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An outstanding documentary of the Canadian rock band Rush.

DVD Review: Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage

What is it with Canucks and rock music documentaries? Last year it was Anvil: The Story Of Anvil, the tale of two lifelong friends who vowed to make it despite all the odds. Although 2010 is only half over, I cannot imagine a better rock-doc coming out this year than Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage.

With Anvil we met two 50-something friends who had been chasing the rock dream since they were teens. It was a fantastic story, because Lips and Robb came off as such genuinely nice guys. Rush’s history is a little different, as they have been hugely successful for many years now. But as far as getting any respect from mainstream media, they are still fighting.

Rush have never been accorded the type of respect that The Stones, The Who, or even AC/DC get — yet their sales figures are comparable. It is one of the major themes of the DVD, although in their self-effacing way, the trio never really address the subject. Through vintage concert footage, recent interviews, and some amazing home movies, they keep their cards close to the vest. It is up to guests such as Billy Corgan, Vinnie Paul, Les Claypool, and Sebastian Bach to make the case that Rush are a band for the ages.

When pressed to discuss wild tales of on-the-road behavior, Geddy Lee just laughs and says that they were “pretty nerdy.” Gene Simmons takes it further when he talks about Rush opening for KISS in 1974. “There were willing women lined up in the hotel corridors,” he says, “But the Rush guys would be holed up in their rooms, watching TV.”

I never really knew what prompted the change from original drummer John Rutsey to Neil Peart, which is explained. Lee, Lifeson, and Rutsey were basically a bar band who got a deal and recorded the first LP, Rush. But Rutsey was seriously ill with diabetes, and trying to ignore it. Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson are both emphatic when they say the decision was made to let him go because they didn’t think he would survive touring.

The two still refer to Neil Peart as “the new guy.” Sadly, it was Peart’s personal life that has had the most profound impact on the band. In 1997, his 19-year-old daughter was killed in an auto accident. Just ten months later, his wife succumbed to cancer. At the funeral, Geddy Lee says Peart turned to him and said, “Consider me retired.”

This is where the real friendship of the band comes in, and it is hard to stifle a tear when they talk about it. Both Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson are adamant when they say that Rush was over without Neil Peart.

It took a couple of years, and 55,000 miles logged on his motorcycle, but Peart was able to work through the tragedies. Rush began touring again, to some of the biggest audiences of their career. As they all laugh about in the interview segments, Rush are “terminally unhip.” But their tour this summer is already proving to be one of the biggest ones of the season.

There are a number of bonus features on the second DVD, of which the most notable is a live version of “La Villa Strangiato.” They also talk about the record that song came from, Hemispheres — and how they consciously abandoned the progressive “song-suite” format afterward.

I remember the hilarious “Rush Is A Band” bumper stickers back in the '80s when Limbaugh first became popular. It always warmed my heart. Neil Peart’s lyrics and the incredible music these guys laid down seemed to put them in the cult band category. But that was never really the case. Rush’s appeal completely transcends the categories. Yes, Rush is a band, and a great one at that.

Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage is as good as rock DVDs get. It is a fascinatingly candid look at a very private band, whose story is all the more riveting for that very fact. Absolutely recommended.

About Greg Barbrick

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