Are Rush Still A Rock 'N' Roll Band?
GEDDY: "Yes. But I'd qualify that by saying, as much of a rock 'n' roll band as we've ever been!"
ALEX: "I think we are a rock band. Definitely. I don't know where we're going to go from here. I've been spending a lot of time playing acoustic lately. That's got me personally going in different directions, but what that means in terms of the next record I don't know. We always go into the next writing session terrified, thinking we'll never write another song and ending up having a lot of fun playing. But essentially we are a rock band. Lately we've rocked things up and this live record is the heaviest representation of the band there's been. And I'm really pleased with how it's turned out."
Are you aware that a portion of your audience still craves a return to the days of '2112'?
GEDDY (Laughing): "Sure, but some people never grow up! No,to a certain extent I can sympathise with those people. It's the same for me. If I listen to Emerson, Lake & Palmer, I want what I hear to sound like 'Tarkus; or Jethro Tull to sound like 'Aqualung': It's only natural for an audience to associate a band with a certain sound. But that's not being progressive - it's regressive. If we had just kept on making the same style of music, I have no doubt that Rush would no longer exist."
ALEX: "We gave that some thought when we were putting this package together, but we'd forgotten about those 1978 tapes. I think we remembered them as being not a particularly good night for Geddy. That night was after doing five or six shows on the trot, but listening back, it shows up pretty well and should please people who do want that stuff. That said, there's a great spread of our material over all three discs."
Your dislike of touring's well documented. Why do you hate it so much?
GEDDY: "People always assume it's purely down to repetition, but it's for a variety of reasons. Being on tour can be a very, very depressing environment. Obviously, by its nature, touring also involves being away from your loved ones for considerable lengths of time. Then there's the fact that none of us particularly enjoy the on-the-road lifestyle. I often wonder how The Rolling Stones keep it up year after year because it would kill us!
"So for the past few years our tours have been very structured. We've never played more than two or three consecutive shows, and it seems to work for us. Unfortunately for the fans, that means we play less shows in bigger halls. But that's the way it's got to be and it's something that we've become very insistent upon."
ALEX: "The last tour we did for 'Test For Echo' was probably one of the best tours we've done in a long time, in terms of how we felt. I know Geddy felt the same.We loved playing the material and everything. I know Neil had some problems with his arm towards the end of the tour, so physically it was a bit demanding, but generally he loved the tour, too.
"With regard to the UK we came over for some promotion four or five years ago and the record company promised us they'd really make an effort to re-establish the band in Europe. And when we came over we had a great time, and our intention was to get back as soon as we could. Unfortunately, the record company completely went back on their word. Maybe they feel validated that there's not much of a Rush audience over there today to spend that much time working on us. But it's business and if they want to sell some records they should approach it in a professional manner.
"There shouldn't be any problem to sell out a couple of shows in the UK, but to come to Europe and only play three gigs, it's very difficult, We feel guilty about the fact that every time we speak to someone from the UK or Europe it's always, 'When are you coming back here? You have great fans here.' There are probably more true fans in Europe than anywhere else in the world in terms of how committed they are to our music. There are probably fans over there who know more about Rush than I do!"
Have you ever seen a Rush tribute band?
GEDDY: "I don't think I'd be able to stand it! But I'm aware of a band who may have been called Moving Pictures whose advert read 'We sound more like Rush than Rush' Now that really amused me!"
ALEX: "Um, no. There are a couple of Rush ones here in Toronto, but I've never seen one."
What is your favourite Rush album or song?
GEDDY: "Actually, despite what I said earlier, '2112' would still be one of my favourite Rush albums. Of our more recent stuff, I guess I'd pick 'Power Windows'."
ALEX: "I don't have a particular favourite because I don't ever feel that it's the right thing when you've finished a record. You feel very good about it straight afterwards, but after a while you find fault with it. I guess it's wanting to get better that keeps you going from record to record. I don't have a particular favourite, but I did really enjoy 'Test For Echo' because we were so unified making that record. 'Moving Pictures' was a bit like that. If 'Limelight' isn't my favourite guitar solo then it's one of my favourites. And '2112' was a pretty passionate record to make."
...And your least favourite?
GEDDY: "Where do I start?! We've made some extremely weird albums. 'Caress Of Steel' was certainly pretty strange. With hindsight, 'Presto' would be another that I'm disappointed with although that's more from a sonics perspective."
