Author Archives: bradbirzer
Last year a small group of Canadian proggers from the CPL (Canadian Prog-rock League) broke through the hard defensive line of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to finally become members of said Hall. This immediately lead to arguments over whether or not they were the first Progressive Rock band to be so enshrined with some sighting Pink Floyd’s induction in 1996. This lead some to demure, “The band is just fantastic! That is really what I think. Oh, by the way–which one’s ‘Pink’?”
Now that Rush has done their job as fullbacks for the CPL, it’s time for other worthy prog rockers to follow their lead. And no one is worthier than YES. Do I have to tell you why? I see that some are unconvinced, shaking their heads side to side and murmuring “Gentle Giant” and “King Crimson” and “Starcastle”. (What? Starcastle? Mon Dieu!) I could list their songs, their sold-out shows, their endless line-up changes (um, maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned that?) and other achievements but you know all that in Proghalla.
The simplest reason is that YES is the one on the fan ballot this year. So I am asking, humbly beseeching, I am Looking Around at all you Proghallians and asking you to vote for YES on said ballot. (That includes you, Harold Land!)
And hey! Rush fans, Geddy Lee is on record as voting for YES!
Here are the links. You can vote once a day until polling closes.
While my copy hasn’t arrived yet (I’m eagerly awaiting it), Sam Healy’s first solo project, SAND, came out today from Kscope. iTunes and amazon.com both have music samples, and I’ve been enjoying them quite a bit.
Healy is the lead singer and main songwriter for the Celtic (Irish and Scottish, I’ve recently discovered) prog group, North Atlantic Oscillation. I’ve had a chance to correspond a bit with Healy over the past week, and I’ve found him to be as intriguing and intelligent as one would imagine from this deeply talented song writer. He’s also quite witty. After I mentioned to him that I was heading to class (western civilization), he reminded me that all would be explained when I came to realize that “Soylent Green is people.”
Thank you, Sam.
For more information, go here: http://www.kscopemusic.com/2013/10/04/sand-the-debut-album-from-new-project-by-sam-healy-north-atlantic-oscillation/
The year, frankly, has overwhelmed me—but all in a good way. As someone who has followed prog rather consciously since about 1981 (age 13) and has been exposed to it since about 1971 (age 3), I love the genre. Frankly, I love many forms of music, including classical, opera, and jazz. I’ve never learned to appreciate anything about country and rap, and, given that I’m 46, such prejudices will probably remain.
Sometime around age 22 or 23, though, I realized that financially, I was going to have to chose a genre if I wanted to collect and listen with any seriousness. Perhaps it’s the slight OCD or some other quirk I possess, but I’ve never liked doing any thing half way. In fact, as my maternal grandparents taught me—whether in taking care of the yard or cooking a meal or baking a loaf of bread or even in helping a neighbor—there’s no sense at all in doing something only partially. In fact, to do anything partially was to slap yourself, integrity, and God in the face. If you’re going to do something, do it well. In fact, do it with excellence, if you possibly can.
So, if I wanted to throw myself into a genre, and not do it halfway, I had to choose between jazz and prog. I love poetry too much, so prog seemed the best genre, as I find much to appreciate in fine lyric writing. And, even in psychedelic lyric writing, there’s a joy to figuring out the puzzle of imagery.
And, so choosing prog, I realized soon after that I’d chosen a genre made up a lot of folks like myself—a number of OCD perfectionists! And, I found that almost everyone making prog was (and is!) deeply committed and intelligent. And, so were (and are!) the fans. No one who loves the superficial of life becomes a prog musician, artist, or aficionado.
The problem was, of course, that when I was age 22 (1990), there wasn’t a lot of prog happening. At least not much new was coming out. Yet, prog could be found all throughout the rock world—though not always in the likeliest places. As a genre, though, prog was probably at its lowest point in terms of what was being released. Yet. . . yet. . . we were only a few years away from Brave and The Light and The Flower King . . .
Flash forward 23 years. Holy schnikees. What a year 2013 has been. Really, could it be better? Doubtful. And, as I mentioned in my Preliminary Awards piece a few days ago, an argument could be made that we’ve reached the pinnacle, the Mount Everest of Prog! I know, I know. Eric Perry is going to slap me down for being hyperbolic. Damnit, Eric, I’m from Kansas! We’re not exactly subtle!!!
