Live At Madison Square Garden 1978 (DVD)
Capitol / EMI, 2009
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/17/2009
How does one review a video that doesn’t always have video?
This is the challenge faced when watching Live At Madison Square Garden 1978, the latest archival release from Jethro Tull. Recorded during their Heavy Horses tour (and featuring the bass work of Tony Williams, who stepped in for an ailing John Glascock, who would die from heart ailments a year later), this set captures, in terms of the music, Ian Anderson and company at a high-water mark in their career. But handling lapses in the video, quite honestly, could have been better handled than with a slow slide-show of images from the concert. The accompanying CD includes most of the show, cutting only the opening of the broadcast, the band intro, and the final encore.
You see, back in the early days of sending video via satellite, it wasn’t like you had constant access to worldwide airtime – no, you had to purchase blocks of satellite time, and when your time was over, that was it. So, in order to have their set televised in Britain on The Old Grey Whistle Test live from New York City, they purchased just under an hour of satellite time. While that allowed for a decent set to be televised, it hardly was long enough for an actual concert, and the time that wasn’t being sent via satellite wasn’t being videotaped.
The viewer is left with three distinct parts of this DVD: pre-televised concert, the concert proper, and post-televised. The portions of the show that don’t feature live video are left with still photographs from the video portion of the show – and, honestly, it’s both hard to stay focused on the audio when you don’t have something to watch, and it’s a little disappointing that, given the history of Jethro Tull (and Anderson’s very clever wit), the producers couldn’t have come up with something better to fill the visual time. Perhaps some trivia about the band on the screen? Comments from Anderson?
But when it comes down to the actual portion that was televised, the viewer is given a real treat as they get to see a well-oiled machine. From the extended take on “Thick As A Brick” to the one-two punch of “Aqualung” and “Locomotive Breath,” Anderson and crew are absolutely on fire, highlighting the group midway through their folk-rock phase. Not only is some great musicianship put on display here, but the group really looks like they’re having fun. That enjoyment easily transfers to the viewer.
Taken as a whole, the entire concert is an absolute wonder, making me question why it’s taken so long for this to see the light of day. (Actually, part of me knows the answer, as Live: Bursting Out had recently come out around this time in ‘78, and the band was touring to support it and Heavy Horses.) This is, by no means, a knock on anything that Tull was putting out post-1980; if anything, I’d dare to think that people would have remained interested in Tull as their popularity began to decline a bit in the ‘80s.
Live At Madison Square Garden 1978 is a very solid portrayal of Jethro Tull early in the second decade of their career. Only one more thing would have made this a remarkable release: something that would have kept the viewer’s interest when there was no actual video from the show to be watched.