ALEX: "Tai Shan' from 'Hold Your Fire' comes to mind. It was one of the worst things we ever did, not that I listen to that song. But should I listen to that song I almost get violently ill."
Where do you think Rush fit into the 1998 music scene?
GEDDY: "That's a question that I could not even begin to answer! It's the same question that I've been asked every year for the past decade, so I always respond to the journalist the same way: 'You tell me.' And they never can!"
ALEX: "We've carved out a little niche for ourselves. We're not really influenced by music trends and Rush fans respect that. They would be sorely disappointed if we started to become so but we're far too old now and stuck in our ways for all that."
Do you have any theories why your audience keeps coming back?
GEDDY: "Some kind of intense communal masochistic urge, maybe? No, really, the only way I can answer that is by saying that just about every band connects with another group of people, be they small or large. For some reason, our fans identify with us and seem to be fascinated by what we do. It's an unusual bond, but it's a strong one. We've always been incredibly lucky that they allow us to experiment and do exactly what we want. In fact, most of them encourage it. That's probably why we're still doing this and enjoying it after 25 years."
ALEX: "Most probably for the reasons I just gave earlier."
Do you anticipate doing this for another ten years?
GEDDY: "You have to be honest and say that it's improbable. At the same time, The Rolling Stones are writing the rule book for all the others and as long as they're still doing it, we'll be younger than them!"
ALEX: "Just before 'Presto' it was a very tense time for us and we didn't know if it would continue. We took a seven-month break and felt very rejuvenated. Right now it's a very trying period for Neil [whose wife has tragically died of cancer]. We're very excited about this live album, but we want to get it out and not have to think about it.
"But we'll be back and keep going as long as we can. When the day arrives when our hearts aren't in it anymore, that will be the time to call it a day. But there's something very powerful here. I still think there's that Rush record that will be the best we've ever made."
With the precision of master craftsmen, Rush follow a quartet of studio albums with their fourth live release. The Canadian trio's previous live albums have celebrated the recent past by concentrating almost exclusively on their immediate studio predecessors, thereby neatly drawing each chapter of their history to a close. But on this occasion, as the title suggests, the band acknowledge the days of yore with a host of old favourites scattered among newer material as they dip in and out of their history at will.
'Different Stages' forms a three-CD set, with the first two discs consisting of material drawn from the band's tours to support their two most recent studio releases, 'Counterparts' and 'Test For Echo'. Disc three represents: a trip way back to the band's 1978 Hammersmith Odeon show.
It's the latter that will be of greatest interest to the completists, but truth told it's a bit of a disappointment. All the old favourites from the early days are here, from 'Working Man' to the much maligned 'By Tor & The Snow Dog'. However, in comparison to the refreshing treatment that hoary old classics such as '2112', 'Tom Sawyer' and the evergreen 'Closer To The Heart' receive over the course of the first two discs, the '78 gig sounds its age.
So then to the first two discs themselves. While 'Presto' is almost ignored completely 'Show Don't Tell' is its sole representative. The band concentrate more on 'Roll The Bones' and the harder-edged material of their two most recent releases. For all the criticism they attracted for their experiments in the '80s with a panoply of keyboards, you could argue that Rush have prolonged their existence as a result. But the comparative shunning of 'Presto' and the complete absence of any tracks from 'Hold Your Fire' (a contender for the band's best album of the '80's) suggest that Rush will not be heading down that particular synth-lined avenue again.
There's no doubt that Rush as a band have matured beautifully. The playing on the first two discs is awesome, with bassist Geddy Lee's performance standing out in particular. While his famously manic vocals have calmed down over the years, his bass work becomes increasingly virtuoso. And while we're on the subject of musicianship, Neil Peart's drum solo reaches a level of invention that mere mortal rock drummers can only aspire to.
If ever there was a justification for live albums, the first two-thirds of 'Different Stages' is it. Altered arrangements, extended sections and the sheer intensity of the playing make this a very worthy companion to its studio cousins.
Given the band's increasing reluctance to tour and the personal tragedies that have befallen Peart recently, the prospect of Rush returning to these shores to play live seems unlikely. In the circumstances their fans would be well advised to savour the delights of this collection.