Rush Living In The Limelight

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?

 

Tad’s Favorites of 2017

10. KXM- Scatterbrain

If you’re missing King’s X, then this one will satisfy your craving. Ray Luzier (KoRn) is on drums, George Lynch (Dokken & Lynch Mob) is on guitar, and Doug Pinnock (King’s X) is on bass and vocals. This is their second album, and it is much more varied in its music styles than their debut. I never was into Dokken, but George Lynch’s guitar work is killer -especially on “Breakout”.

 

9. Big Big Train – Grimspound

I give Grimspound the edge over its sister album, The Second Brightest Star. What a great collection of tributes and vignettes of everything that is good about Great Britain. Using small details to convey big ideas is really difficult, but BBT are masters and make it look easy.

 

Continue reading “Tad’s Favorites of 2017”

Rounding Up Some Live Ones

Several bands have recently released some nice live albums. In no particular order, here are a few of the most notable:

Pineapple Thief: Where We Stood

 

Wow, when I first heard this, I wondered who or what lit a fire under this group’s collective backside. After watching the excellent film that accompanies this recording, I have to say it’s having Gavin Harrison behind the drum kit. As good as Pineapple Thief’s 2016 album Your Wilderness is, I think the versions from this show are better: tight, energetic, and riskier. And if you ever wondered where Bruce Soord came up with the band’s name, now you can find out. By the way, every song from Your Wilderness is performed here, except for “Where We Stood”. Go figure.

Spock’s Beard: Snow Live

A lot of us fans of the classic Spock’s Beard lineup never thought we would see them reunite, let alone perform the double-album masterpiece, Snow. Well, Neal Morse managed to get all the Beardsters – past and current – together at his 2016 MorseFest, and they delivered a tremendous performance of Snow in its entirety. I’m probably biased (because I was there), but it is quite an emotional experience.

Yes: Topographic Drama Live Across America

I approached this set with trepidation – it is the first recordings of Yes without the late Chris Squire participating. However, as I got into the music, I was very pleasantly surprised. Jon Davison does an excellent job on vocals and acoustic guitar, while Billy Sherwood fills Squire’s huge shoes. Steve Howe is still full of fire, and Geoff Downes is uniformly excellent on keyboards. They perform all of Drama (one of my favorite Yes albums), as well as “The Revealing Science of God” and “Ritual” from Topographic Oceans. Add in “And You and I”, “Heart of the Sunrise”, “Leaves of Green”, “Roundabout”, and “Starship Trooper”, and you have a set to satisfy any Yes lover. It definitely helps that Jay Schellen was able to play drums and assist Alan White. God bless him, but Alan’s timekeeping has gotten a little shaky over past few years. That said, this is a surprisingly strong set of performances from Yes.

Jeff Lynne’s ELO: Wembley or Bust

Holy cow, this is a fun concert to watch! I wish I’d been there in June of this year when Jeff Lynne, supported by a crack band, played songs from every phase of his career, including The Traveling Wilburys. The love for Jeff from the huge crowd is evident, and he delivers an outstanding performance. I had forgotten just how many popular (and beautiful) songs he’s written. Takes me back to my high school days when ELO’s music was inescapable on the radio. How far we have fallen…. Anyway, this show had me grinning from ear to ear from start to finish.

 

What’s The Buzz About General Fuzz?

As I’ve gotten older, I find myself enjoying instrumental/ambient/space music more and more. These chaotic and ever-accelerating times lend themselves to a musical genre that encourages reflection and relaxation.

In earlier posts, I brought to our faithful readers’ attention the wonderful music of Kevin Keller and CFCF. In this one, I want to showcase another outstanding artist working in the “Downtempo” realm of music: General Fuzz. The musical brainchild of composer James Kirsch, General Fuzz has released 7 albums, and you can download them all for free (yes, FREE. He explains the motives behind his generosity here) at his website. I started at the beginning with 2002’s eponymous General Fuzz album, and I’m slowly working my way through to his latest, 2014’s Oughta See. The problem is, every album is such a beautiful gem of contemplative melodies that I can’t leave one for the next. However, if your curiosity is piqued and don’t know where to start, let me suggest checking out Kirsch’s 2008 masterpiece, Soulful Filling. Here’s my favorite track from that collection:

Kirsch’s music is carefully constructed to seduce the listener with perfectly arranged musical miniatures that avoid being saccharine. In other words, I was immediately attracted to his music, I have listened to it repeatedly, and I have yet to tire of it. I keep finding new and delightful details in each hearing. Here’s how he explains it in his own words:

Unless your music is simple and poppy, or incredibly accessible, most people won’t be able to make sense of it on first listen, and consequently not return for a second listen. I can not approach my own music with fresh ears – I’m intimate with every second of it. It’s great to have someone who’s not a huge music fan listen to my music before I release it to gauge how most people will receive it. It has previously helped shape the ordering of  tracks on an album. Accessible music will always be more popular than complex music.

I’ve learned that it often takes many listens for people to start really enjoying my music. My favorite story is of a co-worker who’s cd player broke with my cd in it, so they had to listen to it all day on repeat. The next day he told me never to stop writing music.

James Kirsch is attempting something courageous in these days of a collapsing music industry: he is producing extraordinary music and giving it away – trusting that those who “get it” and enjoy it will respond with donations. I hope his experiment is successful – we need more composers of his caliber thriving in today’s music scene.

The New Yorker Takes on Prog

There’s a nice piece on prog rock by Kalefa Sanneh in the latest issue of The New Yorker magazine. Clearly, the author isn’t sure what to make of the genre, but he gives a fair assessment of its early years, and the unfair treatment rock critics dished out in the seventies. I wish he had written more on the current thriving scene, but it’s nice to get some respect in a mainstream publication.

You can read “The Persistence of Prog Rock” here:

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/06/19/the-persistence-of-prog-rock

 

Lonely Robot’s Latest Is A Dream

One of my top albums of 2015 was John Mitchell’s Lonely Robot: Please Come Home. In addition to my rave review, several other Progarchists recognized that album’s greatness, putting it on their Best-Of lists for 2015.

It’s two years later, and Mitchell has returned with the second installment of the Lonely Robot saga: The Big Dream. I always approach sophomore efforts with some trepidation, because an artist often uses up all of his or her best ideas in the début. No worries on that front this time! Fresh off of his work with Jem Godfrey in Frost*, Mitchell has crafted a near-perfect pop/prog collection of songs that hearken back to the glory days of Peter Gabriel’s solo work, Porcupine Tree, and others.

According to Mitchell, The Big Dream continues the saga of the astronaut in Please Come Home. He has awakened from a cryogenic sleep, and finds himself in a woodland inhabited by human/animal hybrids. The concept is a bit hazy, while the music itself is tight as a nut. I am hard pressed to think of any songs that pack a bigger 1-2-3 punch than “Awakenings”, “Sigma”, and “In Floral Green”. I had to put those three on Repeat for several listens before I even heard the rest of the album.

If you thought, like me, that Please Come Home was terrific, The Big Dream actually tops it in every way. Big melodies that grab your ears and won’t let go, great vocals, John’s always outstanding guitar – all combine to deliver an album that will definitely be on many Top Ten of 2017 lists.

Rather than taking my word for it, just check out the first single, “Everglow”:

The Big Dream is slated for release April 28.