Geddy Lee of the legendary Toronto power trio Rush - which has just launched a fourth live album - says he's sure progressive rock will always be with us.
Toronto - "The normal way of doing a live album is not an ideal situation for a band," asserts Geddy Lee, long-time vocalist and bassist for the rock band Rush, and a man who should know.
"You take a recording truck, and barge in on six or seven dates. You create tension, you distract the performers, and you cause a totally unnatural environment. You basically throw everything into a tizzy, and at the end of it all, you really haven't even captured the band in its normal state," he said.
"So I often wondered, what would happen if you just went out and recorded every single night of the tour, and at the end just picked through the tapes to find those really amazing performances that are relaxed and confident, where the crowd is super, and when it's just one of those magic nights?"
With that in mind, Lee reviewed virtually every note played on last year's Test For Echo tour. The results of this exhaustive process can be heard on the band's latest album, Different Stages, which went on sale last week. The fourth live-album release from the veteran Toronto power trio, Different Stages is more than three hours long - a sprawling document that must surely stand as one of the most expertly recorded and produced live rock albums ever released.
And while the name on the cover confirms that this is indeed a group project, it was mostly Lee himself who bore the brunt of the responsibility for its creation. "Well," the 45-year old musician said with a shrug, over what looked like a cup of herbal tea in the basement of his Cabbagetown record-company office, "live albums are a difficult and time-consuming project. They're not joyous, like making a new album, because you're not creating anything from scratch. . . . So the other guys [drummer Neil Peart and guitarist Alex Lifeson] were like, 'You wanna do this? Fine! See you later.' So they kinda bailed out on the whole thing. But that's fine. I guess I've got more of a focus on stuff like this."
Speaking of Neil Peart, the one question that most begged to be asked during the interview is the one that Lee was most unable to answer: The fact that Peart lost both his daughter and his wife through separate tragedies recently has thrown the future of the band into doubt.
"It's too soon to say," what that future will be, Lee said. "It's not something that's even been broached. All that's important is that Neil have the time to heal."
For a group that has such a long-time reputation as a quintessential touring band, the release over the years of four full albums of live work is both justified and appreciated by Rush's worldwide legion of fans, who traditionally turn such albums into gold and platinum releases. (The live albums that preceded Different Stages are: All The World's a Stage in 1976, Exit... Stage Left in 1981, and A Show of Hands in 1988.)
But what's even more interesting is the observation made by some critics and fans who have noticed that the band's live albums always seem to come after a trio of studio albums has been released, and that the inevitable live album marks the end of one phase of the band's career and the subsequent beginning of another.
"Well, people do keep pointing that out to me," Lee said with a laugh. "But I don't know that it's a conscious thing. You don't ever know when you're at the beginning of a new phase, only when you just finished it and are looking back."
As well as hearing highlights of the Test For Echo tour on Different Stages, Rush fans will be receiving an added bonus as well. A third disc, a long-lost document of a performance staged at London's Hammersmith Odeon in 1978, will be packaged alongside the others. Included at no extra cost to the consumer (Lee happily notes that the three-disc package will ultimately cost only a tad more than a single disc would) the London show serves as an interesting counterpoint to the more refined and mature sound that the band would develop over the following two decades.
The new album as a whole comes as a reminder that not only have the members of this Toronto trio amassed a remarkably consistent track record, but that they have done so by performing a type of music - progressive rock - that, while having its champions, has also had more than its share of detractors. Somehow, Rush has managed to confound the critics and naysayers and maintain its tremendous international following by performing a brand of music that hasn't been widely popular in two decades, except when they do it.
"I think there are fans of this kind of music that really pay no mind to the trends," Lee suggested. "There's something in this kind of music that talks to them, is very important to them, and yet exists outside the ebb and flow of the ever-changing pop scene. I've always had the feeling that [progressive rock] would become less popular, then more popular, and so on. But it will always be around because of the connection that I see made with certain members of our audience. There's a need for this kind of music, and I always figured that we'd hang around to fill it."