Live Passion Play 1973 [no label 2CD Torrent: 100324]

Still the most contentious of Jethro Tull’s “classic” albums, and the first of them to seriously question its inclusion in that canon, A Passion Play is frequently invoked as the one album that most deserves a thorough reassessment, at the same time as remaining the one least likely get one. Certainly little about the project seemed at all well-starred, from the convoluted and frequently abortive sessions that the band ground through during its creation, and onto an almost three-hour live performance that was so poorly received that the band came close to abandoning live work altogether. Or so the newspaper stories said, and Ian Anderson has never thoroughly dismissed the claims.

Well, this is what all the fuss was about. Two discs not only round up the full A Passion Play performance, but then stretch out through an epic “Thick As A Brick,” energetic takes on “Cross Eyed Mary,” “Aqualung,” “Wind Up” (aka the intro to the then unrecorded Minstrel In The Gallery) and “Locomotive Breath”... and onto a Barriemore Barlow drum solo, which is as grisly as such things ought to be. 

In fact, the only thing missing is some sense of the sheer visual spectacle of the show, as film strips flickered, and scuba divers, gorillas and rabbits bounded across the stage. And maybe that’s where it falls down. Rightly or wrongly, A Passion Play was conceived as an audio-visual experience. Cut off one half of the equation, and you might as well run the marathon without any legs.

The sound quality doesn’t help, either. Without actually sounding bad, there’s enough muffle to negate the dynamics of the music and, with a performance of these proportions, that’s a lot of sonic squelching to wade through. Which is a shame because it’s true; A Passion Play does deserve to be revisited. But not, one fears, via its live interpretation. - Dave Thompson

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September 26, 2008