Rush - Exit-Stage Left

Year of Release: 1997
Label: Mercury
Catalog Number: 534632 2
Format: CD
Total Time: 76:48:00

In spite of the criticism that this live album has had from Rush fans over the years, I have a special affection for it. When it originally came out as a double vinyl album way back when, I can remember my first chance to hear it, literally hours before I saw the band perform the same tracks on stage in Edinburgh. Given that the show I saw was pretty much an extension of the same tour captured on the album, Exit... Stage Left effectively became a treasured souvenir of my first Rush gig.

This has always been my favourite period of Rush's development, and not just because I liked the more progressive side of their music. These days, with keyboard samplers it's easier for the band to create a richer sound outside the confines of the limited number of instruments they can play on stage. But back in '81 the band didn't have these props other than a few foot pedals offering single sustained bass or synth chords. Neither did Alex Lifeson have the advantage of a guitar synthesiser to switch effortlessly from acoustic to electric styles - one of my abiding images from seeing them live was watching Alex playing the intro to "The Trees" with the acoustic guitar on a stand, which a roadie would then swiftly pull away to enable Alex to switch quickly to the electric guitar slung round his neck. It was a slick and impressive act, but it also showed the band striving to recreate the adventurous material that they'd created in the studio, without resorting to cheating with tapes.

When you bear that in mind, the band's ability to play complex tracks like "Red Barchetta" or "Xanadu" live is still impressive by today's standards of musicianship, and it's that sense of rising to the challenge that makes Exit... Stage Left still worth a spin. Sure, the band have admitted that there are occasional overdubs, and the fact that each of the tracks fade out ruins any sense of momentum or pacing. But if you take each track on face value, the songs are played well, with enough variation in the arrangement or the solos to reassure you that it is live.

Another valid criticism was that the album's original production tilted too much toward a muddy bass mix, obscuring the subtleties of the guitar work and some of the nuances of the vocals. However, in contrasting my old vinyl album with this recently remastered cd version of the album, it's like night and day. The bass still dominates the mix, but you can hear the guitar work more clearly. In fact, during the likes of "Xanadu" or the reinstated "Passage To Bangkok" (which was omitted from the first cd version), you can clearly hear Geddy's move from bass to rhythm guitar as Alex concentrates on his solos, with the bass pedals being used to great effect to fill out the bottom end of the sound.

The vocals also seem clearer now, and it was paticularly pleasing to hear the dulcet tones of the "Glasgow Choir" in their full glory during "Closer To The Heart." (It was also particularly galling that I had the offer of a ticket for that Glasgow gig and I turned it down........)

The choice of songs gives a fair representation of the band's material from A Farewell To Kings through to Moving Pictures, reflecting a period that many fans consider to be the band's peak, achieving a balance between the heavy rock guitar of the earliest albums and the more synth-orientated material which would come to dominate some of the later albums.

I'm not sure that I would agree that the quality of the band's material diminished after Exit..., as I have always found them to be challenging with each new release. However, I am particularly fond of the late seventies material as it was my first "brush with Rush" and left me with the resounding buzz you get when you suddenly click with a new band and want to catch up on all their previous albums. And as a document of the band's achievements during that period, Exit... Stage Left is a worthy testament.

Originally released in 1990 by Mercury (822551) and by Anthem (WAGK 1035) in Canada (who also released, apparently, a doubl disc version (ANC 4-1035). Re-reissued in 2009 by Island Mercury

Spirit Of Radio (5:13) / Red Barchetta (6:49) / YYZ (7:45) / A Passage To Bangkok (3:08) / Closer To The Heart (3:08) / Beneath, Between, Behind (2:36) / Jacob's Ladder (8:49) / Broon's Bane (1:37) / The Trees (4:50) / Xanadu (12:11) / Free Will (5:33) / Tom Sawyer (5:03) / La Villa Strangiato (9:38)

Alex Lifeson - guitars and bass pedals
Geddy Lee - bass, rhythm guitar, vocals and keyboards
Neil Peart - drums and percussion

Rush (1974)
Fly By Night (1975)
Caress Of Steel (1975)
2112 (1976)
All The World's A Stage (1976)
A Farewell To Kings (1977)
Hemispheres (1978)
Archives (1978)
Permanent Waves (1980)
Moving Pictures (1981)
Exit ... Stage Left (1981)
Signals (1982)
Grace Under Pressure (1984)
Power Windows (1985)
Hold Your Fire (1987)
A Show Of Hands (1989)
Presto (1989)
Chronicles (1990)
Roll The Bones (1991)
Counterparts (1993)
Test For Echo (1996)
Different Stages (1998)
Vapor Trails (2003)
Rush In Rio (2003)
Feedback (2004)
R30 (2005)
Gold (2006)
Snakes And Arrows (2007)
Snakes And Arrows Live (2008)
Retrospective III (2009)
Working Men (2009)
Grace Under Pressure: 1984 Tour (2009)
Icon (2010)
Time Stand Still: The Collection (2010)
Icon 2 (2011)
Rush ABC 1974: The First American Broadcast (2011)
Sector 1 (2011)
Sector 2 (2011)
Sector 3 (2011)
Moving Pictures: Live 2011 (2011)
Time Machine 2011: Live In Cleveland (2011)
Clockwork Angels (2012)
The Studio Albums 1989-2007 (2013) (boxset) Clockwork Angels Tour (2013)

Exit-Stage Left (VHS) (1982)
Through The Camera Eye (VHS) (1984)
Grace Under Pressure Tour 1984 (VHS) (1986)
A Show Of Hands (VHS) (1988)
Chronicles (VHS/DVD) (1990/2001)
Rush In Rio (DVD/VID) (2003)
R30 (DVD) (2005)
Music In Review 1974-1981 (2006)
Replay X3 (DVD) (2006)
Snakes And Arrows Live (DVD) (2008)
Working Men (DVD) (2009)
Beyond The Lighted Stage (DVD) (2010)
Classic Albums: 2012 - Moving Pictures (2010)
Time Machine 2011: Live In Cleveland (2011)
Clockwork Angels Tour (2013)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin CA

Added: December 15th 2002
Reviewer: John Stout

Artist website:
Hits: 593
Language: english


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