Music Review – Rush R40 Live

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.


Review: Rush – Clockwork Angels Tour

The ‘countdown’ is over Rush fans! Just like ‘clockwork’, following their latest studio album: ‘presto’! They released a live one recorded during the subsequent tour. While I have the MP3 version, I’m not entirely a ‘digital man’ so I made a ‘headlong flight’ to the store to grab the CD version. In the wake of my ‘vapor trail’ I realized this is the ninth live album put out by the band. Did we need yet another one? I think I speak for all Rush fans when I say that I couldn’t ‘resist.’

As always, Rush decided to ‘animate’ their performance by trying something new. They ‘rolled the bones’ and decided ‘circumstances’ were right to include some ‘different strings’ on the album. While this may seem like ‘heresy’ to some fans, ‘entre nous’, it was a hit! The Clockwork Angels String Ensemble had one ‘superconductor’. They responded to the ‘limelight’ through great ‘chemistry’ with the rest of the band. If the group aspired to make classics such as “Dreamline”, “YYZ” and “Red Sector A” sound fresh as ever: ‘mission’ accomplished!

Can Alex, Geddy, and Neal still rock after all these years? Have the ‘scars’ of ‘time and motion’ ‘between the wheels’ of their tour bus taken a toll on their performances under ‘the camera eye’? ‘You bet your life’ they ‘face up’ to the challenge of putting out a quality live album worthy of their reputation. They ‘show don’t tell’ that ‘dog years’ haven’t affected them one bit.

As the album opened, they ‘cut to the chase’. “Subdivisions” lead into “Big Money”. The band then varied it up with numerous tracks out of the ‘archives’. My favorite new addition to the Rush repertoire was “The Body Electric”. The last several tours Rush went into Reggae mode on “Working Man”. On this live recording they kicked the Funk into overdrive with this cut from Grace Under Pressure. I felt ‘tears’ welling in my eyes as the boys sounded like Chic on steroids with the way they rocked out on this track.

The recording also included most of the tracks from the Clockwork Angels CD. What a variety! There was the “Bastille Dayesque” “Headlong Flight”, the softer “The Wreckers” and the orchestral “The Garden”. I felt let down that the band chose to leave off “BU2B” and “BU2B2” from the studio recording. I thought they were among the strongest tracks on Clockwork Angels, so I’m not sure why they chose to leave in ‘limbo’ for the live recording. I’m hoping there’s a ‘ghost of a chance’ they play them in concert at some point.

I don’t mean to sound like I’m going on a ‘witch hunt’, but I did have a slight issue with the song selection. It was a ‘sweet miracle’ the way they balanced the old with the newer songs. They played 5 of 8 tracks off of 1985’s Power Windows. That wasn’t one of the better CDs in the Rush catalog. I thought I was ‘losing it’ while sitting through all these synthesizer driven cuts. Doing so was ‘one little victory’ for my patience.

Listening to The Clockwork Angels Tour made me wish ‘time could stand still’ or ‘freeze’, but I did manage to ‘stick it out’ and listen to the whole recording at one sitting. The CD proved that Rush are more than merely players. They put out yet another strong effort with enough variety to appeal to both older and newer fans. They deserve ‘a show of hands’ for this effort. It’s an ‘open secret’ that we can’t ‘turn the page’ on Rush just yet. And ‘that’s how it is.’