Friday, January 8, 2021

Rush 21: Different Stages

It was customary for Rush to follow four studio albums with a live album, but Different Stages was, well, different. First of all, it encompassed three full CDs—the first two devoted to music from the Test For Echo tour, with a few tracks from the Counterparts tour. These were even among the first “enhanced” CDs, providing a multimedia lightshow style program when inserted into certain computers.

Because the band is always so precise, the main indication that this is a live album is due to how loud the audience is mixed throughout the first two discs. There is a suggestion in the notes that some of the tapes may have been “messed with” to make a perfect representation, and Geddy’s growing dependence on sequencers for the keyboards while he’s singing and playing bass sometimes brings up sounds and voices that two hands and two feet simply can’t do themselves. (His detour in the middle of “Driven” is therefore a nice distraction.) Still, the extended jam (!) at the end of “Closer To The Heart” demonstrates that they still knew how to have fun. Most of the tunes on the first disc come from the Atlantic years, with detours to “Limelight” and “The Trees”. Then, they play the “2112” suite in its entirety for the first time onstage in years. The second disc stays in the recent past, save a surprise “Analog Kid”; unfortunately, they keep the rap section of “Roll The Bones”. “Leave That Thing Alone” segues into “The Rhythm Method – 1997”, a drum solo from a different date altogether. Then it’s back to the early ‘80s for a lengthy sequence of “Natural Science”, “The Spirit Of Radio”, “Tom Sawyer”, and “YYZ”.

The third disc goes back two decades to an hour’s worth of music excerpted from a show before a rather appreciative Hammersmith Odeon audience in 1978. It’s a good overview of the early years, the epics limited to “Xanadu” and “Cygnus X-1”. (The entire show would have to wait another two decades, until the 40th Anniversary Edition of A Farewell To Kings.) Get your magnifying glass out for the details in the artwork, where we see a modern-day Geddy scalping tickets, Alex being dragged off in a straitjacket, and Neil silently observing from the balcony.

Per their custom, it’s a good summation of the best aspects of their most recent phase, uneven as it was. As it turns out, this sprawling tour through the band’s history served a larger purpose. Coming in the aftermath of Neil Peart’s daughter’s death in a car accident, followed within a year by his wife’s death from cancer and his subsequent withdrawal from the band, Different Stages didn’t so much close a chapter as present a grand finale for the band.

Rush Different Stages (1998)—

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