Phew. Ok, I feel better getting all of that out.
Two quick comments. First, these are in no order, other than alphabetical. Frankly, these albums are just too good to allow my own will to separate one from another by “better or better.” With one exception. I would think any lover of the genre would want to own each of these. Second, there are several albums that I suspect are wonderful, but do to my loan limitation because of family and work, I didn’t have time to absorb. This latter list includes releases by Sam Healy (SAND is en route to the States as I type this), Mike Kershaw, Haken, Francisco Rafert, Ollocs,and Sky Architects, I apologize to these artists, as they took the time to contact me, and I was unable to give them credit where credit is due. In due time, I will, however.
So, the list of the must-own cds of 2013, with two important exceptions.
Ayreon, The Theory of Everything. I hope to offer a full review of this soon, and I think fellow progarchist Tad Wert will as well. The earlier series of Ayreon albums—possibly and arguably one of the most complex science fiction stories ever written—seems to have become self contained and at an end. Now, if I’m understanding the lyrics from Arjen Lucassen’s latest correctly, Ayreon has become a project about exploring the self rather than about the self exploring the universe. This is not easy listening, in terms of music or lyrics. The former is a shifting feast of glory, no idea lasting more than two or three minutes before gorgeously transforming into some new idea, and the latter is deeply introspective and intelligent. I’ve never had the chance to meet Arjen, but I would guess that he must be about as interesting as possible. For him to keep such a huge range of ideas in one album, musically and lyrically, screams brilliance. I only have one complaint with this release. I’m a huge fan of Arjen’s voice, and he relies on the voices of others. All good, if not outstanding, but I want Arjen’s voice.
Cosmograf, The Man Left in Space. Phew. Yes, let me write that one more time. Phew. That English chronometric and entrepreneurial demigod, Robin Armstrong, has now released four albums under the project name of Cosmograf. Each is better than the last. And, each of “the last” was pretty amazing and astounding and outstanding and lovely and meaningful and . . . you get the point. The Man Left in Space is existentialism at its best. Just as Arjen has written one of the finest science fiction stories of the last century, Robin has given us the musical equivalent of of the works of Albert Camus and Gabriel Marcel. Add to near perfect story telling the musical work of Greg Spawton, Matt Stevens, Nick D’Virgilio, and, among the best, Robin himself, and you have a work of art that will stand the test of time. A family man who loves speed, Robin also loves excellence.
Days Between Stations, In Extremis. This one was a complete surprise to me. A review copy arrived in the mail, courtesy of the band and the master of American prog PR, Billy James. I was intrigued by the cover [que, background sound, Brad’s mother: “Never trust a book by its cover. . . “], though I frankly don’t like it that much. It’s by the famous Paul Whitehead, but it’s a little too psychedelic for my tastes. But, then, I looked at the musician list. Holy smokes! Tony Levin, Billy Sherwood, Colin Moulding, and Rick Wakeman. How did this come about, I wondered? Sherwood and Moulding sing on the album, and neither has ever sounded better. Indeed, they seemed to have been created and birthed for this album. Overall, In Extremis is symphonic prog at its best. At 8 tracks over 70 minutes, the album never lags. It flows together beautifully and movingly. There are some of the most gut-wrenching passages, emotionally, I’ve ever heard in a prog album. And, the two main members of the band, Oscar Fuentis Bills and Sepand Samzadeh, know exactly when to linger over a musical part and when to move on. The high point: The Eggshell Man. I have no idea who or what he is, but I’d like to meet him.
The Fierce and the Dead, Spooky Action. Four great guys—Matt Stevens, Kev Feazey, Stuart Marshall, and Steve Cleaton—making the best music possible for two other great guys, David Elliott, European Perspective Guy (I think this is official superhero name) and founder of Bad Elephant Music, along with the hilarious and artful James Allen. Matt Stevens is a stunning person and artist. It’s been fascinating and heartening to watch him struggle as he makes his way into the profession. He very openly asks about opportunities. Should he pursue fame first or art first? I always know where Matt is going to land. Probably many of us do. He always comes down on the side of art, knowing the fame will follow when it follows. I hope and pray he never changes his mind or soul regarding this. There are lots and lots of folks out there—not just progarchists—cheering these guys on. As my close friend and fellow progarchist, Pete Blum, has said, nothing has hit him so hard since the days of Zappa. And, for Pete, this is a massive and important statement. Everything on this album is wonderful. In particular, I’m quite taken with Parts 4 and 5, a continuation of a theme that Matt and the guys started with Part I, their 19 minutes epic from their very first release. TFATD, not surprisingly, also seems to have started somewhat of a sub genre within prog, the prog instrumental album. In otherwords, what TFATD is doing is roughly equivalent to what progressive jazz was in the 1960s and 1970s. A good sign for the health of all concerned. In particular, newly emerging bands such as Ollocs and Rafert are also releasing instrumental albums, all of them quite good.
