29 July 2010

DVD REVIEW: Rush - Beyond the Lighted Stage

What do Sebastian Bach, Jack Black, Jimmy Chamberlin, Les Claypool, Tim Commerford, Billy Corgan, Kirk Hammett, Taylor Hawkins, Kim Mitchell, Vinnie Paul, Mike Portnoy, Trent Reznor, Gene Simmons, Zakk Wylde and Danny Carey have in common?

Well, other than the fact that all of them have been involved, to one degree or another, with music on the heavier side of the rock spectrum, all of them have been touched by a trio of Canadian musicians who are unassumingly approaching their 40th year of making music. That band is Rush, and they are the focus of the latest documentary from Sam Dunn (producer/director of Metal: A Headbanger's Journey, Global Metal, and Iron Maiden: Flight 666) titled Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage.

The documentary is handled in chronological order, and for long time fans of Rush, the opening sections may be the most interesting, as they explore the earliest roots of the group. We get to meet Alex and Geddy’s mothers, learn about how their childhood experiences shaped the way they view the world, and see just how deeply the friendship between Geddy and Alex goes. Sadly, there’s not as much screen time for original drummer John Rutsey, and it’s a bigger shame that he is no longer with us to share his insights with the production team. I’d hope that he’d have looked at things in a similar way to the musicians in the original line ups of Iron Maiden (yes, I’ve been digging into their Early Days DVD set recently), but it’s hard to say. We get one audio snippet from him, and some wistful words from Alex, Geddy and manager Ray Danniels, and that’s about it.

The chapters dedicated to the Fly By Night/Caress of Steel/2112 days show a band growing and increasing in complexity, musical and lyrical. The introduction of Neil Peart to the band shoved the band in a totally different direction, and the anti-establishmentarian attitude of the band members toward their label is one that could never happen today. There is no way that a band, signed to a major label, and told by the label to write hits lest they lose their contract, would turn around and hand in an album with a 20 minute side long epic based on Ayn Rand’s writings. They’d be released, their material held into perpetuity by a label pissed off that their investment in the band hadn’t been recouped. This is, I think, the biggest thing hamstringing the music ‘industry’ today…the blind focus on the bottom line, rather than nurturing and building bands.

As the band grows in stature and familiarity, the documentary finds itself needing perhaps to move at a faster pace; nearly half of the program overall covers the years up to the release of Hemispheres in 1978, leaving another 50-odd minutes to cover the remaining 30 years of studio and live world. As a result, we start to notice a slightly less deep look at things. There are some great looks at how the band touched their fans, between short profiles of people who have seen over 100 Rush concerts, to an incredibly touching bit with Billy Corgan retelling how he sat his mother down to listen to ‘Entre Nous.’ I still would have loved a deeper investigation into the bands shifts in sounds over the years, but I also have to understand that projects like these need to reach out to people far less familiar with the band than I am.

A 10 minute stretch in the film offers up some of the deepest investigations into Neil Peart’s life and drumming. There’s a great section with Freddie Gruber explaining how Neil decided to re-learn how to play, improving his rudiments and totally changing the way he played. This is followed up by a look at the biggest change in the band since Rutsey was asked to leave following the release of their debut album; the passing, one year apart, of both his daughter and wife. It would take six years for Rush to reconvene, while Neil took the time to find himself via a 55,000 mile journey on the back of a motorcycle. It’s hard to watch as Geddy and Alex explain how the band basically stopped existing, while Neil’s words don’t necessarily hit the depths of despair that are evident in his books like Ghost Rider, but do a good job of expressing the emptiness that he had to fill.

The rest of the main program takes us briefly through the Vapor Trails and Snakes and Arrows albums and tours, in chapters titles The Return and Revenge of the Nerds. In its entirety, the main documentary does a fairly good job in covering what the case describes as ‘the world’s biggest cult band,’ and in and of itself is a recommended bit of film for Rush fans and progressive music listeners.

But that’s not all the DVD package has to offer.

A second disc of extras fills out things, offering some very cool additional insights into the band that I would have loved to see worked into the main program, even if it extended the length of things. There’s great live footage of the Rutsey/Lifeson/Lee band on Bandstand playing ‘Best I Can’ and ‘Working Man’ for Canadian television, an extended cut of the scene where Lee and Lifeson find the place they played their first show at (including a hilarious section where Lee and Ray Danniels offer up their points of view regarding Lee’s forced departure from his own band for a few weeks), and a wonderful section that illuminates the band member’s various extracurricular activities. I knew that Alex loved playing golf, and just about everyone knows about Neil’s love of motorcycling and literature. I never knew, however, that Geddy Lee had such a huge collection of signed baseballs and other sporting paraphernalia, and while certainly separate from the band info, it was very interesting and cool to see.

Then there’s the dinner scene.

How can I describe the dinner scene?

It’s 12 plus minutes of three Canadians in varying stages of inebriation.

It’s Alex, Geddy and Neil as you have never seen them.

Ultimately, it’s evidence that these three people are bound together in a way most bands could only dream of, mocking, supporting, and genuinely loving the time they share with each other, on and off stage. It is this scene that really shows what these three men are like with each other, I think, and while I know some people are a little put off by it, I think it’s one of the best things the documentary shows. So often you hear about musicians who can’t stand to be around each other when not on stage, but here are three people in a band together for over 30 years still acting like kids and having a blast.

And that, in the end, is what I think Rush is.

That’s why Rush is as popular as they are.

That’s what Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage tells us.

Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage DVD 1:
Main program (107 minutes)

Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage DVD 2:
Deleted Scenes
Being Bullied and The Search for The First Gig
Reflections on the album Hemispheres
"Presto" and "Roll The Bones" Rap
The Rush Fashion
Hobbies on the Road
Rush Trekkies (Rush Con 7)
Pre-Gig Warm-Up
Best I Can (never-before-seen footage w/ original drummer, John Rutsey from 1974)
Working Man (never-before-seen footage w/ original drummer, John Rutsey from 1974)
La Villa Strangiato - Live at Pinkpop Festival in Holland from 1979 (first time this epic song was captured on video)
Between The Sun and Moon - Hartford, CT (from the band’s first show back after hiatus in 2002)
Dinner with RUSH at a Hunting Lodge
Far Cry (live) - from the "Snakes & Arrows" DVD
Entre Nous (live) – from the ‘Snakes & Arrows’ DVD
Bravado (rare live version) - previously only available on the "R30" Blu-ray version
YYZ (rare live version) - previously only available on the "R30" Blu-ray version

1 comment:

firefly said...

Before I became the huge Rush fan that I am, turned onto by a cult fan; I recall seeing them as a kid on 'Don Kirshner's Rock Concert' and thought to myself, 'is that a witch singing?' Seriously, with that voice and all!
Ironically, "Witch Hunt" became one of my favs!
Go Rush!