Thursday, March 24, 2016

Rush- Live At the Laura Secondary School 1974

Rush- Live at The Laura Secondary School- Released in 2014 (But recorded in 1974) for Zoe Records
Best Song- Working Man
Though All The World's A Stage was the only live album released from 1974-1978, Rush had 4 live archive releases from that time, that weren't released until much later. The first of these was Live At the Laura Secondary School 1974, a live video (Yes, a professionally recorded video at a Middle/High school) recorded in April of 1974 for a TV program called Canadian Bandstand (likely a Canadian version of American Bandstand) and released in 2014 as part of the R40 boxset. 

This is the earliest known live recording of the band, released before Neil was even a member, and when their debut album was only a month old. The band, however, still featured great playing skills even at this early age. Lifeson still rocked it on guitar. Lee's vocals are still not fully developed (He was just 20 at the time, they would come into his own around 1976, and stay at the top through 1978) but they still sound youthful and raw, and it works. John Rutsey's doesn't have the style of the "Professor", but his straight-ahead rock fit with the music they played at the time. And the performances themselves are excellent, featuring 4 songs from the debut ("Need Some Love", "Before and After", "Working Man" and "In The Mood"), one song that would later appear on Fly By Night ("Best I Can") and more interestingly, 2 unreleased songs ("I've Been Runnin'" and "The Loser") and a cover song ("Bad Boy"). The video quality is a bit fuzzy, but it doesn't harm the songs.

The album starts off with "Need Some Love" from the debut. This song is a vast improvement from the original, with an extended intro, much more power in the playing, and a faster tempo. We then get a real rarity, a live version of "Before and After" from the debut (The only known live performance of the song) and it sounds great, just as good as the nice studio version, with added rawness in the playing in the soft intro which sounds nice. The main rock section sounds good, too, as does the instrumental break. 

We then go into an early, work in progress version of "Best I Can" which would later appear on Fly By Night. This version is a significant improvement from the original. The playing is the same, but Geddy sings in his natural voice, and not the comically masculine vocals of the original. 

We then go into three real treats- three previously unreleased songs! The first is called "I've Been Runnin'",  a great, if very generic, high-energy rocker, driven by a great riff and good singing. We also get some great shredding in the guitar solo, and a nice soft bridge with Geddy's getting the audience to clap along with him! Overall, a great treat, and it's worth buying this release for it.

The second is a cover of the Beatles' "Bad Boy". Their version of the song is a great, laid-back, bluesy take on the song, even if (Like most early Rush) it's pretty generic. The acapella choruses are also a nice touch, even if they're a bit silly. The song picks up near the end, with some more wicked shredding underpinning Geddy's screeching vocals. Unfortunately, we then go into a guitar solo. Why unfortunately, you may ask? Because unlike Lifeson's other guitar solos, which fit in with the song and are accompanied by the other instruments, this is all by himself, and is just a pointless, messy shred-fest. Bo-ring. Thankfully, this only lasts around 30 seconds, before the song comes to a close. 

The third and final unreleased rarity is another original song, "The Loser".  And it's another great one. The riff is solid, almost reminding me of "I Can't Explain", and Geddy's great singing accompanies a great melody. John Rutsey's drumming is great too, and we then get a nice guitar solo. Another great out-take. Shame there was never a studio version!

We then reach the highlight of the album, "Working Man". It's great! The opening riff is slower and heavier than the original, Geddy's raw singing adds roughness. The song gets much faster after the first verse, adding more intensity. We then go into another great jam section, with nice shredding over solid drumming. We have a SICK guitar/bass duel section in the middle, with KILLER bass lines. Overall, the jamming is excellent, never growing tedious. Sad Rush didn't do this sort of thing more often! The transition back to the main song is seamless, and we close out with a KILLER ending! Overall, a top-notch version of a Rush classic. 

The band finally come back for an encore of "In The Mood". Geddy sings close to the studio arrangement this time, and the band plays the same, so it's not a big improvement, but it isn't any worse either. Overall, a solid close. Sadly, it cuts out near the end.

Overall, this live album is a must get. A fascinating document of early Rush, with great performances. An easy 5/5. 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Rush- All The World's A Stage

Rush- All The World's A Stage- Released in 1976 for Mercury Records
Best Song- 2112, By-Tor comes very close 

Aside from the five studio albums released from 1974 through 1977, Rush had many live albums in the same period, and I will now go through them. First, In between 2112 and A Farewell to Kings, Rush released their first of many live albums, All The World's A Stage. This album consisted of the band's full performance at Toronto's Massey Hall in June of 1976. The album would continue Rush's rise to fame, charting number 40 in the US, and the "Fly By Night/In The Mood" medley would be a top 100 single. 

As for the quality of the music itself, the performances are outstanding. Material is culled from each of the band's first four albums up to that point ("Finding My Way", "Working Man", "In The Mood" and "What You're Doing" from Rush, "Fly By Night", "Anthem", "By-Tor And The Snow Dog", and "In The End" from Fly By Night, "Bastille Day" and "Lakeside Park" from Caress of Steel, and "2112" and "Something for Nothing" from 2112). All of those songs were great in the studio, and they mostly sound just as good, if not BETTER than, the studio versions. Geddy's voice is in top form, (Most songs sound miles better, vocally, than the STUDIO VERSIONS)  and the instrumental machine is cooking.