The Flower Kings, Desolation Rose. This release surprised me as well, but not for the reason Days Between Stations did. As far as I know, I own everything Roine Stolt has made or contributed to since about 1994. Every side project, everything. So, there was never a question about whether or not I would buy the new Flower Kings album. I would certainly list Space Revolver (2000) and Paradox Hotel (2006) as two of my favorite albums of all time. Stolt always has the power to release wonder in me. Whether it’s the wonder about the first day of creation (Unfold the Future) or John Paul’s Pizza (Space Revolver), I love the libertarian, hippie, playful spirit of Stolt and the band. Really, think about the members of this band. Stolt, Bodin, Reingold, Froberg, and Lehrmann. Already reads like a “supergroup.” Not that they can’t be as serious as they can be trippy. One only has to listen to “Bavarian Skies” or the “Ghost of Red Cloud” to know just how deep they can be. What surprised me about the new album, “Desolation Rose” is just how political and angry it is. I don’t disagree with the anger or the politics. In fact, I think I totally agree. But, “Desolation Rose,” lyrically, is about as far away from “Stardust We Are” as one could possibly imagine. This diversity just demonstrates how talented this Swedish band really is. The entire album builds until it reaches its highpoint (in terms of intensity) in “Dark Fascist Skies.” The final two songs, “Blood of Eden” and “Silent Graveyards,” offer a rather calming denouement.
Fractal Mirror, Strange Attractors. I’ve already had a chance to write a long review of this excellent album on progarchy, and it was (and is) a great honor do so. Strange Attractors is not only one of the best releases of 2013, it’s the freshman release of a brand new group. Three folks—all of whom met one another through the internet prog community (how cool is this!)—makes up this band. Leo Koperdraat, Ed Van Haagen, and Frank Urbaniak. But, we have to add a fourth. It’s art comes from Brian Watson. This is really important. Not only is Watson an amazing artist, but he also creates an image for the band in the way one associates Yes with Roger Dean, Talk Talk with James Marsh, and Jim Trainer with Big Big Train. It’s one of the joys of prog. The art can be (and should be!) as beautiful and meaningful as the music and lyrics. But, back to the music. The three members of Fractal Mirror have created a stunning progressive soundscape, gothic and heavy in tone, but light in the space created. I realize this sounds like a contradiction, and I wish I had the ability to explain it better. I don’t, sadly. It’s really not like anything I’ve heard before. Suffice it to state, it’s quite refreshing and welcoming in its own intensity.
Leah, Otherworld. This is the only EP to make the “best of” list this year. It’s also the only release I’m listing in which the artist (Leah McHenry) doesn’t consider herself a progger. She places herself more in the metal camp, and this becomes obvious in the final song of the EP, “Dreamland,” a beauty and the beast duet with lots of metal “growling.” Whatever one wants to label Leah’s musical style—and I would call it a cross between Sarah Maclachlan and Arjen Lucassen—it is very artful. Leah’s voice could haunt a moor! So much depth, truth, and beauty in every note. The EP is only five songs long—Shores of Your Lies, Northern Edge, Surrounded, Do Not Stand, and Dreamland. The first four possess a very Celtic/Nordic northern edge to them. In fact, I called my initial review of the EP, “On the Northern Edge of Prog.” I’m not bragging, but I am rather proud of this title. it seems to capture exactly what Leah is. Arjen Lucassen, if you read this blog, please look into Leah’s music. I could see the two of you working very well together. Leah, as it turns out, is also about as interesting a person as one might find anywhere. Since Otherworld first arrived at progarchy hq, it’s been in constant listening rotation, and I pretty much have every note and lyric memorized at this point.
