Soundchecks Music Reviews

Rush - Beyond The Lighted Stage

107 minutes (15) 2010
Banger / Universal
DVD / blu-ray retail

RUSH: Beyond The Lighted Stage
Directed by Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen

review by Christopher Geary

Their lack of commonplace rock 'n' roll attitudes made Rush an easy target for jibes from other bands, some fans of mainstream American rock, and especially from egotistical critics... But, despite their 'power trio' label, Rush were always more interested in creativity than rebellion; they are "terminally un-hip" musicians, not headline-grabbing rock stars primarily famous for scandalous off-stage antics.

For the uninitiated, Rush are: Geddy Lee (bass, keyboards, vocals) - organiser and front-man; Alex Lifeson (acoustic and electric guitars) - the band's joker; Neil Peart (drums, percussion) - simply the greatest drummer in the world, and one of the very best lyricists, too. Rush have a unique hard rock sound which developed from something like progressive metal. Their orchestral musical style boasts a complexity of time changes and signature riffs that's steadily evolved through a motivating drive to innovate, and not conform to market forces. The band's willingness to do the sheer hard work that delivers constant and widespread improvement, in both ambitious reach and expert grasp, has produced over 30 years worth of great albums and magnificent live performances.

Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire noted: "Anything too stupid to be said is sung." However, Rush are the Canadian band that sings out from rock music's mountaintops, not from the meagre height of a pedestal. This film documents the group's curious and compelling history, using home movie footage and selective interviews - both new and archival - to explore their journey from schoolyard friendships, and relative obscurity in their home country, to international respect as a favourite influence upon a generation of heavy metal bands. Rush earned some well deserved astute praise from Gene Simmons, leader of KISS. In the wake of their groundbreaking concept album 2112 (1976), which counted writer and philosopher Ayn Rand among its varied genre influences, the 12-year-old Sebastian Bach was surprised to note: "this rock band, it's got me all fired up about literature!"

Following A Farewell To Kings (1977), which closed with 10-minute track Cygnus X-1, Rush's eccentric masterpiece Hemispheres (1978) offers 'book II' of a sci-fi/ fantasy epic, exploring the moral and ethical chambers of a bicameral mindset emerging from a chaos of warfare between followers of a rationalist Apollo and decadent Dionysius. The music, like forms of a superb architecture, builds up in layers. Hemispheres is a bit self-reverential towards the end, but such repetition is an effective reminder of the impressive themes of metaphysical objectivism - a subtle evocation, not just a smug ego-trip for the players - in the powerhouse structure of this composition. This grandiose narrative sequence, which spans two albums was, and still is, a monumental achievement of quite staggering originality and a fulfilment of the sincerely artistic potential inherent in progressive rock. It's a shame, really, that Cygnus X-1 and Hemispheres was never adapted for widescreen art-house cinema!

Later, Rush moved away from the 'concept album' format, and their next two releases firmly established their enduring currency for social and political comment, with much incisive wit and refreshing philosophy, in exquisitely composed songs that can often be sober and reflective but never pretentious. Permanent Waves (1980) - which gave us The Spirit Of Radio, still perhaps Rush's most popular hit as a single release; and Moving Pictures (1981), which presents classics like Tom Sawyer (the ultimate walking song; just try it on your MP3 player!), and Red Barchetta (unquestionably, the ultimate driving song; but especially if you like science fiction). With the band's career 'reset button' now locked down, the world stage was ready for a string of superb albums, from Signals (1982), and Grace Under Pressure (1984)... all the way through to Counterparts (1993), Test for Echo (1996), and some recent compilation CDs.

After the loss of Peart's daughter and wife in the late 1990s, it seemed for a while that Rush were finished as a group effort, unlikely to recover from such a double tragedy. The emotional impact of this upon Rush is examined here via candid but coherent comments from the band, and yet a certain distance, that's admirably respectful of Peart's privacy, is maintained. It's worth noting that Rush's comeback album, heavyweight Vapour Trails (2002) proved, arguably, to be their finest studio work to date, a precursor to magnificent live triple-album Rush In Rio, and its film version on DVD. A new album, Clockwork Angels is due 2011. Meanwhile, this is essential viewing for dedicated Rush fans, and will, hopefully, convert more newcomers to set-up camp on prog rock's alien shores.

An hour's worth of disc extras include: retrospectives on Rush fashions and hobbies; previously unseen footage of Best I Can and Working Man (with original drummer, John Rutsey); La Villa Strangiato - live in Holland, 1979; Between Sun And Moon (from Rush's first show, after their hiatus, in 2002); Bravado and YYZ (rare live versions), and much more!

Edited by Tony Lee
for PIGASUS Press