The story goes that if Medusa looked back, she’d be turned to stone. But in the world of rock stars, looking back doesn’t turn them into stone it turns them into humans. It defrocks the rock. Cameras that once transformed musicians into something larger-than-life now return them to actual size. The men behind the curtain walk out and rather than talk about the Wizard, they talk about themselves…and reveal themselves to be nothing more than the men behind the curtains. Ordinary men, behind extraordinary curtains.
One of the great arena bands of the 1970s, Jethro Tull was once extremely successful in selling the illusion…and on a scale as big as any of the other behemoths. Their legendary shows at Madison Square Garden and elsewhere sold out based in part on fantastic/fantastical performances, where personas were equally as strong and important as the music itself. It wasn’t just the novelty attraction of hearing prog-rock filtered through Irish folk music and ignited by a possessed frontman it was watching the possessed frontman act all possessed and shit. Ian Anderson would toss himself around the stage like a Monty Python version of Iggy Pop, eyes bulging like a cross between tweedle-dee and tweedle-tweaker. Similar to the success Pete Townshend had with the windmill move, Anderson adopted a signature "flute between the legs" pose. It wasn’t a Tull show without it.
Interesting or, rather, disappointing then that a band that knew how to dress up for the audience decided to get undressed for the DVD.
The problem, it seems, is endemic to our times. It’s the Osbourne Syndrome. Ozzy Osbourne once the Prince of Darkness, a perceived threat to civilized culture, and a larger-than-life legend of the stage decided to let television cameras film his real, off-stage, family life. The result is fairly interesting, but decidedly not very rock n’ roll. He defrocked the rock.
As do Tull on the aptly titled "A New Day Yesterday" DVD. Ozzy, at least, is still entertaining even when he’s not onstage. The members of Jethro Tull, collectively and individually, just aren’t. A homemade video of your own family reunion is guaranteed to be more engaging. Even for serious Tull fans.
Furthermore, "A New Day Yesterday The 25th Anniversary Collection" isn’t really much of a collection. It’s excerpts from a collection. It should also be noted that Jethro Tull’s actual 25th anniversary occurred 11 years ago, in February 1993. This year marks their 36th anniversary. So, while they were never quite ahead of their time, they seem to have slipped back about 11 years somehow. (And it’s a damn shame too, because they used to at least be culturally relevant).
The main feature on the DVD is footage from a literal reunion which, remember, took place more than a full decade ago of 13 members of Jethro Tull, past and "present." The reunion takes place in a London pub. A television set with streaming video of classic Tull performances was placed in a corner of the pub where various members gathered to recollect. On-site interviews with Jethro Tull alumni are interspersed with brief excerpts of live performances and archival footage. Many of these clips are really quite good, but it’s extremely annoying that they are only presented here as crumbs and snippets. Rehearsal footage of "Thick as a Brick" (1992) cuts to live footage of "Thick as a Brick" (Madison Square Gardens, 1978) cuts to….bassist Dave Pegg explaining his switch from Fairport Convention to Jethro Tull?
The bonus material is where it’s at, if only because these seven songs are presented in their entirety. Applause for the inclusion of the "The Hare Who Lost His Spectacles." Originally filmed as a promotional video for 1973’s plagued Passion Play tour, it is a mini-musical vaguely reminiscent of "Alice In Wonderland." Balancing between cosmic spoof and genuine psychedelia, the video is artful and creative everything this DVD is not.
Originally released in 1994 on VHS, it is simply impossible to fathom why "A New Day Yesterday" would be re-released this year on DVD. Other than the obvious explanation, which is that it’s just another desperate attempt for Tull to put out product capitalizing on their name and past success (as opposed to, you know, investing in something new).
Don’t be surprised if, in six months from now, you see "A New Day Today Jethro Tull’s 35th Anniversary Collection" arriving on shelves. Be even less surprised if that collection is just the 25th Anniversary footage with bonus material from Ian Anderson’s recent "Up Close and Personal" tour…and maybe a discography or something equally useless included for good measure. It would certainly be consistent with Jethro Tull’s product releases of the past few years (okay, decade).
Ian Anderson, presumably the mastermind behind this turd, should’ve thrown this nice little reunion for his mates for the sake of a genuine private event. He should have filmed it but pressed just 200 copies. Then, in thoughtful commemorative packages, he should’ve sent a copy to all the musicians in the Jethro Tull family history. Next, he should’ve mailed copies to the managers, publicists, booking agents, and record company execs that were also a part of the Tull family. Finally, he should’ve taken the remaining copies and sold them on Ebay, personally, for a starting bid of $200 a piece. The respectable collectors (and/or suckas) would’ve helped offset costs while obtaining a truly unique piece of history.
Then again, one can’t help but wonder if that’s what happened after all. Except, rather than sell a couple dozen at $200-plus on Ebay, a distributor placed a couple thousand in stores with a $19.98 suggested retail price. Either way the outcome is the same, just about.
Not many people are going to buy this DVD, and certainly (since it is not a collectable) nobody really needs to. But hopefully it landed as a charming and gracious gift in the mailboxes of those who contributed to the history of Jethro Tull. May they proudly play it for their children to show what a successful entertainer their father once was.