Another chapter has closed but the story of Rush is still being written.
Today's release of Different Stages extends what has now become a Rush custom. In its 25 years of recording, the Toronto trio of Alex Lifeson, Geddy Lee and Neil Peart has fashioned a modus operandi in phases of four studio recordings and tours summarized by a "live" document of that era. Different Stages is the fourth such document but one that deviates from the pattern in several crucial and much more personal respects.
The group breaks its own rules by including older material, such as a 20-minute performance of its first milestone, 2112, originally released in 1976, and has thrown in a bonus disc of a full-length recording of a 1978 concert at London's Hammersmith Odeon. The three-disc set and its pioneering CD-ROM visuals are so inclusive they seem actually conclusive, at least to fans who've interpreted Different Stages and the news that Rush is going on hiatus to be a signal that the band is breaking up.
Let Alex Lifeson assure them that this is not the case. "The live album is going to buy us a little time, which we need," the guitarist says. "It's been a difficult period for us and it's hard to get motivated."
The time has been the most difficult for drummer Neil Peart, whose daughter died in a car accident a year ago and who lost his wife to cancer more recently. Out of respect for Neil, the other members have stepped back from Rush so he can "get his life back together." Lee is helping his son launch his own band, Lifeson is doing record production for friends and looking after his Toronto club, The Orbit Room, whose house band, The Dexters, often has him as a sideman.
But the bond that was there when Peart joined Lee and Lifeson for the Fly by Night album 24 years ago is holding firm.
"We're brothers," Lifeson says. "We feel for each other, especially in a time like this. We have a relationship that's been strong since day one. We've been around for a long time and have had great success and that's made it possible for us to do what we're doing now."
Although most of Different Stages is drawn from a single night in Chicago during last year's Test for Echo tour, more than 100 performances were recorded on a 72-channel ADAT system. The band, however, did not screen the tapes.
"No! Are you kidding?" Lifeson says. "Robert Scovill, our sound engineer, went through all the tapes and selected the 10 best nights. From that we whittled it down to three and, in the end, most of it came from that night in Chicago."
While the two discs that are the meat of Different Stages serve as a comprehensive career retrospective, the third disc of the 20-year-old Hammersmith concert will be the lure for longtime Rush fans.
This was recorded for a U.K. radio broadcast and not remembered fondly by the band -- especially by Lee who had a throat problem on that evening. It languished in the basement of the group's production company, Anthem, until four years ago when it was rediscovered during a move to different premises. Playing it back, Rush realized that the tape chronicled a special time and was better than the three musicians originally had thought.
"It captures youthful abandon and the focus and the intensity of the band," says Lifeson. "It makes me smile when I listen to it. It reminds me of a lot of things from back then.
"I listened to Hemispheres (a studio LP from the same period as the Hammersmith show) and I hadn't heard that in, oh boy, 15 years. It was really cool and a lot of fun. I heard things I hadn't heard us do in a while, like some of the harmonic ideas. Being reminded of that makes me think that some of those ideas might come back. Sometimes it's by going back that we replenish the future."