Different Stages


Atlantic Records, 1998


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


If there's anything that can be said for the medium of CD for music delivery, it's this: Rush can finally deliver a live album on their own terms.

The Canadian trio's fourth live album Different Stages is their most expansive - covering three discs and tours for three different albums. The over three hours of music featured here is enough to make even the diehard Rush fan overdose (thanks, Sean) - but it also presents a picture of two distinct bands, one lean and hungry for the limelight, the other the godfathers looking over their empire.

Let's first focus on the "younger" version of the band, courtesy of disc three, recorded at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1978. Touring behind their excellent A Farewell To Kings album, Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart throw caution to the wind and plow through eleven songs, ranging from new material to hits to tracks that you might only know if you followed the band all along. (C'mon, do you think a casual fan would get off on "Bastille Day" or "By-Tor & The Snow Dog"?)

Lee and crew put the London audience through a grueling one-hour workout, and you can hear the pure joy they created in the audience and in the music. While I would have preferred to hear the full versions of "Working Man" and "Fly By Night" (the latter seems a bit off-kilter with Lee's slightly off-tempo vocal delivery), the performances spotlight a band who was eager to become superstars, and were well on their way by this time. Tracks like "Xanadu," "Cinderella Man" and "Bastille Day" all demonstrate their skill and resolve, making this particular show a hidden treasure that the band opted to share with the fans.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The remaining two discs of Different Stages focus on the band's touring for Counterparts and the disappointing Test For Echo, pulling many of the selections from a show in the Chicagoland area. (No, I wasn't at that show; I opted to see the band a few months later at the United Center.) The passage of time has added a level of maturity to Lee's voice, but it has also taken a bit of the edge off it - something that is disappointing, though inevitable.

The song selection is an interesting merge of the early days ("The Trees," the entire performance of "2112"), their "superstar" period when they finally broke into the mainstream ("The Spirit Of Radio," "Limelight") and their recent efforts ("Show Don't Tell," "Nobody's Hero," "Test For Echo"). Although the discs are still exciting to listen to, there isn't as great of a sense of urgency to them; it almost feels like Rush is choosing to let their career speak for them instead of the music. And while the music does say volumes about these musicians, I'm not too fond of the emotional detatchment from the music.

While this collection is a fairly accurate representation of Rush's live show of late, I still miss hearing selections from the neglected albums. In fact, Rush seems to ignore their career from around 1983 ( Grace Under Pressure) to 1988 ( Hold Your Fire), leaving in its wake a vast body of songs that could have been great additions to this set. (In fact, only one song from that "third period" of Rush's career - "Analog Kid" from Signals - makes the cut. Strange.)

And while the performances are still on the verge of prodigious, even they occasionally seem to lose their shine. Granted, Lee's bass work on "YYZ" is exciting as always, but I can't think of one moment where Lee's bass or Lifeson's guitar work really sticks out in my mind. Even Peart's drum solo "The Rhythm Method - 1997" isn't as strong as live albums before, but seeing the kind of year he's had (losing both his wife and daughter under tragic circumstances), I'm more than willing to cut him boatloads of slack.

Oh, longtime fans, relax - Different Stages is still a great picture of what Rush is like live, and hearing the band in two different stages of their career makes for a great package. Rush would have to do a real butcher job to create a bad live album - last time they came close to that, it was on Exit... Stage Left. But Different Stages is a bit of a letdown when compared to some of their previous works. Ah, well, cheer up... if they follow their traditional pattern, they only have to record four studio albums before they'll take another shot at it.

Rating: B-

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© 1999 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 Atlantic Records, and is used for informational purposes only.