Friday, July 23, 2010

Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage

I recently saw this documentary about the progressive rock Canadian trio Rush. They are a unique band who has been making albums since 1974. I have followed them since the 1980s when I was introduced to them by 2 of the best musicians at my high school.

Their self titled album in 1974 had a drummer named John Rutsey, but he left the band after the first release due to health issues. A radio station in Cleveland started playing the songs from their first album and received many calls from listeners who wanted to hear more. Finding my Way and Working Man were 2 of their early hits. Rush needed a new drummer and they found Neil Peart, who was not only a phenomenal musician but a talented lyricist.

It is amazing that Rush can put out such amazing music with only 3 people. Geddy Lee is the lead singer with a very high and distinctive voice. He also plays the bass and the keyboards. Alex Lifeson is the guitar player and Neil Peart the drummer. Peart uses a complex drum set equipped with every type of percussive instrument imaginable.

In the 1970s Rush released some of their most creative albums and some were commercially successful. Their albums in this decade included Caress of Steel, Fly by Night, the live album All the World's a Stage, 2112, A Farewell to Kings, and Hemispheres. Many of these included extended songs split into several chapters that were concept songs. People did not always get it, and producers began getting frustrated with the lack of airplay and they wanted more commercial music that would appeal to the masses.

The 1980s saw Rush release some of their most popular material such as the albums Permanent Waves, Signals and Moving Pictures. The 80s music had a larger emphasis on keyboards and Peart began using some electronic drums. Alex Lifeson felt that his guitar part was being usurped by Lee's keyboards. The sound of Grace Under Pressure, Power Windows and Hold Your Fire sounded further away from the classic power trio sound of their earlier albums.

Before the 1996 release of Test for Echo, drummer Neil Peart took a look at his drumming style and decided to make some changes. He had recorded and produced a Buddy Rich tribute album and he re-evaluted his drumming style with teacher Freddie Gruber. He put out a DVD which showed his new drumming style where he talked about his approach to the Test for Echo songs. He is a virtuoso musician, seen as one of the best drummers ever, but yet he has humility, seeing his musical life as a work in progress. Shortly after this, Peart had two tragedies in his life when he lost his wife and daughter. The band took several years off and Peart embarked on a 55,000 mile motorcycle ride on his own to deal with his grief. He is much more private, shy and contemplative than other band members Lifeson and Lee. Peart is not comfortable dealing with the adulation of the fans.

In 2002 after a hiatus of many years Rush released Vapor Trails. In 2004 Rush put out an album of cover tunes called Feedback. The documentary pointed out that the band was influenced by groups such as Yes, Pink Floyd, Genesis and The Who. In 2007 Snakes and Arrows came out, and this decade also included a world tour where Rush documented their concert in Brazil where they packed a stadium.

I like Rush since they do music on their own terms and yet they have been very successful. They are ranked third behind the Beatles and The Rolling Stones in consecutive gold or platinum albums. They may not be the coolest guys in the world but they have stood the test of time. They are intellectual guys who are not embroiled in "bad boy" scandals like so many rockers. They have not received the credit they deserve in my opinion. They have not been inducted into the rock and roll hall of fame which seems like a crime to me. They could be called the world's biggest cult band.
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