Few bands have released as much video documentation of their live performances as Rush. Some are definitely better than others, so, in chronological order, here’s a handy Buyer’s Guide to Rush on DVD and Blu-Ray:
Released in 2001, Chronicles is just a collection of music videos Rush made for Hemispheres through Hold Your Fire. It was originally released on VHS, and the picture quality is correspondingly poor. Anyway, it has been rendered obsolete due to YouTube. Highlight: “The Big Money” video, with primitive computer graphics that were amazing for the time, and Alex Lifeson looking like he just stepped off the set of Miami Vice. Easter eggs: if you hit the skip forward button after the last video, you can access two more “hidden” videos for “The Enemy Within” and “Afterimage”.
Replay x3 (2006) is a very nice collection of two shows that were originally on VHS (Exit Stage Left and A Show Of Hands), plus a previously unreleased video of a concert from their Grace Under Pressure tour. [Update: Rush fan Kevin Williams pointed out to me (see comment below) that the Grace Under Pressure concert was available on VHS via special order.] In these days of HD Blu-Ray, the picture and sound quality leave something to be desired, but that’s more than made up for by the passion of Rush playing at the peak of their power. A CD of the Grace Under Pressure show is included, as well as reproductions of the three tour programs.
Rush In Rio (2003) is a video of a concert in Rio de Janeiro. The audience of 40,000 people almost drown out the music, their nonstop roar is so deafening. As a result, the band sounds like they are playing in a tunnel. However, there is undeniable energy in their performance. This tour was in support of Vapor Trails, the album that signaled the renaissance of Rush as a working unit after Neil’s personal tragedies. Most Rush fans thought they would never see Neil, Geddy, and Alex perform again, so the ecstatic reception given them by Brazil is understandable. Easter eggs: A. On Main Menu, press 2; when you see the picture for the drum solo, press Menu; back at Main Menu, press 1; when you see the picture for YYZ, press Menu; at Main Menu, press 2; when you see the drum solo picture, press Menu; now the Main Menu shows “Special Bonus: Anthem 1975”. B. In the documentary, when Alex mentions By-Tor, press enter, and the By-Tor Movie will play.
R30 (2005) is from a performance in Frankfurt, Germany, and it’s excellent. The sound is a 5.1 mix, and the setlist is terrific. The 2DVD/2CD package also includes a ton of special features that span Rush’s entire career: interviews, Juno Hall of Fame induction, and live performances going way back to 1970s television shows. Easter eggs: A. In disc 2, press the right arrow several times, you will see an option, “Rush hits St. John’s”, which is a bunch of fan interviews. B. In disc 2 in the interviews menu, navigate to the lower right corner. Press the right arrow several times, and the figure in shadow will light up in yellow. This lets you access “Alex’s Interview for Artist of the Decade” (which is hilarious, BTW).
Snakes and Arrows Live (2008) is a 3-disc set that was filmed in Holland. The performance is top-notch – the boys have two albums under their belts since the return of Neil, and they are firing on all cylinders. This set also includes one of the funniest special features Rush ever made: the mini-movie “What’s That Smell”, featuring Harry Satchel (aka Geddy Lee). Watching Geddy trying to stay serious while Alex is goofing off around him is worth the price of the whole thing.
Time Machine (2011) is a one-disc set of a performance in Cleveland, Ohio. No album was released between this tour and Snakes and Arrows, but interestingly they perform “BU2B” and “Caravan” from the not-yet-released Clockwork Angels. The mini-movie for this tour is another hysterical production: The ‘Real’ History of Rush, which takes place in an alternate universe where Alex is an obese sausage lover, Geddy is a cook in a diner, and Neil is a cop. The band playing “The Spirit of Radio” is a polka trio called Rash. Lots of puns and silly sausage jokes ensue.
Clockwork Angels Tour (2013) is definitely one of their best. While the first set features some rarely played songs like “The Body Electric”, it’s the second set where things really take off. Augmented by an eight-piece string section, Rush performs the entire Clockwork Angels album. After that, they continue to deliver with excellent renditions of YYZ, The Spirit of Radio, and Tom Sawyer.
And so we come to the end of the line – R40 Live (2015). A very special set that covers practically all phases of Rush’s career. On every tour, they included creative props on their stage (dryers, chicken roasters, giant tube amps), but this tour is brilliant: start with all the trappings of an arena production, and gradually pare it down until it’s just a couple of amps on chairs in a school auditorium. You have to admire a band that goes out on their own terms with such style.
Bonus! Rush Beyond The Lighted Stage (2010) is a documentary of the band, made with their full coöperation, and it is a sheer delight. Lots of footage from vintage performances, interviews with everyone connected with the band, and tributes from other musicians. What comes through clearly is the deep bond the three men have with each other, and the humor that has kept them grounded for 40 years. The Dinner with the Band at a Hunting Lodge segment is uproariously funny and not to be missed.
If I had to recommend one set to someone who is unfamiliar with Rush and is wondering what all the fuss is about, I would go with R30. It’s a great performance, and the extras provide a nice history of the band. If I had to recommend one set based on performance and setlist, I would go with Snakes and Arrows Live. But if you’ve read this far, you probably have them all, right?