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Beyond The Lighted Stage
Beyond The Lighted Stage
Zoe Vision
June 2010
Classic Rock/Prog Rock
Tom Stewart
4.5 stars

The "Holy Grail" for us RUSH fans is finally seeing the light of day....well, that is BESIDES the other stuff we're patiently waiting for, like full unreleased concerts from the classic era on DVD, but until then, we have Beyond The Lighted Stage. BTLS is the first and only official band sanctioned documentary on RUSH-one of the more hermit-like and elusive bands to ever exist when it comes to letting the adoring public into the inner sanctum. The mere fact that they got Neil Peart to sit down and open up a bit on camera is a pretty big deal as he's an intensely private and shy individual, being known for being a bit stand-offish and uninterested in meeting his fans. I can partially understand this as I can't imagine having people want a piece of me and my attention every single day of my life everywhere I went, many times being pushy and rude in the quest for an autograph or photo as I've witnessed first hand this disgusting behavior at many a backstage meet-and-greet. On the flip-side, it's disheartening to those of us who would like to express our admiration in a calm, respectful manner but probably would be too intimidated to approach him were we to run into him somewhere. It's just ironic that total strangers he meets on his notorious bike rides in between gigs who have no idea who he is have his ear...not having a clue they are talking to a true drumming legend. That being said, the band in general are pretty elusive when it comes to the press, so this documentary is interesting and a revelation on many levels.

Starting from the very beginning, there is amazing childhood photos and home movies mixed in with interviews with the parents of all 3 members. Most interesting is footage of Alex Lifeson, who couldn't have been more than 17 years old, sitting at the dinner table with his family essentially arguing naively as only one can do at 17 that he sees no point in finishing school or caring about money when it has no bearing on him wanting to be a musician, as his girlfriend? sister? sits next to him rocking back and forth neurotically smoking as Alex pleads his case to his horrified parents. It's hilarious, and little did anyone know at that dinner table just how right he would be as luck would have it. It's embarrassing and yet probably vindicating for him to watch today, as he comments that his parents were right, but he "made it" regardless. One has to wonder who shot this footage and why as it's not a grainy home movie and looks like it was shot by a TV crew or something.

Other treasures include live film of the band with John Rutsey on drums playing at some televised high school variety show. The bonus disc has the complete performances of Working Man and an early version of Best I Can from this gig, and one must feel sympathy for how devastating it must have been for the late Rutsey to watch the band he helped form go onto superstardom after he had left. It is also clear from seeing these clips that he was a competent drummer but RUSH would have never reached it's full potential without the arrival of Neil Peart. It's funny how fate works and one decision changes the course of music history....just think about the impact Peart has had on drummers and how many bands may have never formed had Rutsey stayed and Peart remained in obscurity.

Speaking of Peart, there is amazing footage of him playing live with his pre-RUSH band with his Keith Moon/Ginger Baker emulating flat drum kit set up, and some killer color live film from what looks to be from the Caress Of Steel/2112 era that has never been seen circulating among the bootleg collectors. Other various clips are peppered throughout the film, most having been seen before like the mid-70s promo films, Exit Stage Left, etc, but the rare unseen stuff is worth the price of admission alone. Some of the early photos of the band are truly hilarious as well.

You also get commentary from admiring peers like Mike Portnoy, Billy Corgan, Kirk Hammett, Gene Simmons, Sebastian Bach(providing his typical "metal dude buffoon" humorous touch as only he can, adding a little humility to the hero worship), and some funny moments from Jack Black as well, who sometimes seems to try too hard. Nice to see RUSH give props to KISS for taking them out on one of their first real big tours, and a hysterical moment where Alex recalls playing Caress Of Steel for Paul Stanley when they finished it and saying Paul really didn't "get it"....fair enough, since RUSH I'm sure didn't get the need to have flame throwers and costumes like KISS, but both bands created timeless music that has endured, and personally, I would just about give my left nut to have been able to see a RUSH/KISS double bill in early 1975 when I feel KISS was musically peaking as far as a live band -how fucking amazing it must have been.

There are also anecdotes from long-time RUSH producer Terry Brown, manager Ray Daniels(the clip of him on the bonus DVD squirming and stammering as it's revealed he wanted Geddy OUT of the band when he first signed them is priceless), but the real interesting stuff is the interviews with the band members themselves. There is a real sense of genuine love for each other that comes across in the process, especially when tackling the subject of Peart's devastating loss of his daughter and then his wife within a short time frame, leading to a 4 year sabbatical from drums and performing. You can see the tears well up in the eyes of his band mates as they discuss the ordeal and the pain involved. Geddy and Alex have been together since grade school, and there is a bond between the 3 of them that is admirable in a business that destroys lives and friendships over artistic differences, booze, women, drugs, money, ego, etc. Oh, and another thing, these guys are FUNNY! Serious musicians, but with a sense of humor that you only see glimpses of onstage.

Lighter moments include a waitress bugging Geddy for an autograph while ignoring Alex, and road stories including how UFO used to bust their balls about wearing the robes onstage and singing about "dining on honeydew". Candid moments regarding the band's foray into Police-inspired reggae and Geddy's obsession with keyboards in the 80s are telling, culminating in Alex putting his foot down to re-introduce the guitar back to the forefront of the band's sound(Counterparts), and how the band drifting into "synthland" led to the parting of ways with long time producer Terry Brown. One may argue that this documentary glosses over the mid 80s to present period a bit, but personally, I'm glad that 75% of this film is dedicated to the prime era of RUSH which for many long time fans is 1974-1982 depending on who you ask on what day.

The only thing that prevents this from being a 5 star release in my view is the bonus footage on the 2nd DVD could have been used more wisely. While the inclusion of the Rutsey-era live stuff is welcome, and also the 1979 performance of La Villa Strangiato from Pink Pop Fest, there is too much later period live footage. After being teased with 10 second clips of rare 70s footage during the documentary, on the bonus disc we get full songs from the Snakes And Arrows and R30 tours which not to dismiss it, is a let down after seeing what the band has in it's archives from the golden period. One can only hope that there is some future release in the pipeline that will include these rarities. Also annoying is the fact that during the documentary, there is "live" footage of the band during the Hemispheres era where they performed songs on a soundstage for a half hour HBO special in 1979(circulated amongst bootleg collectors), and they overdubbed the studio recordings over this footage instead of the actual live audio. This is nitpicking, but it's the little things that matter. The bonus interviews not used in the film itself are all excellent, and the footage of the 3 of them having a sit down dinner getting progressively more drunk and silly to the amusement of Peart who mostly just giggles at the other 2 is great stuff. Highly recommended!

Band Lineup:
  • Geddy Lee-Bass/Lead Vocals/Keyboards
  • Alex Lifeson-Guitars
  • Neil Peart-Drums/Percussion
  • John Rutsey-Drums pre-1974


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