Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Rush - Beyond the Lighted Stage, DVD Review

Friday, June 29th 1984 – I remember this day like it was yesterday. This was one of the turning points in my life and there was no question about it. I was 13 years old and on this very night I was going to go to my first concert. My sister and (future) brother-in-law had an extra ticket for RUSH at the (then) Rosemont Horizon that evening and although I can’t remember how the extra came about (someone dropped out, I’m sure) but that’s not even a side note today. The important thing is it was now mine.

Again, the memories are foggy but a year or so earlier I had obtained a cassette version of the ‘Exit Stage Left’ album and it was the greatest thing I’d heard up until that point. Up until then it was all about radio rock from WMET, the Police and Van Halen and later Motley Crue, but there was something way different about this tape. The music was the sound of three virtuosos’s who understood the power of the song! Musically it was above and beyond anything I’d really ever heard.  Lyrically while mostly way confusing, some were blunt enough to hit home. Those words spoke to me when no one else would or could. Vividly I remember some dark times when this same tape felt like it was my only light. 

Exit Stage Left

My brother-in-law Mike was and remains a huge RUSH fan. He was a drummer in a garage band called Equinox and I can remember seeing him play in someone’s garage one time. Anyway, I’m sure the tape came from him and while I may have originally wanted to see/hear what this RUSH thing was all about due to his influence, as well as the influence of MTV who played the shit out of the "Tom Sawyer" live video. But something clicked and a year or so later when June 29th of 1984 came around I was going to really get to see and hear what this RUSH thing was all about. This night would change everything for me. 

I remember so many details about this night. I remember where we sat (Alex’ side) I remember that right after the show Mike and his friends were headed to Indiana to purchase fireworks for the upcoming 4th of July holiday. I remember the smell of marijuana and the freaks using hairspray cans and other assorted aerosols as torches. I remember Gary Moore as the opening act; I didn’t really care for him back then. I then remember the set-change, walking around the arena and seeing the merch stands and then re-taking our seats in anticipation. In anticipation of what, I had no idea but there was definitely that feeling of electricity in the air.

As the lights went down, the roar of the crowd was deafening. If I closed my eyes you could have told me a 747 had just landed next to me and I wouldn’t have second guessed you. It was that loud. It was that intense. It remains my favorite part of any big show I’ve been to since. At the start of a concert, everyone is “happy,” everyone is excited, everyone is optimistic that this performance, the one that (back then) you had the tickets for months and months will be the one that exceeds your every expectation. When it’s your first - it’s almost like everything you’ve experienced up until that point in one huge, sonic blast.

RUSH opened with “The Spirit of Radio” and my life has never been the same.

I wish I could tell you that because of all this I became some RUSH uber-geek and have religiously followed them and all the things associated with that. Truth is, I saw them at a weird period. 1984 was the ‘Grace Under Pressure’ tour and the official start of the massive electronic era of RUSH, which to anyone at the time over the age of 13 would know ‘GUP’ was a rather challenging listen. I continued to adore the period of RUSH I was most familiar with until much later in life when my wife opened my ears to some of the earlier studio stuff I’d missed.

All of which brings us to today and the recently released RUSH documentary ‘RUSH, Beyond The Lighted Stage’ by filmmakers Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen, the guys behind the ‘Metal: A Headbangers' Journey,’ ‘Global Metal,’ and ‘Iron Maiden: Flight 666’ films. I have much respect for their work and was more than thrilled to hear of them tackling a project as important as this. Similar to my review of their ‘Flight 666’ film, Sam and Scot are borderline genius in getting their subjects to “open up” especially when these subjects appear to be very “un-openable!” 

 I know the point of a documentary where the main subject or subjects say or reveal nothing would be a disaster, but like the Maiden movie ‘Beyond The Lighted Stage’ is the closest thing to sitting backstage with the Canadian power trio most of us will ever get to.

The film begins with the Page/Plant, Tyler/Perry, Abbott/Costello Mick/Keith of RUSH, Guitarist Alex Lifeson and Bassist-Vocalist Geddy Lee. The two of them take you back to the beginning, I mean way back to when a friendship was formed in grade school and how it blossomed into one of the most important cores in Rock and Roll history. The story is peppered with archival photos and video and watching it all unfold really takes you on a journey. Just seeing some of the earliest footage really reminds us of how ground breaking and unorthodox the band truly is and how their vision has remained intact for over three decades. 

Original Drummer John Rutsey, who performed on the first album before being replaced, is given a respectful nod via stories and brilliant video flashbacks. In retrospect his departure and the guy they got to replace him was probably one of the most important things to ever happen to the band. When Neil Peart joins the band in 1974, in time to tour on the back of the self-titled debut the union subsequently alters the Earth’s axis when it comes to the art of percussion as well as the lyrical themes and concepts to come. 

 The chapters of the film take you through the RUSH discography where the band members as well as their longtime manager Ray Daniels, take you on a trip through time describing what was happening at certain points in their career. What was influencing them and what was driving them both musically as well as, especially in Neil’s case, spiritually to create. What their lives were like during this or that time and the inter-band dynamics that shaped the collectively massive thing RUSH were becoming.

The interviews throughout the film are just gold. Of course the band themselves are completely natural in front of the camera and come across as not only revered musicians but as people too. The past business associates, family members as well as the cameos, each have a certain something in their voice that let’s you know this isn’t just someone speaking about “some band.”

As is the nature of the band itself, this is above Rock and Roll, it’s above lip service and the adulation from people like Kirk Hammett, Trent Reznor, Les Claypool, Jimmy Chamberlin and Gene Simmons speak volumes like you rarely hear. In fact, the Billy Corgan interviews are probably my favorite. Never a huge fan of the guy in any capacity, but when he speaks about RUSH there’s a gleam in his eye and a sound in his voice that tells you, without a doubt what RUSH has meant and continues to mean to him. I fucking love fandom!

Breaking down the barriers between band and fan is often a delicate line. Not sure why, but it’s always been that way. Some think it’s a leftover from the early to mid 70’s era of stadium rock and a lot of people think the aesthetics of Punk Rock were a direct reflection to help destroy that invisible barrier. RUSH on the other hand speak at length of their relationship with their fans. The pros and cons of living in the “limelight” and how members handle that part of the “job” and more importantly why. 

Followers of the band are well aware of the trials and tribulations of Neil Peart and how they’ve come to shape his before and after. The interview footage based around this time period does more to reinforce the family aspect of the band than anything I’ve ever seen. The way the band handle themselves during the heaviest times they’ve ever faced is nothing short of miraculous. Their return to the stage is covered and even though it seems impossible to garner even more respect for the guys, somehow you do.

Bringing everything into the present is a nice wrap up to an ever evolving story. One that, due to the very nature of RUSH’s existence continues to be about an extraordinary friendship, is as memorable and heartwarming as any Rock and Roll film you’ve ever seen. ‘RUSH, Beyond The Lighted Stage’ is a must see, must own simple as that. DVD wise, excellent bonus footage, deleted scenes and more. The extended dinner scene included in the bonus footage is worth the price alone.