This is part of my journey through all of Rush’s many albums in the wake of our loss of Neil Peart (and, basically, our loss of Rush). My journey began here. Please join me!
All the World’s a Stage is Rush’s first live album. It was recorded at Massey Hall in Toronto on June 11-13, 1976 during their 2112 tour.
Let me start with a confession. Live albums have always annoyed me. There are always differences from the studio recordings, and I can’t reliably tap or sing along, so I usually skip them. I like seeing bands live, but the live albums I’ve tried have always aggravated me. What I’m saying is, I think this is the first time I’ve listened to one of Rush’s live albums.
I … I’m blown away. I wasn’t expecting to have anything much to say since there wouldn’t be any “new” music on this album, but there actually is. Old music modified/improved, and new solos/jams!
Just a few notes. Mostly it was just a joy to listen to:
The sounds of the crowd, at times. I couldn’t decide whether they were being shown “Clap Now!” and “Cheer Now!” signs or if the audio was just edited so that it sounded that way.
Listening to this mash-up of post-Peart and pre-Peart Rush, the difference in their sound and the content of the music is really clear. The old stuff is good and I enjoy listening to it, and the musical genius of Lifeson and Lee is still there, but without Peart it just feels a lot more ‘normal’ rock.
One complaint. Even this early? Even for the TOUR for 2112? They shorten the song and cut out my favorite parts? Most of “Discovery” (and the best part of it) is gone. The Oracle’s true dream – completely gone. I thought maybe they lose their groove if they play the slower stuff live, but they had plennnnnnty of slower, super trippy extra stuff in By-Tor and the Snow Dog. Alas!!
Mostly, listening to this live album solidified my love of the sound of some of the songs. Anthem. Something for Nothing (I love love love the fiddly guitar bit at the beginning especially). In the End (which also got a nice extra little fiddly bit … in the end).
But, holy cats. The solos I’ve missed out on! Of particular note on this album, The Professor’s drum solo! H… How? There are parts of this drum solo where it does not seem possible that one person is making all of this music, by himself.
This is their FIRST live album?! They sounded like this, this early? Rush put out a total of 11 live albums. I think I’m in for a real treat! I’m excited. Thank you for preserving this live show for posterity, guys!
I wondered, listening to the drum solo, what Peart’s drum set looked like during this tour. And I was immediately certain there would already be extensive web sites with the full history and complete detail of all Peart drum sets that ever existed, and I was right!
Friends, what did this album, or the songs on it, mean to you?
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Okay, so, I am right there with you in disliking live albums in general. I can think offhand of a grand total of three live albums I genuinely like all the way through, and, by the way, none of them are Rush albums. I saw Rush live at least three times, maybe four (it all kind of bleeds together after a while) and enjoyed every show, but live albums, and this is true of live Rush albums, too, seem to combine all the detriments of a live show with few of the benefits. With those caveats in place, what I will say about this particular live album is 1) the band seems to perform the songs with a smidge of extra intensity—the growls are growlier, the stings are stingier, the wah-wahs are … wah-wah-ier? anyhow, there’s an added energy to the songs that probably comes from being on stage in front of a crowd; 2) Uncle Geddy’s delivery is interestingly performative—he’s playing to the audience with his note and rhythm choices, particularly in the way he often pauses an extra half-beat—or even, occasionally, more—before starting a line, much in the manner of the stereotypical lounge singer; 3) a thing I have always appreciated about Rush is their capacity to slide seamlessly from one song to another—it’s on impressive display on this album; 4) it’s funny to me that you can often decipher Rush lyrics better by listening to the live version than you can from the studio recording. This album is exhibit A of that.
So, to the songs:
Bastille Day – the lounge singer delivery is on delicious display on the chorus of this song. I love the tone of righteous zeal in Uncle Geddy’s voice.
Anthem – Geddy’s intros for these songs crack me up. He is such a lovable dork. And his “C’mon!” at 0:54, as though this were a rock-n-roll lifestyle boogie instead of an Objectivist screed, just cements it.
Fly By Night / In The Mood – more lounge singer delivery. And “In the Mood” is way more groovy here than on the studio album. Uncle Neil’s drumming really punches the song up. However, Geddy’s insistence on seeing everyone’s hands makes me giggle. It’s so silly.
Something For Nothing – this song, somehow, sounds way more sinister and dark live than it did on the previous album. It’s crashier, more echo-y, and Geddy’s tone is judgy and menacing.
Lakeside Park – great lounge-singer delivery on this one, and again Geddy puts just that little bit of extra wistfulness into the delivery, especially on the phrase, “Some memories last forever.”
Okay, here’s the biggie, “2112” – honestly it just doesn’t do it for me live. I mean, it’s fine, but hearing crowd-noise really pulls me out of the story and makes me remember this is, so to speak, “just a concert.” Also, performing it at breakneck tempo doesn’t make it better. Settle down, guys. And take about 10% off the top of that distortion effect. And, also, hey, Geddy, post-apocalyptic science fiction is one of the things that isn’t improved by loungey stylings. And yes, Kat, you are right. They cut out some of the best parts.
By-Tor and the Snow Dog – what I said about post-apocalyptic science fiction goes double for fantasy epic. Some of Uncle Geddy’s delivery in this song made me cringe and some made me crack up. None of it was an improvement on the studio album.
In the End – Okay. Okay, now. Okay, this. Now, this is how you use the fact that you are live to do something you can’t in the studio. (Although they really missed a trick by not making this the last song on the album.) But this is perfect live performance. It’s big and triumphant, and the crowd noise actually improves the song. Slowing down the song a little, and making it more of a jam, and giving it a bit of a bittersweet undercurrent and some echo effects—this is live rock-n-roll done right. And Neil’s trashcan triplets feel like “Oh, hey, this is what I should have done in the first place.” And Geddy’s sincere “Thank you very much” at the end is so nice.
Working Man / Finding My Way – You can already tell at this point that, for good or ill, “Working Man” is THE Rush song. This is a solid performance. Although—and I feel bad saying this, because in general Neil’s drumming choices are so flawless it’s almost a sin to criticize them—dude, I know you love bell-tree, but it does not belong in “Working Man.” And “Finding My Way” is the perfect pairing with “Working Man.”
What You’re Doing – This song is pretty “meh” in general, and it does not belong at the end of this album. That is all.
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HA!!! Lounge singer! That’s it, exactly! LOL!
I’ll confess also that when I see the title “In The Mood” I always expect this: https://youtu.be/_CI-0E_jses
Which three live albums do you like? If you don’t mind sharing.