RUSH - "DIFFERENT STAGES" (ATLANTIC)
There are some bands that grow with you. Throughout the various stages of your life, they grow and evolve, and they will always stick with you in certain ways. No matter how much you can - and will - be in touch with other bands, they will always seem trivial by comparison. There are several bands that have grown with me, or that I have at least had something really special with. Deep Purple comes to mind (with extension Rainbow), but Rush too.
I had just started to check out Rush when they were doing their 1988 "Hold your Fire" tour. It was the first live show I had ever attended, and it made an enormous impression on me. I was tapping my feet (even more than usual) for days afterwards. I'd bought a couple of their albums before - the seminal "2112", but also their excellent "Exit...Stage Left" - but I was happy to know that there were now, like, a dozen fine albums to check out that I didn't know yet. And around the end of the year there was the excellent document of the "Hold your Fire" tour, the "Show of Hands" live CD (with a video released around that time too). To me that album will always be my chief association album with the period when I'd just left home to study, live on my own, and experience things altogether so different from life under my parents' wings.
Rush have released four albums since. Four albums, as Rush devotees will know, is the usual time span between Rush live albums - so it is a tad predictable that another live album's been cut. Predictable, yes, superfluous, no. A Rush live album is like a finely timed dessert, you always expect one after the main course, you always look forward to it, and there's always that little bit of extra space in your stomach no matter how delicious and copious the main dish has been.
At first, it seems that perhaps the release of a triple CD is a bit over the top. At second, too. The first two CDs are from the "Test for Echo" and "Counterparts" tours, primarily taken from a performance at the World Amphitheater, Chicago, June 14 1997. The set seems a bit higgledy-piggledy thrown together, though. There's classics such as "Natural Science", "The Trees", "Bravado" and even a complete performance of "2112" (with Geddy singing rather well, even the high notes). But you will also find "Limelight", "Tom Sawyer", "Freewill" and "The Spirit of Radio", which have perhaps appeared on live albums once too often. Hell, there's even another "Closer to the Heart"! The production isn't top of the bill, either; especially the first disc seems to suffer from too little bass drum in favour of the snare. Also, alas, songs like "The Pass" and the excellent "Double Agent" are sadly lacking. It seems to me they ought perhaps to have reduced the first 2 discs to one 78-minute CD.
Maybe, you see, that's the problem with bands that grow with you. You get tuned into them a lot, you get to hear the best of them, you hear their live albums progress steadily (first a bit too rough, then too clean, then perfect with "A Show of Hands").
Then there's the third disc, recorded at the Hammersmith Odeon during the 20 February 1978 "Hemispheres" gig. Neil Peart sounds crisp and well, Geddy sings his head off like he used to...basically a recording of Rush in their early prime, including memorable tracks the likes of "Xanadu", "Farewell to Kings" and "Cygnus X-1". A very, very interesting bonus disc, on account of which the overall rating goes up one full notch.
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Written November 1998
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