Forever NP (Empress Valley Supreme Disc EVSD-1262/1263/1264)
Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, NC, USA – May 28, 2015
Disc 1 (64:29) The World Is…The World Is, The Anarchist, The Wreckers, Headlong Flight, Far Cry, The Main Monkey Business, How It Is, Animate, Roll The Bones, Between The Wheels, Subdivisions
Disc 2 (73:36) No Country For Old Hens, Tom Sawyer, The Camera Eye, The Spirit Of Radio, Jacob’s Ladder, Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres Prelude, Cygnus X-1 Book One: The Voyage Parts 1…More, Closer To The Heart, Xanadu, 2112 Part I Overture / Part II The Temples Of Syrinx / Part IV Presentation / Part VII Grand Finale
Disc 3 (37:43) Mel’s Rock Pile Starring Eugene Levy, Lakeside Park, Anthem, What You’re Doing, Working Man, Exit Stage Left. Soundcheck: Subdivisions, Jacob’s Ladder, Losing It, The Wreckers, The Anarchist, Lakeside Park Guitar
When a musician of Neil Peart’s caliber passes away accolades and tributes pour in from unexpected places, a show of respect for one has accomplished in their lifetime, this release from Empress Valley falls into this category. When I first saw this title announced I knew it would be a must have, firstly as it is culled from excellent IEM (inner ear monitor) sources, secondly the concert was on the R40 tour, a musical extravaganza for Rush fans. Lastly there is interesting material in the form of bonus material, namely the evenings soundcheck with the inclusion of Signals deep cut Losing It, three weeks prior to making its first appearance in a Rush concert (where you ask? Toronto June 19, 2015).
First off let’s start with the recording itself. It is a matrix of three different IEM feeds, Neil, Geddy, and a sound mix favoring Alex. The sources were aligned and mixed for the best possible quality and the results are stunning, what is nice is there is a decent amount of audience in the mix which gives it a real concert feel plus a little ambiance. This is an amazing recording that sounds great at low and medium volumes, and even better when played loud, simply stunning. Like most of the titles on the market, this comes from a fan produced torrent and we must acknowledge the work of UNIVONC and STEVE7711, whose work on this project is certainly one of love for the music.
For the R40 tour Rush used a basic framework of songs culled from their entire career and would swap a few select songs in and out to keep it fresh and certainly knowing their fan base was going to see multiple nights, make it a bit special. Funny I saw two concerts on this tour about a week apart and saw the same set both times (set list A), no worries though as both were both musically and visually amazing. The audience in Greensboro was treated to set list B (if you want to know what the different variations are, check out the excellent Cygnus-X1.net), there has been a previous silver title from this tour that features the same set list R40KC (Xavel-SMS-053).
The concerts began with an intro video featuring a video montage of the “Rise of Rush” that leads into the opening number for the entire tour, The Anarchist from Clockwork Angels. The idea of starting in the present and working towards the beginning was uniquely Rush and The Anarchist is such a great opening number with the power of the trio fully engaged. The number of Clockwork Angels songs was either 2 or 3 depending on the inclusion of Losing It deeper into the tour. The second Clockwork Angels song on this night is The Wreckers, this was a swap song and would be alternated with the song Clockwork Angels. I prefer The Wreckers over Clockwork Angels, I love the melody for the chorus, very solid, the mix is perfect with Alex’s leads soaring and the string accompaniment via Gedd’s programmed Synths. Headlong Flight was played at all R40 shows, the title and lyrics are in tribute to Neil’s close friend and drum mentor Freddie Gruber, who told Neil shortly before his death that he had a wonderful life and if he could, “Would live it all again”. What a great song, fast and rolling and gives us a chance to really take a listen to Geddy’s amazing playing, Jack Bruce on cocaine would be a good analogy. We also get a brief Neil solo, damn the band is having a good night and Neil is just nailing it.
Geddy’s first speech to the crowd is “Well hello…Greensboro what’s up? Great pleasure to be back in this part of the USA, once again we thank you for coming out and helping us celebrate over 40 years of playing around your country that’s for sure. We have lots of things …lots of things planned this evening, we’d like to roll back in time a little bit, this is something called Far Cry”. Far Cry and The Main Monkey Business would be played the whole tour, culled from the superb Snakes And Arrows disc. There is a bit of mixing of sources during a few minutes of Far Cry, UNIVONC addressed this in the torrent notes saying he had to make an “equipment decision” that needed to be done for the betterment of the rest of the recording. What ever he did I agree, the sound only got better and by the time of the very ambient instrumental The Main Monkey Business it is in official release territory.
