Rush - Rush in Rio Review

A colourful 30-year career has seen "Canadian power-trio"™, Rush move unashamedly from early Led Zeppelin influences and sword and sorcery imagery through extended science-fiction epics to incorporating prog-rock and new-wave influences. Their continuing popularity and the avid devotion of fans is undoubtedly down to a consummate musicianship that transcends musical fashions and categorisation – each of the individual members highly respected by others in their profession, particularly Neil Peart’s drumming. Characteristically, Rush demonstrate complexly arranged songs, often showing more musical invention in a single track than most bands manage in a career, combined with intelligent and thought-provoking lyrics and live performances and tours that are spoken of between fans with reverential awe.


Neil Peart’s introduction as drummer and lyricist, gave the band a progressively coherent and cohesive musical and lyrical direction. The lyrics celebrated an Ayn Rand influenced philosophy of individualism and self-empowerment, certainly a step above standard Heavy Rock lyrics but nevertheless it was a stance that alienated many in a Thatcherite Britain during the 1980s. This philosophy was clearly laid-out in the first song of Neil Peart’s lyrical debut on 'Fly by Night' ("Live for yourself, there’s no one else more worth living for/ Begging hands and bleeding hearts will only cry out for more" – Anthem, 1974) and would remain the cornerstone of their lyrics right through their symbol of self-determinism, Tom Sawyer ("No, his mind is not for rent/ To any god or government" – Tom Sawyer, 1981) to the long-distance running metaphor of triumph of the individual over adversity in 'Power Windows', ("You can do a lot in a lifetime/ If you don’t burn-out too fast/ You can make the most of the distance/ First you need endurance/ First you've got to last" – Marathon, 1985). However after the dizzying heights reached by a trio of albums 'Hemispheres (1978)', 'Permanent Waves' (1980) and 'Moving Pictures' (1981), it seemed like Rush had nowhere to go but, with one or two notable exceptions, a long downward slide culminating in the rather patchy and mediocre 'Test For Echo' (1996) and the subsequent obligatory live album 'Different Stages' (1998). Hit by personal tragedies, it looked like Rush had lost direction, had tired of going through the motions and had called it a day, moving on to half-hearted solo projects.

The attitude of resilience and fortitude in the face of adversity served Rush well when in 2002 the band surprised many with their release of 'Vapor Trails', widely regarded as their best album since 'Moving Pictures', and by some (me, for example) even considering it the highpoint of their entire career, demonstrating an unprecedented power and vigour with none of the mellowing that had characterised much of the latter albums and no lessening of the musicianship or invention for which they are famed. 'Vapor Trails' the album was duly followed by a much anticipated live tour in 2002, which disappointed many however by not including any European dates. 'Rush in Rio' captures the last date of that tour, filmed at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on 23 November 2002, in front of an ecstatic audience of 60,000 fans and is a superb document of that tour for all those who missed out.


The concert commences unsurprisingly with a crowd-pleasing performance of Tom Sawyer, which is followed up with strong renditions of Distant Early Warning and New World Man. Other highlights in the first half of the show include their typical display of musical virtousity in YYZ, a pounding performance of The Big Money and note perfect arrangements of The Trees and Freewill. The predictable inclusion of Closer To The Heart nevertheless sounds more powerful than I have ever heard it performed before and receives tremendous audience participation.

The second half of the show continues with a block of newer songs from 'Vapor Trails' and 'Test For Echo' – One Little Victory, Driven, Ghost Rider and the best of the bunch - Secret Touch. The new material surprisingly doesn’t come across as effectively as the older songs, although the band clearly relish the opportunity to drive through these powerful new songs. Neil Peart is perhaps the only drummer I could watch perform an 8-minute drum solo in O Baterista and this is followed by a fine acoustic version of Resist. Long-time fans will be delighted with the closing line-up of classics 2112 (although this just consists of Overture/The Temples of Syrinx), Limelight, La Villa Strangiato, The Spirit of Radio and the encores of By-Tor & The Snow Dog, a surprise Cygnus X-1 and Working Man. The full track-listing can be found here.


Sound
Overall the sound is clear and powerful - Geddy Lee’s bass-lines are solid and driving, Neil Peart’s drums lack a certain depth but are crystal clear and sharp and Alex Lifeson’s guitar sounds come strongly through the range of effects pedals he uses. There are two soundtracks provided – a Dolby Digital 2.0 and a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. Both are excellent and both have their merits. The 2.0 mix is the best for the musical delivery, while the 5.1 mix, with slight echo delay on the rear speakers, more effectively re-creates the feel of the live environment. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, mixed by James Barton and Alex Lifeson, disperses the instrumentation, slightly losing some of the effectiveness of the direct frontal assault while the rear speakers feature a frequently loud audience mix. Careful positioning and setting of rear speaker levels is recommended if this is not to completely overwhelm the soundtrack. Geddy Lee’s thin vocals however, often struggle to rise above both the powerful musical delivery in the DD 2.0 mix and against the overwhelming audience noise of the DD 5.1 mix. Personally, I found it hard to choose – certain songs benefit from the audience participation of 5.1, while other more complex songs require a clearer and more sympathetic 2.0 mix.

