A few years removed from their semi-mime performance at the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus, Jethro Tull leveled up to nearly pinnacle showmanship at Isle of Wright, 1970. And this is where the the brand new DVD compilation Around the World Live begins. Unfortunately, there are only two songs featured on a night that captures Tull at its absolute best. “My God” (7:31) is just outright amazing to watch. A breathtakingly intense performance of the song, as Ian Anderson spasms and manically moves around like a man delightfully possessed, and the flute truly becoming an instrument for emotional exorcism. No flashy light show, no thematic lectures, just pure rock ‘n’ roll with a no-bullshit human intensity. And, of course, there is guitarist Martin Barre blaring his notes every musical step of the way. If this alone isn’t worth owning, I don’t know what the hell is.

The shows are not as visually intense as Tull’s career progresses via Around the World Live — and the timeline unfortunately jumps from 1970 to 1976 — but the musical performance remains relatively sonic.

Jethro Tull’s image changes quickly, too. The first question that will cross your mind when you move onto a concert in Tampa in 1976, is “What the f**k is Ian Anderson wearing onstage?!” Embarrassingly wince as you watch a man you truly respect wearing some crossdresser’s nightmare of colorful NERF-like spacegear. The suit fits the gig somewhat, as Anderson is more of a flakey, jovial conductor at the helm of an arena flagship, rather than that angry driver of a nuts and bolts, straight-ahead vehicle. Voice intact, expert on the fast and furious flute, he is still the showman, however — just a merrier madman on this date in Tampa. It’s not the best footage — a lot of it is 1970s’ color saturation and soft blur with a tendency to love the close-up of red faces and an Englishman’s bad teeth, but it’s worth noting the changes in Jethro Tull’s historical evolution. Thankfully, Martin Barre is the same. He especially shines in Tampa 1976 — as strong as his first note with Tull.

By the time Anderson is bearded and back in medieval garb, the band is deep in Germany in 1982 with a sharper video quality that is quite refreshing. The show itself is a bit restrained, as it is a performance at the end of Tull’s folk-trilogy stage. But all the footage in Germany (1980 – 1986) is a quality representation of the band.

You can hear Ian Anderson’s vocal abilities fade a bit as time travels on. He strains a bit on “Aqualung” as early as 1996, as will be viewed here. In contrast, Martin Barre’s heavy sound stands strong throughout. The truth is, rock vocals are harder to maintain.

As the footage continues to plow through the years, it visits Chile (1996), Holland (1999), England (2001) and, lastly, Switzerland (2003 & 2005), and Jethro Tull proves that it excels at playing fan favorites like “Aqualung,” Cross-Eyed Mary,” “Locomotive Breath,” and “Thick As a Brick.” “Locomotive Breath” is one song in particular that Tull has especially masters — it has something to do with the heavy chug of the rhythm and the steadiness of Anderson’s voice, even as they have aged by the time 2005 comes around. That aforementioned chug is precursor to Metallica’s signature sound. It shows how ahead of its time Tull had been.

Besides the Isle of Wright footage, the take-notice parts of Around the World Live are versions of “To Cry You a Song” and “A New Day Yesterday” mixed into a medley of deep cut favorites. Fans usually hate when bands do this — pack as many sweets into one wrapper — but it works because it’s not a sugar overdose.

And then there’s a candid recording on Holland TV with no audience present. “Thick As a Brick” is as good as it’s been played here. Bookmark it. Sure, the exciting reaction of the audience is missing but you feel like you are a special guest at a rehearsal, and that’s something you don’t see very often.

Lastly, Disc 4 is all 2005 Lugano Switzerland which includes a delightful performance of “Mother Goose,” an underrated composition and, incidentally, one of Tull’s top 10 songs. Anderson’s play between flute and accordion and guitar is a special addition. And Martin Barre does a worderfully jazzy instrumental from his solo album Empty Cafe. It’s probably a song many took bathroom breaks during, which is a shame, because it’s a highight. And, of course, there’s “Aqualung,” Anderson sounds pretty damn fine to close out the box set.

This 4-disc DVD set Around the World Live is practically priceless as a historical journey. It is beautifully assembled with a booklet that is made up of photographs from Ian Anderson’s personal collection, and has all the concerts wonderfully detailed. It is promoted as the ultimate set for any Jethro Tull fan. That’s pretty close to the truth. What keeps it from being a masterful set is it’s exclusion of Tull from 1971- 1975. But nothing’s perfect in rock and roll. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Label: Eagle Rock (you can purchase the DVD set here)