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R40 Live (Live At Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Canada / June 2015)
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All roads have led to this. Forty-one years in the making, the R40 Live tour took a very real journey back through time. Beginning with the grand design: a state-of-the-art stage set that pivots, rolls and dives, and brings Clockwork Angels in to bombastic, colorful life before marching stridently back in time (through theatre stages, a panoply of band and fan shots, the accrued memories of a life spent playing live) to a mocked-up school gym and the band playing there; a solitary bass amp set on the chair behind Geddy Lee, a mirror ball spiraling crazily above, casting thin rods of light like a light rain across the crowd, 'Working Man' coming to a shuddering halt as the band's beginning becomes their end. Rush recorded and filmed R40 LIVE over two sold-out shows in the band's hometown of Toronto on June 17 & 19, 2015 in the middle of what was rumored to be their last grand-scale tour. The set list includes classics 'Tom Sawyer,' 'The Spirit of Radio' and '2112' as well as rarities 'Xanadu,' 'Jacob's Ladder' and 'Lakeside Park,' not to mention, for the first time ever live, 'Losing It.' R40 LIVE is the ultimate career-spanning live retrospective of Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart; a celebration of 40+ years of epic rock. Captured with 14 cameras in full HD quality, the concert is presented in feature film style with true Dolby stereo and 5.1 surround sound. Package includes one DVD and three compact discs.
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Besides the excellent camera work, this is Rush live, so of course it's good. Neil Peart in particular is mesmerizing to watch. The man is an absolute machine, and he gets an ample amount of face time. Plenty of close-ups and extended shots to show off his incredible skills. The sound of the show overall is humongous, with a thick, hearty thump from Geddy and Neil, and Alex's guitar has a crisp, clean tone. The set list is awesome and extensive, the band sounds great, the camera work is impressive, the visuals and theme of the show are entrancing....not much more you could ask for. If you love Rush and enjoy their live shows, this is a nice one to get that commemorates the many successful eras of their career.
If you're reading this review, you very likely know the band, so I'll address some high and low points of this release.
The set list is quite neat, as the band works backwards through their catalog, starting with Clockwork Angels, and working back to their debut album. A group of Moving Pictures workmen are constantly tinkering with the stage to keep the overall look of the band's setup in sync with the songs that are being played. If you like old-school instruments, plenty are on display. Alex breaks out the double-necked guitar for Xanadu, Geddy's keyboards gradually de-evolve during the show and during the second half of the show, tubular bells are added to Neil's drum kit. I was kind of hoping Geddy would break out the Steinberger bass but alas that did not happen.
Rush always manages to drag some hidden gems "out of the vault" as Geddy likes to say, and this time is no different. How It Is, Losing It (with Ben Mink on electric violin), and Jacob's Ladder are in the setlist. Geddy actually points out how they sort of rediscovered How It Is, and how they've never performed Losing It live before. Jacob's Ladder was a live mainstay in the early 80's, and so it's nice to see it being played again.
Geddy Lee is of course over 60 years old, and he simply can't wail like a banshee the way he did in the 1970's any more, but his voice seems to be in better shape compared to the Time Machine and Clockwork Angels tours. I was a little concerned about how well he'd pull off some of the 1970's-era songs, but it almost seems like the setlist was chosen carefully to complement his current vocal range. That means no Farewell to Kings, Freewill or Passage to Bangkok, but Geddy is able to pull off most of the early songs pretty well.
Most of 2112 is performed (Overture, Temples of Syrinx, Presentation, and the Grand Finale).
As another review noted, the camerawork is good. There are plenty of long cuts, and it's nice to see a concert video where it doesn't look like a caffeinated hamster is operating the cameras.
The Toronto crowd is pretty lively. Not Rio lively, but they're not just standing around (compare to the R30 concert for example). They seem pretty excited when Geddy introduces Losing It!
The "No Country For Old Hens" clip during the intermission is pretty funny, and I like how the band brought back the polka version of Closer to the Heart for the closing credits.
When I first popped the disc in my PS3, I had to perform a system update before the system would allow me to play the disc. It drives me crazy when games and media discs beg for system updates.
With 40 years of material to condense into three hours, some chunks of Rush's catalog are conspicuously absent. There are no songs on the setlist from Test For Echo, Presto, Hold Your Fire, and Power Windows. Now, during the Clockwork Angels Tour, they did a whole bunch of stuff from Power Windows, so maybe they were burned out on that material, but there are some fan favorites in that block of material (Resist, Driven, Mission, Force Ten, The Pass). Also, the addition of Lakeside Park to the setlist was kind of a head-scratcher, as I didn't think anyone in the band liked that song! I would think that Bastille Day would have been a better representative from Caress of Steel or I Think I'm Going Bald for that matter.
While Geddy Lee's voice is in better form compared to the last couple of live releases, there are a couple of places where he seems to struggle a little bit. During Lakeside Park, it's almost as if he's doing falsetto at times. On the other hand, he pulls off What You're Doing really well.
Overall, this is a pretty good performance. It doesn't have the raw energy of Rush in Rio or the smooth polish of Exit Stage Left, but it certainly compares favorably to the Clockwork Angels and Time Machine shows. Since this might be the last concert DVD of the greatest three-man Canadian band in history, I'd say that it's a must own performance for Rush fans.