Kingbathmat, Overcoming the Monster. When we first started progarchy just a little over a year ago, I received a note from Stereohead Records of the U.K., asking me if we’d be interested in reviewing a cd by Kingbathmat. Sure, I thought. Of course. Only the dead wouldn’t be intrigued by a band with that name. Well, since then, I’ve not only listened to about as much Kingbathmat as exists (still missing a small bit of their back catalogue, but this will be rectified at the beginning of 2014, when the new tax year begins!). I love these guys. I’ve had the chance to get to know John Bassett and Bernard (he seems to have several last names on the internet!). What incredible guys. Really a band of Peart’s “Tom Sawyers.” Mean, mean stride, never renting the mind to god or government. Smart, insightful, unafraid. Frankly, these are the kind of guys I would want next to me should I ever find myself under fire. As with Leah, I’m not sure that Kingbathmat is perfectly prog. But, then again, if it’s “perfectly prog,” it’s probably not prog at all. Kingbathmat mix a number of styles, many of them heavy, to form a mythic maze of musical inspiration. They are by far the heaviest in my list for 2013. The “Tom Sawyer” reference is not just lyrical. Parts of Kingbathmat pay great homage to early and mid-period Rush. Of all Rush albums, Counterparts is my least favorite. That doesn’t mean I don’t love it. I’ve been a Rush man since 1981, and I will die a Rush man. So, any criticism is relative. But, if you could imagine Rush entering the studio with the music of Counterparts, the lyrics more intense than culturally sensitive, and a producer who wants to rock, really rock, you’d have an inkling of what “Overcoming the Monster” is. Every song is a joy. Not in the precious, sappy sense, but in the satisfying, just sense. Everything is really quite perfect: vocals, bass, guitar, drums. Since I first received a copy of OVERCOMING, I’ve probably listened to it every other day. After a hard day of teaching (a job I love) or writing something scholarly, there’s nothing quite like putting this cd on, sitting back, and saying, “yeah, it was a good day.”
Nosound, Afterthoughts. Giancarlo Erra might be the anti-Kingbathmat. Erra, an Italian demigod of sound in his own right, loves silence and space as much as Kingbathmat loves walls of Rush/Soundgarden-like sounds of thunder! Indeed, Erra has a lot of Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock in him, a lot of Arvo Part, too. If there are three notes, maybe there should be two. If there are two notes, maybe there should be one. If there is one note, maybe you should let silence have its say. I’ve been following the work of Giancarlo Erra for almost a decade now. He always entrances and entices me. He creates soundscapes so powerfully delicate that one wants to drown in their dreamlike, twilight quality. He’s also every bit the lyricist Hollis was at his best. He’s also really a complete artist. He not only writes his music and lyrics, he creates his own packaging, is a rather jaw-dropping photographer, and even designs his own computer apps. I was thrilled that Kscope just re-released his early masterpiece, Lightdark (2008), remastered. As with Lightdark, Afterthoughts just flows. Gentle, punctuated, quiet, loud, emptiness, walls. Listening to Afterthoughts is akin to standing on a peak in the Idaho Rockies, watching a violent storm pass under you in an adjoining valley. Nothing is unneeded, and nothing needs to be added. Afterthoughts is what it is, another Erra masterpiece.
Two more to go, but supper’s ready . . . .
Billy Reeves never disappoints. Check out his latest podcast featuring Nosound, Ulver, and Sam Healy (focused on Healy). #45. Quite good.
Well, as tomorrow is Advent and the beginning of the Christian New Year, it seems as good a day as any (or better, frankly) to list my “best of 2013.”
Before I get to my own choices, however, I want to extend a huge, gargantuan, ginormous thanks to my fellow progarchists and to all of you who have supported us over our mere 14 months of existence. I’m proud of us. Extremely proud. A good pride, I hope—not the kind that goeth before the fall.
As with almost every one we write about (in fact, most musicians in all forms and genres of music), we each have full-time jobs and many of us have big families as well. We write for progarchy because, as I assume is obvious, we love music. So, again, a major thanks to all who have contributed through their time and talents. Even after 14 months, progarchy.com still boasts some of the best writing and analysts in the blogosphere. Indeed, I would gladly hold up our writers against any group of writers. We don’t agree on religion, politics, and a billion other subjects. But, we each believe the reviewer must attempt to write as art, at a level commensurate with what is being reviewed.
