group their own stylistic refinement and time-accrued maturity. Rather than just having stayed the long-haired bashers that pumped out duplicates of the Benefit album for four decades, Tull grew and you can see that transition through this collection. Growth is bound to happen, just as a function of time. That’s not a bad thing, and neither is Jethro Tull – Around The World Live.