Picture
Despite the fact that this has been advertised as an anamorphic transfer, the UK Rush In Rio DVD, like its US counterpart is actually letterboxed 4:3. The DVD however has been set to detect a widescreen setup and zoom-out to fill the 16:9 screen on start-up of the concert, hiding the black bars top and bottom. The menu is 4:3 ratio and switching between the song selection and the concert, the picture will switch between 4:3 and zoom, regardless of your television setup. This is clearly not a true anamorphic transfer, but is simulated to look like one. The quality of the picture nevertheless is reasonably good considering the limitations of the video recording, the conditions in which it was filmed and the lack of anamorphic enhancement. It does lack the clarity and high-definition of film negative however and shows scan lines when examined close-up. The colour schemes of the concert lighting also contribute to a lack of clarity – often using fluorescent blues, greens and purples – and an occasional fuzziness can be seen around edges. The picture quality is however effective where it really counts - there are plenty of cameras capturing the show and they focus on the musicians playing their instruments without any clever effects. When for example, Alex Lifeson is playing a lead break, the camera is not on a facial close-up, but either a medium-shot or a close-up of the guitar – as it should be. There are also plenty of overhead shots of Neil Peart’s expansive drum-kit through out the concert and the multi-angle feature for the drum solo on the extra features should really keep most fans happy. Shot with 22 cameras (which remain pretty much invisible on the stage), there are no shortage of angles, but perhaps a little too much quick editing and cross-cutting. Audience reaction shots are kept to a minimum and are well used to convey the impact of the songs. The sheer manic enthusiasm of the crowd is often very amusing. It seems like the entire Rio audience know the entire Rush back-catalogue off by-heart – every word, every riff, every drum-roll.


Extras
Documentary – The Boys In Brazil (54:35)
The second disc features a lengthy documentary by Andrew MacNaughton charting the band's tour of Brazil including footage from shows and soundchecks in Porto Allegre, San Paolo and Rio de Janeiro. It’s a great documentary with good interviews covering discussions on choosing the set-list, pre-show warm-up routines and um… soup. The documentary is presented in non-anamorphic 1.85:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. If you press the zoom button on your TV you will not notice any difference.

Multi-Angle Alternate Cuts
Three songs are given multi-angle options - YYZ, the drum solo O Baterista and La Villa Strangiato, which is faded before the band introductions. These are presented non-anamorphic - one large screen option with four alternative selections at the bottom of the screen. Generally, each of the cameras focus on an individual band member.


The feature is a bit gimmicky though, particularly during O Baterista, since the camera angles aren’t fixed. What you actually get are four edited video feeds, not the choice of a camera angle, so the feed may have changed by the time you click on your selection.

Hidden Extras
There are a couple of additional hidden features, including a rare promo video for Anthem, and the By-Tor cartoon projected during the show. Annoyingly and frustratingly, I couldn’t find a way to access these. I hate hidden extras. Can’t see the point.

Update:
The By-Tor cartoon can be accessed by pressing the "Enter" key on your remote while Alex Lifeson is speaking about it during the documentary. The Anthem promo can be accessed through the code "2112", as follows:
2) start O Baterista then immediately go back to the main menu
1) start YYZ then immediately go back to the main menu
1) start YYZ then immediately go back to the main menu
2) start O Baterista then immediately go back to the main menu
you will then see the option for Anthem on the main menu.

Overall
As a Rush fan for almost 25 years, it would surely be considered a dereliction of duty to give the performance here anything less than a 10 marking, but I think it is a fair score as I can’t see any fan of the band being the slightest bit disappointed with the show here. It is clearly a special performance and the tracklisting is hard to fault. Rush have always catered to their fans in their live shows, featuring as many of their 'classics' as possible and there are tracks from almost every one of Rush’s 17 studio albums included here. There could certainly be room for improvement in picture and sound quality for the DVD, but with an almost three-hour performance that feels like a real concert and a second disc of good extra features, this is simply a superb package.

Film
10 out of 10
Video
8 out of 10
Audio
9 out of 10
Extras
8 out of 10
Overall

9

out of 10

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