By 1988 Rush had completed their transformation from guitar-dominated, classic-meets-prog rock power trio, led by Geddy Lee's piercingly shrill vocal delivery, to a much more lush, synthesizer-driven sound that all but neutered Alex Lifeson's once heroic guitar leads, and saw the miraculous transformation of Lee's once epic wails into a more melodic, almost soothing, tone that you could actually relax to with the right intoxicant flowing through your bloodstream, and a proper pair of headphones wrapped around your ears.
For the longest time, this was my least-favorite Rush period. Beginning with Signals in 1982, on up through Hold Your Fire from 1987, Rush had changed drastically from the band I came to know and love via such landmark albums as Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures, which, to me, had the perfect blend of guitars and synthesizers. Since I was primarily drawn to Alex Lifeson's complex rhythms and stunning guitar solos, it was especially painful for me to see him relegated to such a background role during this stretch.
Now, I can look back on this period with great fondness, especially since Rush has all but abandoned keyboards — and guitar solos! — throughout the 1990s and this current decade. Signals is easily one of my top-three favorite Rush albums now, and the often overlooked Grace Under Pressure album will always hold a special place in my heart, since that was my very first Rush tour.
A Show Of Hands was filmed during Rush's three night stand at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, England in April 1988, towards the end of their extensive Hold Your Fire tour, and features material mostly from the band's infamous "synthesizer period". As maligned as this period has been by many long-time Rush fans, Geddy certainly did some wonderful things with his collection of Oberheim, Moog, and Roland keyboards during this period, which makes me wish he'd take them up more again – but just take them up in moderation. They have been almost entirely exorcised from the band's music since 1991's Roll The Bones album, and now I actually miss them.
Eight of the first ten songs performed (four-each) are from Power Windows and Hold Your Fire, so if you are fans of those two albums, then you will probably love this set. Those are two of my least favorite Rush albums, but most of the songs chosen are standout tracks. I simply enjoy seeing something different from the band, since, with the exception of such concert staples as "Force Ten" and "The Big Money", most of these songs have seen little or no play since. "Closer To The Heart" was mixed in with all of this "new" stuff, and really made me realized how much I missed hearing it on the last three Rush tours.
The second half of the set kicks off magnificently with Rush's earth-shattering instrumental "YYZ", which is not listed on the DVD's setlist for some reason — so don't miss it! It dissolves right into Neil Peart's extended drum solo, aptly titled "The Rhythm Method" for this tour. By this point, Peart was already incorporating electronic drums into his kit, which allowed him to trigger a vast array of sounds and samples – most notably the marimbas during this particular solo. His solo transitions right into the opening notes of "The Spirit Of Radio", which keeps trying to convince me that it is Rush's best song every time I hear it. That's a tough choice.
Since the early 80's Rush has incorporated more and more video into their live performances, and on this tour things were really ramped up. "Tom Sawyer" is preceded by a Moving Pictures-themed cartoon video that features a curvaceous young girl counting up, "one, two, three, four", to the song's ferocious synthesizer intro. This closed out the first set, and then they returned for an encore medley that begins with the first two sections of "2112" ("Overture" and "The Temples Of Syrinx"), which blends into about six-minutes worth of "La Villa Strangiato", and then closes with "In The Mood".
The DVD setlist varies significantly from the CD track list. The CD tracks that were not included on the DVD are "Subdivisions", "Distant Early Warning", "Mystic Rhythms", "Witch Hunt", and "Time Stand Still", but instead you get "Prime Mover", "Territories", "The Spirit Of Radio", "Tom Sawyer", and the old medley. I think I would have preferred to see the CD setlist on this video instead — like you can't see plenty of "Spirit" and "Tom Sawyer" elsewhere.