“Every once in a while we find a song that we completely forgot we wrote and recorded. When we were listening to some of our older records we stumble on it and go ‘how come we never played that live?’…so this is one of those songs we got off on during rehearsals we’d like to play it for you now this is How It Is”. Wow, this is certainly a deep track from not super long ago, culled from 2002’s Vapor Trails. Much of the lyrics on Vapor Trails are a glimpse into Neil’s rebuilding of his life after the passing of his daughter and first wife. Having recently read his Ghost Rider book, the lyrics are a tale of just trying to get through a day, and finding a bit of hope and beauty as you go. This song would be a swap song with One Little Victory. Another bass driven song follows, Animate from Counterparts, when I first heard this song it was like a musical statement of Rush in not only a power trio…they are THE power trio. Both Animate and its follower Roll The Bones were set list standards. Roll The Bones was a feast live, musically it’s always good but visually it was incredible. The rear screens were filled with moving dice that evolve into a wall that would keep moving in a linear way and the middle rap section features video guest stars Bassist Les Claypool, guitarist Tom Morello, Comedy Central’s Trailer Park Boys, actors Peter Dinklage, Jason Segel and Paul Rudd. Game of Thrones’ Peter Dinklage got the biggest cheers.
The band skip Presto, Hold Your Fire, and Power Windows, songs from those records were played on their previous two tours. “Roll Back to Grace Under Pressure…a somewhat darker little melody…this is Between The Wheels”. I have been really going back to the 80’s records over the past few years, at the time I needed music with a harder edge and found them a difficult listen. With a few more years under my belt I started to really listen and with that Grace Under Pressure has become a favorite of the post Moving Pictures era. Between The Wheels is an excellent song, by 2015 the song has got a bit more balls to it live. Still has the great synth riff but now Geddy plays more live bass versus keys and it thunders, just what it needed and Alex nails the soaring guitar, almost like a control feedback. I recently picked up a UK first pressing by Masterdisc of this record and it brings it as well, like I said a great, great record. This is a swap song, alternating with Distant Early Warning. The Signals classic Subdivisions brings an end to the first set, Neil’s lyrical ode to the painful high school years has more than likely been played since its inception, for good reason, we do not tire of it and want in played. Like a fine wine, it only gets better with age.
After the band has revived themselves with a short break and a short skit video involving chickens and watches, plus guest starts Jerry Stiller (RIP) and the South Park gang lead us to 1981 and Tom Sawyer, “not Huckleberry Fin stupid”. Like Subdivisions and Spirit of Radio, No Rush show is complete with out it, by this time the song was 35 years old and has none of its intensity, the band play a tight but loose version that Rocks, and yes Neil still nails the iconic fills. The Camera Eye follows, this is a swap song and would alternate with Red Barchetta and YYZ, of the three I have to go with The Camera Eye. I was so glad to be able to hear the song live in person as they played it on the Time Machine tour where they revisited the Moving Pictures album in its entirety. The intro sounds very heavy in the recording, and it’s superb, like something you would hear at a Tool show. The blend of keys and guitar is perfect, and much needed. The song is really the last link to 70’s Rush long progressive pieces. Like the other 80’s material Geddy’s bass is more prominent due to his playing the bass with his hands, not his feet. Love Alex’s solo on this song and on this night he nails it, like La Villa Strangiato, it builds slowly before erupting into a furious orgy of notes. Like the first set, Neil is nailing it, the boys are having a very good night indeed.
Both The Spirit Of Radio and Jacob’s Ladder were set standards, they would occasionally add in Natural Science as the tour progressed. The Spirit Of Radio is a classic and fan favorite, as energetic as always and good for the soul. Jacob’s Ladder is, and was, a personal set highlight. There are songs, deep cuts that you dreamed about hearing live. Jacob’s Ladder was only played on the 1980 and 1981 tours, sadly years before my first show. Permanent Waves was the first record I got, and holds a dear place in my heart. I know it like the back of my hand and is my favorite Rush record. Having already heard both Entre Nous and Natural Science, Jacob’s Ladder was on my dream list. Sure I’ve heard the Exit…Stage Left and other live versions, but I want that concert experience. When it came it was a moving experience, both aurally and visually. This song is a deep classic as it hints a deep subject matter and the music is the lyric’s equal. As an accomplished air guitar player I go through the motions effortlessly, so ingrained in my being is this song, my family only shakes their heads and walk away.
The beginning of Hemispheres is played, Part I Prelude is as slick as I had imagined it, and much more powerful than anticipated, Geddy’s voice has certainly changed in the 36 years since its inception and he does a great job with his vocals. Cygnus X-1 is another bucket list song, never dreamed of hearing more than the minute or so snippet during an encore medley. Hearing a nice chunk of it, like the 2015 remix version so to speak, it’s pure pleasure. Bass, guitar, and drums are in perfect sync with the ambient keys floating like smoke in the air. Neil’s drum solo part two, percussion solo, not drum solo. “The Professor” moves through various themes with his solo and it’s not just drums, there is a soundscape that accompanies him, and it’s just wonderful hearing him go through a modern instrumental while hearing small tidbits of his older solos, I am filled with pure joy listening as it flips on a dime back into the ending of Cygnus X-1. God damn, this is good, pure fury and precision and some of the most captivating three minutes of the entire evening. “Mr. Neil Peart on the drums….I know he’s a good drummer”.
