A Show Of Hands


Mercury Records, 1989


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Sometimes, I wish that Rush had broken the "four-studio-one-live" album pattern at some point in their career. According to All-Music Guide, the Canadian trio almost did after Permanent Waves, but were convinced to go back into the studio while they were riding a successful streak - and ended up with the limp Exit... Stage Left. I wonder what a live album right after Power Windows would have been like - but instead, we get Rush touring behind the boring but not disastrous effort Hold Your Fire.

Thus, we're offered A Show Of Hands - a disc which turned out to be the last offering of new product for Mercury from Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart. (When I first reviewed this record for our high school newspaper in 1988, the rumor was that this would be Rush's last album, period... or maybe I heard the rumor wrong.) It's a marked improvement over their last live effort, and dares to even take on All The World's A Stage for the rights to be called the live Rush album. But while the performances aren't note-for-note verbatim, there still is lacking a sense of human emotion that can't be captured merely on vinyl.

It's not surprising that Lee and crew rely heavily on material culled from the four studio albums leading to my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 A Show Of Hands. Nor is it surprising that four of the live tracks come from Hold Your Fire. What is surprising, though, is that the first "phase" of Rush's career is ignored (namely, their self-titled debut through 2112) and the second phase features a mere two songs. Sure, I thought that Rush was putting out some fantastic material, especially Grace Under Pressure and Power Windows, but I do like a healthy mixture of old and new, which I just don't get here.

As for the overall warmth from the band - well, they do try to inject a little fun with the opening introduction, complete with the "Three Stooges" greeting. But Rush is as much a visual band as they are musical - and the home video which corresponded with this disc confirms this - so that with one piece of the puzzle missing, the whole work suffers a bit.

Fortunately, the performances on A Show Of Hands make up for these deficiencies. Yes, sometimes it sounds like Lee is trying to do too much between his vocals, bass guitar and synthesizer playing - but he does seem to handle it well enough (even if he does give up on a high note or two along the way). Lifeson's guitar work does not disappoint, though I do wish he was given a little more mobility to absolutely cut loose, even once, during the course of a show. And Peart? Heaven knows he's still a genius behind the drum kit, but on his solo "The Rhythm Method," it sometimes sounds like Peart's throwing things into the mix (such as synthesizer chords) just because he can - sorry, Neil, but that's not always the best answer.

Set-wise, the track collection is surprisingly good (except for the dearth of older songs, which has already been noted). Hearing the live spin put on tracks like "The Big Money," "Marathon," "Force Ten" and "Time Stand Still" are just as enjoyable, even if Aimee Mann's vocals on "Time Stand Still" were just samples triggered at the right time in the song. (My only real complaint: I'd have traded "Mission" for a live version of "Prime Mover".)

As good as A Show Of Hands is, there still is a rushed feeling to this set - nothing bad, mind you, but almost like Rush wanted to get this disc out so they could complete their obligation to the label. Yeah, enough bands have done this with half-hearted sets, so if it was the case, I should be glad that they gave the fans something so enjoyable. But while I do enjoy A Show Of Hands, part of me wonders if they couldn't even do a little better.

A Show Of Hands marked the end of Rush's superstar run; while their subsequent albums would still have a healthy legion of fans, Rush never did retain the hold they had on radio even as late as 1986 with Power Windows. Still, this is a nice live set which closes the third "phase" of Rush's career.

Rating: B

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in my opinion, this album has t00 b the best live album by Rush not gonna lie t00 yuhh. the songs that got me into this album were Closer to the Heart, The Rhythm Method, Witch Hunt, Force Ten, and The Big Money. the album has a great setlist. the DVD for the album is way better.

© 2002 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Mercury Records, and is used for informational purposes only.