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Rush

Exit Stage Left

Review by Gary Hill

One occurrence can not be a trend, so this CD was the one that established Rush’ pattern of four studio albums followed by a live album. This was their second live showing and while I liked All the World’s A Stage a lot, this one is stronger than that. A big part of that is because of the sound quality, but this was also a much more refined band by this point. They had gotten more comfortable with experimentation and had learned to play off of each other better. Those are the kinds of things that only years of experience can bring to the table. Whatever the reason, this disc is arguably the band’s best live album.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
The Spirit Of Radio
This classic Rush hit combines an almost reggae rhythm section with something more akin to the group’s classic sound. It’s catchy and yet still rocks.

Red Barchetta
A science fiction tale, this is one of the better of the Moving Pictures tracks. It still has quite a bit of that progressive rock feeling to it and yet has a more streamlined compositional structure. Of course compared to a lot of the material from that album this was actually of epic proportions. The expansive instrumental jam on this one is killer in the studio version but truly comes alive here. The closing jam is quite cool, too.

YYZ
The first of two instrumentals to show up here, this is a powerhouse jam that’s got a very old school Rush feel to it. It’s got a great hard edged guitar sound and some cool keyboard textures. There are some tasty riffs built into this one. This includes an extended drum solo from Neil Peart. It’s interesting to note that some bits of his All The World’s A Stage solo still find there way in here. Of course, those same bits even show up in his solo today.  When they come back out of that solo they also bring us into one of the most purely keyboard driven prog rock movements of any of their music. This is a killer musical adventure and I’d hazard to say that while the studio version of this was great, they blow doors on that one here.
Closer To the Heart
The first album from Rush that I ever bought was A Farewell to Kings. That disc still holds a very special place in my musical heart. So, it stands to reason that this song also is a favorite. They put in a great version here. This song has always resonated with the fans and you can really hear them getting involved here, singing much of the track along with the band. I really like this live version a lot. This is a piece that truly comes into its own right in the live venue. Geddy Lee’s bass work is incredible and we get some smoking guitar soloing from Alex Lifeson.
Beneath, Between & Behind
A fast paced older Rush tune, this is a great number that is fairly critical of the United States from a lyrical perspective. The version here is more refined than the studio one without losing any of the intensity. The band’s sound is simply better and they are more technical and proficient by this point.

Jacob's Ladder
A little 1950’s styled instrumental movement serves as the intro here. OK, so it’s really more of a curve ball to throw people off about what song they are about to hear. This is a dramatic epic from Rush’s prog rock period. A mysterious and dramatic build up serves as the backing for the opening vocals and they launch out into a hard edged, swirling, angular jam from there. This feels a lot like it could have come from the Hemispheres disc. While the studio version of this, from Permanent Waves, is good, it seems a little sterile in comparison to this one. They work through a number of changes and alterations until dropping down to just keyboards. Geddy Lee’s voice pairs with this as two parts of one organic thing and again I really think of Hemispheres. It gives way to another expansive jam that keeps rising upward with a crunchy exuberance. They work their way around a turn and take it to the outro with keys providing the final closing burst.

Broon's Bane
An acoustic guitar solo from Alex Lifeson this is moving and powerful. It has intricate sections and shifts and turns. It leads straight into the next number.

The Trees
This one really does come from Hemispheres. It opens with a pretty balladic motif and after a verse launches out into a killer, slightly off-kilter jam that seems to be in a nearly constant state of flux and growth – much like the trees addressed in the lyrics. They drop it back for a keyboard interlude. They build back up to a typical harder edged Rush groove and take it through with this motif. Keyboards end it here and then segue into the introduction to the next piece.

Xanadu
Alright, I have to admit it, this is probably my favorite song of all time from Rush. So, I was all about having a live version. Ambient textures start this with keys and feedback guitar mingling with Peart’s intricate percussion for quite a time. There are moments here when this reminds me a bit of Yes. We’re nearly two and a half minutes in before they power up into the guitar based riff driven jam that is one of the central themes of the piece. Even then they are in no hurry to get to the singing. They take their time properly developing this piece. The final lead up to the verse has a bass line that seems to just go on for ever and ever – and I mean that in the best way. It’s about five and a half minutes in before we hear Geddy Lee’s voice. Then we’re off on the alternating mellow and rocking segments that make up the song proper. Compositionally this is complex piece of light and dark, heavy and mellow. It’s an epic in scope and breadth and for me is the highlight of this set. That said, as good as it is – and it is great, it isn’t quite on the same level as the studio version. That’s more because of the sublime nature of that recording, though. They put in a scorching version here.

Freewill
This track was an early example of the shorter, more pop rock oriented version of the band’s music. Still, it had plenty of room to stretch out. The truth is, this version, with the killer take on the fast paced instrumental section, is stronger I think than the original studio recording. This works exceptionally well and is a real powerhouse. 

Tom Sawyer
And here we have it, the big hit for Rush. For my money I’ve always thought that this was a good song, but not anywhere close to what everyone made it out to be. There is still quite a bit of AFTK, Hemispheres era of the band on this, but condensed into a shorter, more accessible package. I don’t know. It’s good, but not the end all be all that so many seem to think it is. They put in a competent live showing here and the faster paced jam gets some variations.

La Villa Strangiato
The set is closed with another instrumental. A short, but incendiary, Alex Lifeson guitar solo is added to the beginning of this. Overall the texture of this instrumental takes on more of a melodic keyboard driven progressive rock texture compared to the studio version – at least on the early portions. They rock it out quite well once they build it up. When they drop it back to the echoey, mellower section mid track this thing really shines. Alex Lifeson takes the opportunity to show that he can create some killer music without feeling obliged to always shred. He cranks it up after a time, though. They take us from there through a few variants – and Geddy Lee throws in some vocals on this – although they seem more shouted and not really mic’ed. We get some more powerhouse Alex Lifeson guitar soloing later, too. This thing really does come to its fruition with this live performance. It’s far beyond the studio one – and a high energy way to end things.

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