The A Farewell To Kings portion of the show features a wonderful Closer To The Heart sandwiched between the two epics, the song has not lost any of its optimism and message, as relevant today as it was back in 1977. The transition into Xanadu is perfectly captured on this recording, you hear sounds with such clarity and definition. This is the big one, if there was one song I wanted to hear a complete version of, it would be Xanadu. This version is excellent, played a bit closer to the original versions tempo it is precise and reeking of mystery and spirituality. All the birds, bells, and chimes are perfectly placed, the keyboards just right, the bass is strong and guitar is lyrical. Sure Ged’s vocals have aged and damn for a 62 year old man sounds damn good in my book. The piece delivers on all fronts and must be played at a loud volume, shake the walls my friends.
A nice chunk of 2112 follows, they have been playing Overture, Temples Of Syrinx, into Grand Finale to close their last few tours. For this tour they add part IV Presentation to the piece and it’s fantastic. I have not heard it live for close to 20 years, back on the Test For Echo tour they played the complete 2112 suite, and it was sweet. This 2015 is not as fast as older versions but certainly lost of its vigor, played late in the set the majority of the piece has a slower pace into the “Elders” make their decision then the band let loose, Alex lets loose with a blistering solo, less on the wah more on the emotion, this goes directly into a hammering ending of Grand Finale and we get full on precision Rush…no one can touch them, Rush have assumed control. The encores are superb and to lead into the “back in time” theme, features a video skit Mel’s Rock Pile, basically like a Don Kirshner sort of Rock music show, just a hilarious take on the band’s early press reports and reviews. The song selection is excellent featuring highlights from Caress of Steel, Fly By Night, the debut, and earlier. Lakeside Park, never thought I’d hear a nice piece of this one, an early glimpse into Neil’s life. Anthem much welcome, have heard shorter snippets of it, great to hear the band still got the chops for this one, Neil is bringing it! Another highlight of the set, one I never thought in a million years they would play is What You’re Doing from the first record. Classic power trio fat riff big bass power drumming, and it sounds great with Neil almost getting into a bit of The Ventures Wipe Out…almost. This segues into Working Man, what else could end the set? The lyrics perfectly describe Rush as a band. They leave nothing on the table, for a 40 year old song, sounds incredible with the band pushing hard and never slacking. Geddy gets into nice tasty, almost funky bass runs and Alex just rips the solo, not a missed note at all, it’s just incredible. The ending features the Garden Road tease. Of course we get a cool ending video, just prior to it the ending sounds like a homage to the end of All The World’s A Stage. Just a perfect ending to an incredible concert, like I said before, this is an ON night.
The soundcheck is a really cool addition to this set, I would love to hear how this entire production was done, it’s a feat of ingenuity. Clocking in at 20 minutes, and features excellent quality, perfectly balanced and the equal to the actual concert. You can hear Geddy asking for “less guitar” in his mix, the song has vocals and clocks in at 2:53. Jacob’s Ladder is five minutes in length and is a superb version, a bit more laid back but very good, the keys sound really good in the mix and Neil’s drums sound very powerful. Up next is the highlight of the soundcheck, the first known live version of Losing It. The mix is heavy on bass and guitar, yet the melancholy feel of the song is evident, this song is just beautiful and the lyric “Some are born to move the world, To live their fantasies…But most of us just dream about the things we’d like to be…Sadder still to watch it die than never to have known it. For you, the blind who once could see, The bell tolls for thee” pretty much sums up Neil. The Wreckers is a minute and half in length and features some setting level instruction. The Anarchist last for just over a minute and is instrumental. Lakeside Park is just Alex playing around with the song, there is some static present that is inherit to the recording and certainly in Alex’s rig, from a quiet conversation something they are working to eliminate. A rare piece of tape and something that really completes this set.
The packaging is typical for Empress Valley, a simple gatefold sleeve featuring the R40 graphics and track list on the rear. The interior shot is wonderful, a photo shot of Neil’s kit from his view with the caption Forever Neil Peart, simple yet very effective, plus a bit moving. The discs each have a different picture on them, disc 1 has the IIII with a red slash across it, disc 2 has the Star Man logo, disc 3 has the R40 logo and are housed in the typical sleeves used by EV. Review is probably longer than needed, just listening and thinking and enjoying the music of one of the greatest bands that has ever been.