Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage

One thing about Rush fans is that they crave more from the band, and the band is more than happy to fulfill that request. Case in point is the long awaited film, “Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage” – the 106-minute movie that chronicles the band’s history from local Toronto high school and bar band, to the world’s biggest cult act.

The film, produced and directed by Scott McFadyen and Sam Dunn, is novel for the access they had to band, the archival footage of the band’s early years, and key people in Rush’s career.  The strength of this documentary is how much the of the early years is covered in exhaustive detail.  From their difficulty in getting a record deal (a common tale for many ‘o bands), to being catapulted into A-list shows after hiring Neil Peart as their new drummer, to the lyrical and musical overreach with their album Caress of Steel. It’s all here in glorious detail from the band’s perspective.

What most fans of the band know is that with 2112, the album that was middle finger salute to the record company demanding a more commercial sound, Rush finally connected with their audience in a way that made them untouchable to the meddling of the suits.  In other words, with 2112 selling millions of copies, Rush finally became bankable and thus able to chart their own musical course with both long form and more compact albums – like the perennial favorite, Moving Pictures.

While the documentary is quite good at presenting the details of their early and middle years of their career, the film falls short in exploring the years that divides many Rush fans: the “synth” years in the ‘80s. The filmmakers (probably owning to time constraints) weren’t able to go into detail on albums like Grace Under Pressure, Power Windows, Hold Your Fire, or even Presto, nor did they focus on Vapor Trials or Snakes and Arrows all that much. What they did focus on was the fawning commentary from artists like Billy Corgan, Jack Black, Sebastian Bach, and even Les Claypool.  After a half hour of hearing how great Rush is, I was muttering at the TV, “Okay, I get it! You love the band. Do I really need to hear it every 10 minutes?”

Still, these are just a few quibbles in an otherwise great DVD.  And in keeping with giving fans more, the filmmakers include a bonus disc that has a number of live performances, expanded interviews, and even a dinner with the boys that shows what a bunch of goofs they are. As a gift for any serious music fan, this DVD is a must to put on your gift list. (Zoe Records 2010)


Rush: Classic Albums, “2112” and “Moving Pictures”

The Classic Albums series gives the fans two albums for the price of one in this two-hour set covering the band’s biggest albums, 1976’s 2112 and 1981’s Moving Pictures. The band is extremely candid about how 2112 was a life-or-death album for them, and how they refused to give in to label pressure to write a hit. They even bring the band’s longtime producer Terry Brown (he and the band parted ways after 1982’s Signals) to break down the tracks, and explain the origin of the eerie synthesizer line that opens the “Overture” section to “2112.” Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins and Barenaked Ladies’ Ed Robertson are also on hand to sing the band’s praises.

If there is one downside to this one, it’s that they had so much ground to cover that they tend to focus solely on the hits. Side II of Moving Pictures is ignored completely, and the song “Tears” – first power ballad ever? – is only discussed as an aside in one of the interviews in the bonus features. The content they do provide is damn good, though. And with the way they edit the Peart interview segments, we can’t help but wonder just how much talking he did that didn’t wind up on the final cut. (Eagle Vision 2010)

Click to buy Classic Albums: 2112 and Moving Pictures from Amazon


Vertical Horizon: Burning the Days

“I’m done with the middle ground,” moans lead singer Matt Scannell on the third track of Vertical Horizon’s latest album, but nothing could be further from the truth. Burning the Days is, in fact, the most relentlessly, punishingly middle of the road record you’ll have the displeasure of hearing all year, a solid block of dull beige mid-tempo ballads that will leave all but the most rock-allergic listeners resorting to desperate measures – such as punching one’s self in the throat, for example – to break up the monotony. Whoever engineered or mastered it deserves a Grammy simply for staying awake; conversely, Rush’s Neil Peart – who plays drums on three tracks and wrote lyrics for the album closer, “Even Now” – is old and successful enough to know better, and should be severely punished for encouraging this kind of senseless, yawning musical horror. Scannell has always had a weakness for adult contemporary mush, but Burning the Days represents a new, nougaty soft frontier for his music; it’s an experiment in blandness that makes MOR dozers such as Chicago’s XXX sound like Sgt. Pepper’s-level works of genius. The bitterest shame of the whole thing is that Vertical Horizon is on its own label again, free from corporate interference, and could have chosen this moment to make a strong artistic statement. For what few hardcore fans the band has left, this might be worth your time and money, but for anyone else, it’s positively deadly. (Outfall 2009)

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