Though our intention in the first few days of our existence was to be a kind of Dutch Progressive Rock Page/ “European Perspective” (our models and favorites) for North America, we realized pretty quickly (after a week or so), that there’s room for some thing larger than just the music scene in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, also recognizing how intimately connected we each are, one to another, across this increasingly small globe. As I often remind my students in the history of western civilization, modern technology allows us to know of events in the world often much faster than large news agencies and governmental bureaucracies. How different from the six to eight weeks it once took to cross the Atlantic. One of my favorite moments over the last several years was receiving a demo copy of a song from Greg Spawton. I commented in real time as I listened to the music, and I think Greg and I both sighed in awe at our ability to communicate instantly, though separated by 4,500 miles. May we never take such things for granted.
The same is true with music. The internet has allowed us to form communities that geography once prevented. We can interact with the artists (should they be willing, and most are) in ways that were impossible 20 years ago. I’m sure this puts a certain strain on the artist, but it also has to be satisfying as well. We can react to songs, lyrics, and artwork in a truly satisfying manner. T.S. Eliot once argued that no poet can write in a vacuum, in pure originality, as art is always a communal experience, building upon the past and reaching out to those of one immediate family, kin group, and society.
I especially want to thank (in no particular order): Greg Spawton, Leah McHenry, David Longdon, Andy Tillison, Giancarlo Erra, Arjen Lucassen, Matt Stevens, Matt Cohen, Steve Babb, Robert Pashman, John Bassett, Sam Healy, Jim Trainer, and Jerry Ewing. Each of these men answered every question I asked them, usually very quickly and without any justified “why are you bugging me, Birzer?!?!”
An equally important thanks goes out to all of you who have trusted us with your art, your music, and your ideas. I hope you feel we’ve treated it with respect, a sacred trust.
Progarchy is also a way of saying thanks to the musicians and artists we love and who have inspired us. I’m rather happy to say that I’ve been listening to prog—in some form—since 1971, the year I turned four. Having two older brothers, I found the music of Yes, Jethro Tull, and Kansas immediately inviting. Even before 1971, I was rather obsessed with the theme song to the Banana Splits, often putting it on the turntable, blasting it, and waking the entire family at around 3 in the morning. My mother can verify this. She and my brothers would come down the stairs in our duplex in Great Bend, Kansas, to find 2-year old me dancing like a madman.
At the risk of my friend and fellow progarchist, Eric Perry, calling me out as “hyperbolic,” I state this with gusto and conviction. 2013 has the best year for music in my lifetime. I know of no other year that has been so filled with such innovation, harmony, varied time signature, and lyric quality. And, this is saying a lot. There have been a lot of great years for rock over the last five decades. From my perspective, third-wave prog is now in the position jazz was between about 1955 and 1975. This is OUR golden era, building up the brilliance of 40 years ago without imitating, mocking, or denigrating it. Whatever small part progarchy has done to contribute to this, amen. Again, I say, AMEN!
Preliminary Awards, 2013
Last year, I began December by offering a few “awards” to some amazing folks who are not themselves out front as musicians. This year, I’d like to do the same, especially as I offer the “best all around progger” award. This is the person who makes what so many others do possible. I have to split it this year, between an American and a Brit. For me, the American has been Billy James, president extraordinaire of Glass Onyon PR. This guy not only loves the genre of prog, he serves the indispensable role of promoting our genre in every venue possible, and he always does it with grace, class, and enthusiasm. Billy has been as kind and helpful as he has been informative.
Our Brit “all around progger” is none other than Sally Collyer. Sally contacted me about a year ago, saying, “I’ve seen your name and your ideas, and I think we have a lot in common.” Absolutely. Not only have we bonded on prog, but we have on the unlikely subject of horses as well! Progressive equines. Or, something like this. Again, a brilliant person, Sally answers everything, helps with everything, and continues to offer a brilliant support. We also all know she’s an absolute mainstay in the British prog community and an equally lovely person. The significant other of Andy Tillison, Sally keeps brightness, purpose, as well as levity, in the prog community.
So, to Billy and Sally: thank you, thank you, thank you.
Audiophile Award. This one, again, goes to Rob Aubrey. I know there’s a famous guy out there, now even more famous for his 5.1 mixes. But, for my money, the best man in the business is Aubrey. One only has to listen to his work this year for Big Big Train and Cosmograf to realize what an ear and mind he possesses. Exact, precise, yet imaginative. A hard combination to beat. He is our generation’s Phill Brown.
