Beyond The Lighted Stage

January 01, 1970

(Zoe; 107 mins)

 

www.rounder.com

 

BY JOHN DWORKIN

 

Sure… Rush has often been accused of having pretentious lyrics.
Drummer Neil Peart has weathered that criticism so often throughout the years
that he refers to it as the “P” word. But there’s no other rock band whose
members are less pretentious as people than Rush – “The world’s
most popular cult band.” With four decades of success and obvious musical
talents, they easily could’ve been otherwise.

 

There are plenty of great moments for Rush fans (and rock music fans in
general) to walk away with from the documentary Rush – Beyond The Lighted
Stage.
But the most lasting impression, and perhaps the most fulfilling, is
of how good-natured, straight forward, egoless, and approachable these three
rock stars are. As blown up as they can be on stage or in a fan’s mind while
listening, they each come off as a seemingly contradictory Rockstar
Everyman.
But it seems they’ve always been that way, and they’re that way
today. They’d fit in with any group of friends – so long as those friends
aren’t a stuffy bunch. In that way they’re like the Tom Petty & The
Heartbreakers of the progressive rock world. Lighted Stage shows the
band as they are: three hard working guys who were talented from the start,
fortunate early on, and smart enough to follow that fortune while never looking
back.

 
Rush gets the talking head treatment from, among many, the likes of Jack Black,
Les Claypool, Kirk Hammett (Metallica), Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins), Tim
Commerford (Rage Against The Machine), Gene Simmons (Kiss), and Trent Reznor
(Nine Inch Nails). Within the rock genre, that’s quite a stylistically diverse
group which speaks to the relative depth of Rush’s musicality and range of
influence. Corgan is particularly well spoken and illuminating in his praise of
the band. In one excerpt he tells a poignant story of his relationship with a
song from Permanent Waves – “Entre Nous” – and how he used it
to bond with his mother (handing her the lyrics while they listened) because he
had difficulty as a kid relating through other means. This real-life event
mirrors Cameron Crowe’s fictional exchange between Frances McDormand and Zooey
Deschanel’s mother/daughter characters in his classic Almost Famous:

 
Daughter: “I want to play you a song that explains why I’m leaving, and
try to listen.”
Mother: “We can’t talk? We have to listen to rock music?”

 

Rock music: The Great Communicator?!

And Jack Black is great to have commenting on the band because, of course, he’s
funny as hell. But that being the case works on two levels here because it’s
also a reflection of one of the major revelations of the film: Vocalist/Bassist
Geddy Lee and Guitarist Alex Lifeson are hilarious! They’re naturally funny
guys who come off as innately and comfortably self-deprecating. To wit: Lee
referring to the band’s early kimono wearing stint as “the period of the
absurdly prophetic robes.”
Or Simmons relating a story of touring in the
early days when, back at the hotel post-concert, the guys from Kiss would be
partying and getting busy working the readily available groupies to get laid
while the Rush guys would already be in their rooms watching TV and getting
ready for bed. Or, relatedly, when a present day Lifeson is asked by the
filmmakers about what’s kept them moving forward through the decades, he
ironically jokes “chicks.”

 
Aside from the hijinx, there’s plenty of chronological, blow-by-blow
information about the band’s history and development, their not-so-chummy
relationships with the press and record labels, and the tragedies befallen
Peart’s family. Particularly revelatory is footage of the band (pre-Peart)
playing while still in high school. Stories of their childhood in Canada and how
they were already quite driven in their musical pursuits while still in their
mid-to-late teens is accompanied by amazing home-movies of Lifeson playing
guitar (wildly!) or hanging with his family around the dinner table. In an
amazingly private piece of film to have shared, “2010 Lifeson”
watches “high school Lifeson” argue with his parents over whether he
needs to finish high school before pursuing his music career. It’s a
fascinatingly post-modern, voyeuristic moment: audience watching film of
rockstar watching home-movie of himself. But, typically, Lifeson brings it all right
back down to earth in humble deference by saying of his parents, “They were
right.” That’s a nice thing for him to say, considering he obviously did not
need to finish.

 
While a million miles away stylistically, Rush seems to generally have much
more in common with the iconoclastic The Grateful Dead than any other rock band
that sounds even remotely like them. Like The Dead: they’ve stuck it out with
the same band members for nearly four decades (close enough for The Dead) –
they’ve stayed true to themselves as artists the whole way – they have more of
an “everyman” or “music geek” image than any Prog-Rock or
Led Zeppelin type hard rock band – their lyrics regularly deal with ideas well
beyond the typical rock band’s sex ‘n drugs topics – regular attention (forget
praise) from the mainstream rock press during their “long, strange
trip” was generally lacking – they tour to a rabid fan base – fine
musicianship and songwriting are trademarks – and stylistically they’re mainly
rather idiosyncratic, virtually comparable to no one.

Nostalgia will likely figure into most viewers’ experience of Lighted Stage for sure. And that’s only natural. But even for those who stopped listening to
Rush regularly many years ago (this writer included), if you went through any
kind of earlier Rush “period,” Lighted Stage is magic. It’s an
emotional and often hilarious tour of the band’s spectacular career at beating
the odds. But more than that, it ends up being a portrait of three friends who
never succumbed to the music scene’s “Industry of Cool” (to quote
Crowe’s Almost Famous again). This documentary should be considered a
long overdue “glittering prize” for, in part, Rush’s utter lack of
“endless compromises.” Their integrity is no illusion.

 

 

Special Features:

 

Full-length, never-before-seen performances of:
-Working Man and Best I Can with original drummer John Rutsey from 1974
-La Villa Strangiato from the 1979 Pinkpop Festival in Holland
-Between the Sun and Moon from the band’s first show back after hiatus in
Hartford, CT in 2002
Live performances of Far Cry and Entre Nous from the Snakes and Arrows tour
& Bravado and YYZ from the R30 tour
Pre-gig warmup
Reflections from the band on Hemispheres
Dinner with the band at a hunting lodge

 

 

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