Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage
Directed by: Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen
Featuring: Neil Peart, Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson
Interviews: Sebastian Bach, Jack Black, Les Claypool, Billy Corgan, Kirk Hammet, Taylor Hawkins, Vinnie Paul, Mike Portnoy, Trent Reznor, Gene Simmons, Matt Stone, Zakk Wylde
There are three types of people in the world: people who love Rush, people who hate Rush, and the rest of the world who have never heard of Rush. Regardless, after 36 years the band has accumulated two-dozen gold records and fourteen platinum records, and are responsible for influencing many of the modern metal and hard rock bands of today. Their story, like any other band, has its ups and downs and the most interesting aspect is that they have strayed away from complete mainstream acceptance from traditional press and critical praise. Director Sam Dunn (Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey,Iron Maiden: Flight 666) has thoroughly dug through nearly 40 years of material to construct a detailed timeline of Rush’s existence.
Guitarist Alex Lifeson, Bassist Geddy Lee and original drummer John Rutsey, all very committed to their instruments, began playing high school dances before catching the eye of their future manager Ray Danniels. With little interest from record companies, the band self-produced their self-titled debut album which landed with no popularity until “Working Man” was picked up as a “bathroom break song” for WMMS in Cleveland, Ohio. Just prior to beginning their touring efforts, Rutsey was asked to resign for health reasons. Neil Peart was asked to join with two weeks before touring began opening for KISS.
Despite growing interest, the band remained hesitant to accept fame and often kept to themselves before and after shows. Rush continued to produce original progressive rock albums, gaining a small following with each release due to their high-quality musicianship. Their release of the Caress of Steel in 1975 was a financial bomb, critical failure, and brought the band back to playing near-empty bars and clubs; despite the album being filled with lengthy compositions that the band would later become known for. Their record label gave the band one last chance to produce an album that featured more marketable singles. Rush ignored this request and released 2112 which contained the side-long, self-titled dystopian epic inspired by Ayn Rand. Thanks to large word-of-mouth acclaim the album brought the band into cult status and into larger theaters and concert halls.
A Farewell to Kings and Hemispheres continued the band’s word-of-mouth success while remaining just beneath the mainstream radar. Both albums featured longer, complex compositions and cemented the band as a thinking man’s band. The band chose to shed these heavy progressive elements for their next two cornerstone albums Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures which were far more accessible and and commercially friendly. A radical change in adding more synthesizers, keyboards, and electronic drums with reggae and new-wave influences to their sound, alienating some fans, but invigorating their core fanbase. The group returned to their power-trio roots with coming of the 1990s.
For nearly 20 years, Rush released albums and toured non-stop until 1998 when Peart’s only daughter was involved in a fatal accident and his wife lost a battle to cancer. Peart hit the road and traveled across the western hemisphere on his motorcycle, it was assumed the band was finished. Peart returned to the band in 2001, and in 2002 the band returned with Vapor Trails and the critically and commercially acclaimed Snakes and Arrows shortly after.
The talking head interviews with a large variety of rock and metal musicians offer the bulk of the shining moments from this documentary. Jack Black, Sebastian Bach (ex-Skid Row), Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater), Gene Simmons (Kiss), Les Claypool (Primus), Kirk Hammet (Metallica), Billy Corgan (Smashing Pumpkins) and Danny Carey (Tool) are just a few of the many interviews conducted. These interviews are often very sincere and other times extremely hilarious, particularly with Black and Bach. Many of the interviews give insight into how Rush influenced these musicians’ styles and increased their literacy, which make for a wonderful departure from using overly snobby music critics who attempt to place the band in context to their history, pop music history, and music theory. They assist the documentary’s pace and support many of the elements introduced by the band’s principles.
Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage is successful in thoroughly describing Rush’s history of producing progressive rock and resisting mainstream trends that were untrue to their principles and sound. Sam Dunn has done an excellent job in rummaging through all the materials necessary to show us how the band held true through 36 years of existence. Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage is an ode to the fans, many whom have stuck behind the band through four decades. For non-fans, this documentary can serve as an explanation of the band’s cult status and success, but may be brushed off as uninteresting altogether.
Dunn’s anthropology background and visual style is perfect for framing Rush’s history in context for fans. The use of rare footage of the group as teens offers insight into how uncool these guys were in school and framed their commitment to their band and sound. Rare home footage such as the moment Lifeson told his family he was leaving his senior year of high school to focus on the band are among some of the gems included in the beginning of the film.
Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and has had a very limited release in American and Canadian theaters. VH1 will be broadcasting the entire documentary on June 26th, two days before the DVD and Blu-ray releases hit store shelves. — Aaron Weiss