Best emergence of an artist/group. Fractal Mirror. Combining the talents of several spectacular musicians, including the drum work of Frank Urbaniak, the keyboard and bass playing of Ed Van Haagen, the artwork of Brian Watson, the haunting goth vocals of Leo Koperdraat, and the advice of a number of major figures in the scene, including Giancarlo Erra, what more could we want? I wish them all the well-deserved success in the world as they begin their journey as a group.
Best single song. Big Big Train, The Permanent Way. From the opening notes, David’s vocals move us into the twilight realms of quiet nostalgic, but without reason. The first few times I heard this, I couldn’t quite figure out what was happening? Was Aubrey cutting him out. Then, I realized, David is a gentleman artist. The voice of the song is John Betjeman. David, rather impressively was deferring to this great poet. From there, David build, flows, lulls, and, then, of course, rocks.
Best Packaging. What’s not to love about a cd or two accompanied by explanations, lyrics, and photos. This year, the award goes to the ninety six page booklet that comes with Big Big Train English Electric Full Power. The photos are gorgeous, the notes are meaningful, and the tributes to past and present allies of the band is heart warming, to say the least.
More to come. . . .
With apologies. In my other life, I’m a historian and biographer. That is, when I’m not reviewing prog (I’m always listening!). I came across this exchange from September, 1955, and it made my heart smile.
Russell Kirk: ”Nor do I own a radio, or any such contraption of the devil.”
William F. Buckley’s response: “To face life without a good high fidelity phonograph is to be doctrinaire about the industrial revolution, which is something we conservatives don’t, if you will remember, approve of being about ANYTHING.”
Thank you, Mr. Buckley.
A friend of mine said to me—in response to my obvious glee that Rush’s Clockwork Angels Tour Blu-ray had just arrived in the mail—“it’s good to be childlike every once in a while.” Well, maybe it was the reaction of a 13-year old trapped in a 46 year-old body. Regardless, the reaction was sincere. Rush!
Three thoughts and images (images as thoughts, and thoughts as images) come to me whenever I think of Rush. Rush—brilliance. Rush—inspiration. Rush—comfort. For thirty-three years, they’ve been all of these things to me. Thank the Good Lord for that detention in seventh grade, and thank the Good Lord again for sharing that detention with Brad and Troy, the two guys who introduced me to Moving Pictures and, consequently, to Rush. That was a heady spring. I had also heard The Wall for the first time, the U.S. had just defeated the Soviets in hockey, and some idiots tried to kill the U.S. president and the Pope and came damn close to succeeding. 7th grade. Prog Rock, Dr. Who, and Dungeons and Dragons. But, most of all, Rush.
Maybe I never grew up. These are still the things I love and share with my own kids (the oldest, now 14; he proudly wears a “prog rock—all else is noise” t-shirt; he and my twelve-year old daughter will be seeing that majesty that is Transatlantic in Chicago this coming February).
Oh, fair reader, back to the subject at hand. Rush, Clockwork Angels Tour Blu-ray. Holy schnikees. Yep, God rest Chris Farley’s soul. Holy schnikees. What a work of absolute joy. Over three hours of absolute joy. A precious document of their massive tour, 2012-2013, the blu-ray captures them for a Dallas, Texas, show.
As Kev pointed out in his review of the same, there was a time when Rush fans could calculate an era by what live CD had been or was just about to be released. All the World’s a Stage for the hard prog stage; Exit Stage Left for the melodic prog stage; A Show of Hands for the synth prog stage; and Different Stages for the return to guitar/alt rock stage.
But, this was all for Rush 1.0, testing for echo.
After the horrific tragedies in Peart’s life, his purgatory and redemption (symbolically), we’re at Rush 2.0.
I would argue rather forcefully that this is a different band, a band that finally (yes, these guys are truly humble and always have been despite their driving ambition) realizes its more than a mere band. You can see this realization dawn, finally (again, finally!) on them in Beyond on the Lighted Stage and on the Colbert Show.