The opening "Bastille Day" kicks the performance off to a great start, sounding just as good as the stellar studio version, and a bit better in some places (Geddy pulls of some SICK screams here). "Anthem" is performed by the book, and is not really significantly better but since I loved the original, I love it here. We then go into "Fly By Night" which is just as great as the studio version. However, after two verses, we segue into "In The Mood". The transition works extremely well, as both songs have a similar sound. To make matters even better, "In The Mood" is a significant step up from the studio, with Geddy's mid-range singing in the original giving way to powerful screaming. 

Next on the agenda is "Something For Nothing", which is another significant improvement from the original. Geddy's singing is leaps and bounds above the studio, and the guitar tone is much rawer than the studio, which rules. (Also, Geddy hits his highest note EVER in the first chorus, a B5). The song also gets a great extended outro, with great guitar lines. "Lakeside Park" is just as good as the very underrated studio version in the playing, and Geddy's singing is a significant improvement.

However, after all of these short songs, we then go into the main attractions, with four of the band's big epics  closing out the disc. "2112" is first. It does have a few problems. It's much shorter than the original, as "Discovery" and "Oracle" are cut out, shortening the song by 5 minutes. The vocals also aren't as hot. But it does have lots of plusses. First, the beginning is INCREDIBLE. At the end of "Lakeside Park", Lifeson plays a few notes on guitar, and lets the last one hold out. It continues to echo, while Neil's chimes come in, and then the famous synth wooshing noises enter, while Alex continues to play heavily delayed notes.The tension at this part of the song is AMAZING, and further amplifies the impact of the opening song. We then go into the regular song. The opening riffing of "Overture" is played with far greater intensity, with Geddy's heavenly climb from the original giving way to a powerful scream. The vocals in the "Temples of Syrinx" section don't really sound as good as the original, but it doesn't harm the song. The "Presentation" section isn't much different from the original, but it sounds just as good. Lifeson's solo is also killer as ever, maybe more so. "Soliloquy" is just as good as the regular version as well, and Geddy's scream on "Spills OOOOOOOOOOOOVER" exceeds the original. And finally, "Grand Finale" is a bit weaker, as it doesn't have the doubled guitar tracks of the original, but it's fine. Overall, this is a great version of "2112", which you should definitely seek out.

Next is "By-Tor And the Snow Dog", which is extended from it's already lengthy 8 and a half minutes into a 12 minute monster. And it absolutely DESTROYS the original, and is easily near the best song on the album. The verses are stronger than the original, with much more power in the singing. We then go into the significantly extended "7/4 War Furor" section, which is the absolute centerpiece of the song. The jamming here is utterly FEROCIOUS, with INSANE riffs and licks being pulled off time after time. Lifeson shows that he could shred his ass off, and Lee's bass supports well. We even get riffs that would be included in "The Spirit of Radio" and "Cygnus X-1"! The drum sounds in this section are extremely cool as well. We then go into the "Aftermath" section, which is also MUCH better than the original, with absolutely CRAZY sound effects (Almost sounds like a SOLID WALL OF NOISE at one point), which have to be heard to be described in words. The reverbed guitar lines are also wickedly cool. "Hymn of Triumph" is also exceeding the original, as well, with so many great guitar lines pulled off. We then end off strong as ever. Overall, if you had to hear just one version of "By-Tor and the Snow Dog", pick THIS one.

Afterwards, we get "In The End". The beginning is played significantly differently from the original, with a quiet version of the main guitar sequence being played over Lee's significantly different singing. It's not as pleasant as the original, but it's nice. We then get into the funniest moment in the album. With heavy reverb applied to his voice, Lee introduces the heavier section with... "one...two...buckle... my... shoe". Comedy gold! And of course, this main body section is performed just as strong as the original. The ending features some really cool echo effects, as well.

The last of these four epics is 15 minutes of "Working Man", including "Finding My Way" (yay!) and a drum solo (boo!). Working Man's main section is performed much better vocally, with Lee once again singing much higher than the original. We then go into the jam section of the song. The jamming is ferocious, similar to By-Tor, with Lifeson playing insanely fast shredding. We then go into "Finding My Way", which is performed just as nicely as the great original. Geddy's screaming is also AMAZING, as he pulls off some INSANE highs (Topping out at G5) near the end. Then, it's back to the "Working Man" jam. The riff that plays in this section is great, and I can fist-pump to it any day. We then go back to the main song. The transition is effective as can be. 

Unfortunately, we then go into the low point of the concert, the drum solo. I HATE drum solos. I'm sorry, I don't see the appeal of someone mindlessly bashing the kit for minutes. And this drum solo is no different. It's just Neil showing off how great he is by bashing the drums really fast with no structure, rhythm, or melody whatsoever. It's 3 minutes of boredom, and just wanting it to end. The woodblock section is cool, but that's it.

The show finally comes to a close with an encore, "What You're Doing". This song is much better than the original, with Geddy screaming his lungs out ("YOU SAY THAT YOU'RE FOOLING, WHO YOU THINK YOU'RE FOOLING NOOOOOOOOOOOW!") and a amazing groove. 

Overall, this might seem like the recipe for a great album. The performances is great, the singing is great, and the set is great. So why do I give it a low grade? Well...
In my review of A Farewell to Kings, I mentioned that the album was really "ostensibly" live. The reason why is clear. ALMOST NOTHING REALLY IS LIVE. Pretty much ALL of the vocals were overdubbed in the studio (You can hear obvious double tracking throughout, sometimes you can hear them sing different notes!) and some instrumental parts too. (TOO studio perfect!)

I'm sorry. I really am. But as great as the performances are, a live album is only great if it's truly "live", not in the studio. And thus, I only give this a 3/5.