After All the World’s a Stage, Exit Stage Left, A Show of Hands, Different Stages, Rush in Rio, Working Men, R30, The Grace Under Pressure Tour, Snakes and Arrows Live, Time Machine, The Clockwork Angels Tour, The Lady Gone Electric and infinite bootlegs, we finally have another live album from Rush. This has been one of the longer stretches where they haven’t released a one in recent years. R40 Live came out two years and one month after the last live recording. I have to give Alex, Geddy and Neil credit: it was worth the wait.
The “dinosaur trio” returned to launch a major tour celebrating 40 years of playing music together. When I received a “distant early warning” they’d be releasing a CD in commemoration I thought I was “losing it.” I purchased it deciding to “roll the bones” and see if they could “animate” some of the older tunes and not be “the wreckers” of them. I worried that after hearing this album, I’d want to stick my head “between the wheels” of a “red barchetta”. Would my musical tastes take a “headlong flight” from this band? Would that be “how it is”? Fortunately, R40 Live turned out to be more than “one little victory”. None of the tracks sounded like a “far cry” from the originals.
The band chose an outstanding format for this celebration. The package came with the audio and video versions of the show. The concert opened up with a pre-recorded compilation from the band’s history. Songs from the first album segued into one another leading into tracks from the last studio album, 2012’s Clockwork Angels. To balance this out, the concert set list began with songs from that album, progressed through tracks from the band’s extensive catalog and ended with a medley of tunes from the eponymous debut album.
I didn’t like the self-indulgence of Rush’s 30th anniversary DVD. Throughout the show photos of the band from over the years kept appearing on the big screen. The video portion of R40’s opening rectified this. It began with animated figures of the group walking down the street. Cartoon images of items from that period of the group’s history floated by in the background. The figures aged as they progressed though the various periods of Rush history.
I found the use of comedy absolutely outstanding. The animator ribbed Neil Peart for the mustache he sported during the 1970s, Geddy Lee for his 1980s ponytail and Alex Lifeson for his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction speech. I’ve been a fan for years and always enjoyed their sense of humor. The guys deserve a lot of respect for their willingness to be caricatured.
I also give Rush a lot of credit for their song selections. Most bands that have been around for 20 plus years use the same set-list every tour. They play the “best of” live along with three or four songs from the new album. Not Rush. Whenever they tour they pull songs “out of the vault”; in other words, they play tracks they’ve never performed live before. This offering introduced live recordings of Vapor Trails’ “How it Is” and “Losing It” from Signals.
In addition, they included songs they don’t usually play in concert. Since this is Rush, none of these cuts are easy to perform. R40 Live included oldies such as “Jacob’s Ladder” and the prelude to “Hemispheres”. The dueling double necks made “Xanadu” my favorite track. The two encore medleys, “Lakeside Park/ Anthem” and “What You’re Doing/ Working Man” rounded out the show nicely.
The ubiquitous complaint about live Rush recordings in recent years has been Geddy Lee’s vocals. To be fair, here, Rush’s melodies are just as complex as their bass, drum and guitar parts. (Are there any rests in the chorus to “Subdivisions”?) They’re not easy for a 20 year old to sing, let alone a man in his sixties. I thought the vocals on this concert album were Mr. Lee’s strongest since 1998’s Different Stages.
For those who still have issues with the vocals: I’d suggest being impressed that all the other instruments sound as sharp as they do. At the 2013 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, it sounded to me like the Foo Fighters struggled to keep up with the band on 2112.
I’m astonished to be writing this, but even for those who already own all the other Rush concert recordings, R40 Live is certainly worth picking up. Aside from the opportunity to hear songs they don’t usually play live, the classics such as “Tom Sawyer” and “Closer to the Heart” sound better than ever. It’s like these guys never age. I’m ready to reserve my copies of R50 and R60 today.