Saturday, January 08, 2011

Beyond The Lighted Stage

Beyond The Lighted Stage is a fairly typical history-of-the-band film and follows the formula without anything really new brought to the table. Interviews with the band, with their families, other people who were involved in their story, and lots of other musicians that they influenced. Film clips of the band, their performances, everything else about them they could find. The band's story told in chronological order. Enough concert footage and partial music videos to keep you entertained. The filmmakers took no risks.

Nor did they need to. The band and its story are both compelling enough to sustain interest without any additional window dressing. I learned a lot about the history of the band and its members, and was consistently entertained throughout. The discs also contain a lot of concert footage in the bonus materials, which is also reliable entertainment.

As with anything about Rush you can't help but be constantly struck by the level of their musicianship. One of the early comments repeated from several of the other prominent musicians was that Rush was the kind of band that was consistently respected by other musicians; they often commented that, if you could play Rush, you could play anything. One thing that I hadn't really thought about before seeing this is how, amongst all their incredibly impressively complex and challenging bits of music, "La Villa Strangiato" is one of the most challenging. On reflection it's clear that it's an incredible bit of music to perform, but it always came off so natural that I never really singled it out as being the top of that very impressive list.

I also hadn't really thought about how 2112 isn't just a continuation of the trend of Caress Of Steel but a defiant embracing of it. Even today most Rush fans consider Caress Of Steel one of the band's hardest to like, but of course I was too young to be aware of it when it actually happened. What the film revealed to me was that they were doing pretty well with their first two albums, but Caress Of Steel did poorly, and made them pushed by their record company and public pressure to move away from that kind of songwriting. Seen in that light, 2112 is even more gutsy than it already seemed (and given that the first side is one 20-minute song suite that tells a high-concept science fiction story, that's pretty gutsy already). I also didn't realize that 2112 was as popular as it was; I had the vague idea that it wasn't until Permanent Waves that they ever got more popular than they had been after Fly By Night. (Certainly Permanent Waves marked a big advance for them, but not their first.)

The film makes me wish even more than before that that show at SPAC hadn't turned out so disappointing. Maybe for their next tour we'll get a chance to see them at a better venue, maybe in Montréal or Boston.

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