Rush- ABC: Live From Cleveland's Agora Ballroom 1974- Released in 2011 (But recorded in 1974) for Back on Black Rock Classics
Best Song- Working Man
The live albums go on. This is another archive release, a recording of their show at the Agora Ballroom in Cleveland on August 26, 1974 during their Rush tour, just two weeks after Neil Peart joined the band. The concert was a popular bootleg, and was finally released in 2011.
As for the album's quality, it is another spectacular live album, and part of what I would consider the "holy trinity" of Rush live albums (Live In Passaic 1976 and Disc 3 of Different Stages are also in there) Geddy's voice is in one of it's best shapes ever, with incredible power and range, and he pulls off insane screams throughout. A great showcase of his early, raw voice. The band plays great as well, as pretty much every song exceeds the studio! The set list is also strong, consisting of 6 songs from the debut ("Finding My Way", "Need Some Love", "In The Mood", "Here Again", "Working Man" and "What You're Doing") 2 songs that would later appear on Fly By Night ("Best I Can" and "In The End") 2 unreleased songs ("Fancy Dancer" and "Garden Road") and a cover ("Bad Boy"). No overdubs are also made, and it's a complete show, unlike other albums (I'm looking at you, Exit Stage Left!)
After a brief band introduction, we start off the show with "Finding My Way", whose opening riff makes it a GREAT choice for an opener. And it sounds great! The guitar tone is much more raw than the studio, and Geddy pushes his voice to the limit, screaming and shrieking away, sounding incredibly powerful. An amazing vocal performance. Lee forgets some of the words (Singing the second verse twice) but a great performance otherwise. The guitar solo also is great.
We then go into another pre-release version of "Best I Can" and it once again exceeds the studio, with more power in the instrumental parts and no overly-masculine singing, with Geddy instead pulling off some KILLER screaming. The guitar solo also rocks out.
"Need Some Love" is next. It rocks like mad, with powerful instrumentals, and great singing. It's also nice to hear Alex singing along in the choruses. Afterwards, we get an early, pre-release version of "In The End". It's not much better than the original (Which means it's great) except for a boost in the intro section with a neat chorus effect on the guitar. The highlight however, is when the hard rock section is introduced by an absolutely crazy scream by Lee! Next, is a real treat, a previously unreleased track! "Fancy Dancer" it's called, and it's a great one, with insane screaming by Geddy over a great stomping drum beat and great guitar lines. The guitar solo in the song is also stellar. A fascinating early song.
Next on the set list is a performance of "In The Mood" and it's just as great as the studio version, and a bit better, performed at a slightly faster tempo. Another cover of "Bad Boy" follows. It's not any different from the Laura Secondary School version, but it's not much worse, either. The shredding section is really nice here. Unfortunately, we go into another bland "Look how fast I can play!" guitar solo, and it's much longer than the Laura Secondary School version, lasting 1 and a half minutes instead of 30 seconds! (Some lasted as long as FIVE minutes, dear god) Thankfully, after the horror ends, we go into a real rarity, a live version of "Here Again" which wasn't played live much. It's pretty standard, with the exception of Geddy's singing once again being a big boost from the studio. The solo is also a big improvement, really great.
The highlight of the album, coming up next, is once again "Working Man". The song is extended to over 12 minutes, courtesy of a early bit of "By-Tor And the Snow Dog" (yay!) and a drum solo (boo!) The main song is just as good as the studio version, with an added vocal boost. We then go into the killer jam session, which might be the best version of the jam EVER! Alex's guitar, pulls out great guitar line after guitar line, Geddy's bass tone is also magical sounding, i'd say it's one of his best bass tones, and Neil's drumming holds it all together. The soloing lasts very long, epic guitar riffs keep on coming, and it never gets tiresome! We then go into a bit of the 7/4 War Furor section of "By-Tor And The Snow Dog"! It's a work in progress, but it sounds great. We then return to the main song, where Geddy pulls off some good screams. Unfortunately, after this epic jam, we go into the drum solo. And like most drum solos, it's really bad, as instead of trying to create a melody, Neil just bashes away mindlessly, showcasing how fast he can play, and it gets really, REALLY tiresome. And of course it has to last 3 minutes.
Thankfully, once the solo ends, we go into a great performance of "What You're Doing". It's performed at a faster tempo then the studio, and Geddy's singing is much more powerful. The bass is also much more prominent, which adds a lot. The main show finally closes out with an unreleased number, entitled "Garden Road". And it's another great, bluesy stomper, driven by a very "How Many More Times"-esque riff, over which Geddy pulls out some of the most powerful screams he'd ever do. ("Beauty flashing in the AIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIR!") The guitar solo is also nice. A great closer to a great set.
But wait, there's more! The album also has three bonus tracks, recorded at the Agora Ballroom again, on May 15, 1975, during the Fly By Night tour. They are "Anthem", "Beneath, Between, and Behind", and "Fly By Night" "Anthem" is a great performance, with Neil's drumming and Lee's bass much more prominent in the intro, to great effect. Geddy also replicates the singing of the studio absolutely dead on, so much so that you'd think it's the studio! "Beneath, Between, and Behind" is a great performance of the song, not much better than the original, but not much worse. Geddy's voice sounds a bit strained, though. Finally, "Fly By Night" is much better than the studio, performed at a faster tempo, allowing for more intensity. Singing is also better. A great closer to a fantastic live album.
Overall, this live album, as mentioned above, is fantastic, and one of their best. If you don't have this yet, get it now. 5/5.