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Rush

Grace Under Pressure Live DVD

Review by Julie Knispel

Rush has done a more than decent job over the past few years in offering their rabid fanbase plenty of concert footage.  For the potential audient unable to attend a show due to scheduling conflicts, DVD releases like Rush in Rio and R30 have done a great job of creating a "you are here" feel for the viewer, documenting the band’s more recent tours.

But what about long time fans?  What about fans wanting to reminisce about past glories?  Or the new fan wondering what the band was like at their so-called progressive peak, in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s?

Fortunately, the band has listened, whether it was to fans clamoring for their old concert releases, or the potential ringing of cash registers as fans ponied up to replace their worm out VHS copies of Exit Stage Left, A Show of Hands, or Grace Under Pressure Live, released from 1981 to 1988 and showing a band in the midst of great sonic change.

Grace Under Pressure Live was filmed on tour supporting he album of the same name.  In many ways, Grace Under Pressure was a massive change for the band, as Rush’s sound took on a far more keyboard and synth based sound, as well as reggae and ska influences.  While the album was a commercial success, it was met with a division in the band’s fanbase, with long time fans deriding the continued shift to more commercial arrangements, while newer fans perhaps welcomed the shorter songs and less baroque arrangements.  The band played 83 dates in support of the album, with their Toronto date filmed for video release in 1985.

A variety of angles is used to properly capture the concert experience, and while some may not be a fan of the long shot from back deep in the arena, I find them great for giving scope to the size of a show.  Of course, a video cannot live and die by the long shot, and many close up and changes of angle are used to create excitement and put the viewer at home on stage with the band.  Most enjoyable are the closeups of drummer Neil Peart, giving us a great idea how difficult even these shorter songs can be to play.  The video quality is decidedly 1980’s, of course, and there’s not much that can be done to change that.  Don’t go in expecting contemporary digital clarity; the video is a touch soft, but not so soft as to be disconcerting or detracting.

As for the songs performed…Rush played a fairly extensive setlist during their 1984 tour, including all three parts of the "Fear Trilogy."  “The Weapon” benefits from documentation on this DVD, showing the fine balance between humour and seriousness the band would tread throughout their career.  Contrasting with the serious lyrics is a projection of a Dracula-garbed monster movie presented exhorting the audience to put on their 3-D glasses, lest they miss out and only get ½-D of stage awesomeness.  Stage lighting is appropriately red and blue for this song, and the performance is awesome.  Set between “The Enemy Within” and “Witch Hunt,” the whole trilogy shines on this release and shows the band cross-fading the three pieces into one near-seamless suite.

The band also resorted to a few extensive medleys in order to ensure that older material got a fair shake during this tour.  Two of these medleys are included here; the first is a triple shot of “YYZ/The Temples of Syrinx/Tom Sawyer,” while the second sees Rush take on two older pieces in “Finding My Way/In The Mood.”  Medleys are a difficult proposition for any band; one should be happy that a group with as deep a catalogue as Rush is willing to continue to work with their older material in a way that keeps it somewhat fresh for them.  At the same time, it’s tough getting excited as the band kicks into “Finding My Way,” only to not hear the whole song.  Save for a by now traditional rendition of their radio hit “Closer to the Heart,” the rest of the material featured on GUP Live is pulled from post-1980 releases Signals and Moving Pictures, as well as the album the band was touring behind.

Don’t expect much in the way of bonus features or Easter Eggs; the release is pretty much a straight transfer of the original video.  From that standpoint, the release is enjoyable and extremely welcome.  However, one comes to expect special features on DVD releases these days, and their lack of presence is noticed.  Still, it’s not enough of a negative to merit skipping this excellent video release.

One hopes that the band looks deep into their vaults to see if a true Holy Grail, such as video footage from their Hemispheres tour, exists in any usable amount.  I’m sure many fans would go nuts over a DVD release of archival material such as that, even if in partial format.  Led Zeppelin’s 2-DVD archive release has shown that there is great interest even in partial high quality video releases, and a similar release from Rush would thrill many.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.
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