Top positive review
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Killer songs and performances.
on July 26, 2001
Suitably enough, Rush recorded a live album to top off the most successful period in their careers. Permanent Waves and especially Moving Pictures had secured reams of popularity for the power-prog trio, so a high-energy live compilation was the perfect coda to this hallowed chapter in the band's history.
The tracks here cover a fairly broad range of Rush's catalogue up to this point, but skip over the debut and Caress of Steel. Although this collection largely covers the band's shorter, more commercial songs, they never forget the progressive rock wings on which they once soared. I'd say the song selection is perfect. Alongside hits like "Freewill," "Tom Sawyer," and "The Spirit of Radio" are progressive epics like "Xanadu" and "Jacob's Ladder." One of my favorite moments on the album comes with "La Villa Strangiato," an astounding instrumental tour-de-force that concretizes the band's standing as musicians' musicians. Live, this song SMOKES. Lifeson's first solo in this song is infused with tenfold the passion of the original, and I can't help but get chills up and down my spine listening to it. Still, while the energy is there and the songs are great, overdubs render the album a wee bit too polished, and the band's blazing live ebullience is diluted somewhat.
Still, this album many wonderful moments. The precise, stunning drum solo during "YYZ," "Closer to the Heart" with the entire crowd joining in with Geddy on vocals, the ultra-high energy performance of "Red Barchetta," the serene melodies of "Broon's Bane" as a seque into the hard-rocking "The Trees"...the list is endless.
I was kind of disappointed by the album's dubious representation of the concert experience. At the end of most tracks, the sound fades out and then comes back in for the next song. It's like it's taking snippets from several concerts instead of capturing the seamless performance. Most live albums cut superfluous crowd noise and chitchat, but blend crowd noise together so that it flows smoothly from song to song anyway. This works better in preserving the feel of the actual show. Annoyingly, here you'll often hear silence between the tracks and it creates a frustrating disjointed "concert" experience.
But it's not so bad. As a high-energy live "greatest hits" type package, Exit Stage Left can't be beat. Rush rules the world, and this captures them at their best.
(Oh, and make sure you get the Remastered edition, which has "A Passage to Bangkok," a rockin' song that was not included on some of the earlier pressings.)