They have nothing to prove anymore when it comes to acceptance. They never really did, but they always thought they did. They only have to prove their excellence. And, to me, they’ve done this in spades. As one of my favorite Rush writers, Rob Freedman, wrote about a year ago (and I quote this whenever I can)
The story of Rush is a story of validation. When the band first started out, the mainstream music establishment largely ignored them. Geddy’s voice was the brunt of jokes, Alex’s guitar playing got no respect, Neil’s lyrics were pretentious and channeled a kooky Ayn Randian ideology, and he played too many drums, all of them with the passion of a mathematician. Meanwhile, musicians and music aficionados loved them, so you had this great narrative tension. Now they’re nearing their 40-year anniversary, their old critics are in nursing homes, their fans are in leadership positions in business, science, government, and the arts, and they’re looked to as elder statesmen of rock.
Amen, Rob. Amen. On this issue, I can speak from some personal experience. As I look back over my own life as a historian, a writer, and an academic, I can easily claim that Peart has had as much influence on my own thinking as any of the other greats I looks to for ideas and inspiration: Russell Kirk, Friedrich Hayek, Edmund Burke, Adam Smith, J.R.R. Tolkien, Ray Bradbury. . . . A whole generation of us can claim to be Peart’s little brothers. Like any older brother, Neil almost certainly will not agree with all of my own views, or with what I’ve done with his ideas. But, then, Neil never—in any way—sought to conform the world. One of the greatest things Neil gave to a generation was the advice to develop and hone what is best in each of us, whatever that best might be.
Not content to fade, Rush 2.0 has decided to shimmer with excellence. I can’t help but think of Neil’s words off of Signals, “Losing It.”
Some are born to move the world
To live their fantasies
But most of us just dream about
The things we’d like to be
Sadder still to watch it die
Than never to have known it
For you, the blind who once could see
The bell tolls for thee….
Rush is proving that greatness can beget greatness. As I see it, Rush’s last three studio albums have done nothing if not prove this. Vapor Trails, Snakes and Arrows, and, especially, Clockwork Angels. While building upon everything from Rush to Test for Echo, the last three Rush albums come with a confidence, not of resignation, but assertion. Nature has given us this time, I’ll be damned if I let it fly by unused and unappreciated. Indeed, one can say with the last three albums, Rush looked at the world not just with confidence, but with gratitude.
So, when the band decides to release a live album for each tour, I can only shout “hooray.” Give us as much as you can, Rush. So many of us want to keep journeying with you in any way we can.
As with the previous tour, this one is a massive production. Explosions, lasers, weird sets, and, best of all, incredible film clips add to the already stunning music. The background story for the Clockwork Angels Tour film clips—an IRS agent looking for the Watchmaker is just outstanding, drop-down, gut-wrenching funny. Geddy, Alex, and Neil appear as rather mischievous “G”nomes.
And, it’s just a joy to watch these guys perform. They obviously love each other and what they’re doing. In terms of playing, none of the members of Rush have ever been this good. They are each in top form. Watching each of them play guitar, bass, and drums is nothing if not humbling. I hope I give as much in my lectures as these guys give in their playing. Phew.
Musically, of course, what more could we want? Knowing that they’ve been releasing lots of tour material over the last decade, Rush chose to play a significant portion of their 1980s material—stuff that’s not appeared on any of their live releases in a long time. It’s worth remembering, however, that this is Rush 2.0. They bring the sensibilities of the last three albums to the previous multitude of albums. There’s not a dud in the live set, but songs that stand out in ways the originals didn’t: Force Ten; The Body Electric; and The Analog Kids. Schnikees (again, apologies to Chris Farley), these are amazing. Rocking, rocking, rocking.
It’s set two, however, that boggles the mind, the set that includes almost all of Clockwork Angels and—gasp!—a string quartet. Phew. Amazing. So much energy emerges from the blu-ray in set two, it’s actually a bit wonderfully overwhelming. YYZ is especially spectacular with the strings.
Bonus material on the blu-ray includes: Limelight, Middletown Dreams, The Pass, and Manhattan Project, as well as all of the movie clips from the tour and some documentaries.
For me, this is pretty much perfection itself. 33 years of loving this band comes down to this 3plus hour set. Yes, Geddy, Neil, and Alex, I could never thank you enough for the confidence you’ve given me, the excellence you’ve shown me, and the hope you embody. Whether you ever expected to get here or not, you are the embodiment of the best of rock, you are now the elder statesmen of culture. You have persevered, and we have as well!
May the journey long continue.