Rush – Definitive Chicago 1981 (Cygnus 014/015)

Definitive Chicago 1981 (Cygnus 014/015)

International Amphitheater Chicago, Il. USA March 1, 1981

Disc 1:(61:30) 2112 (Overture / Temples Of Syrinx), Freewill, Limelight, Hemispheres (Prelude), Beneath Between and Behind, The Camera Eye, YYZ (Drum Solo), Broons Bane, The Trees, Xanadu

Disc 2:(57:10) The Spirit Of Radio, Red Barchetta, Closer To The Heart, Tom Sawyer, Vital Signs, Natural Science, Working Man – Hemispheres (Armageddon) – By-Tor & The Snow Dog – In The End – In The Mood – 2112 (Grand Finalle), La Villa Stagiato

After the gluttony that was Hemispheres Rush yet evolved their structure of songwriting where they were still making complex music in a much shorter length. Permanent Waves was a marked step forward and its successor, Moving Pictures perfected this new attitude, such is the strength of the music found within that the band paid homage for the past few years by playing the record in its entirety on their Time Machine Tour, to packed houses one might add. Back to 1981 the release of Moving Pictures pushed Rush into the major leagues, they were playing to capacity crowds and in large cities were playing on consecutive nights due to overwhelming demand.

There are many shows from the tour in circulation, one of the best is the final night (out of four) in the city of Chicago. It is a wonderfully clear well balanced stereo recording of the complete show, if anything it is just slightly distant but there is no crowd interference near the taper and has great atmosphere. The playing is incredible, it is Rush after all, and the set list makes one want to salivate and is a nice cross section of their catalog up to that point.

The recording begins with the swirling introduction of 2112, the notes have the crowd on its feet. The band wisely choose to mix up these epics by playing sections from them with out being bogged down by their complexity, this works amazing well as the Overture into Temples Of Syrinx is a devastating opening salvo.

This leads into Freewill from Permanent Waves, the sound gets muffled a few seconds in but quickly clears and even improves a little. Live perfection is where Rush is at and this song is a representation of this philosophy especially when it comes to Alex Lifeson’s solo. He nails it note for note and gets a nice loud ovation from the audience, its great and always a point for me to get out the air guitar and play along. Geddy thanks the audience and greets them with a promise of “lots of songs”. They begin with Limelight the first of many to be played from Moving Pictures, the song while kind of a feel good sounding song is actually one filled with insecurity and shyness and is almost autobiographical by Neil Peart. Again the guitar solo, so melancholy yet intense in feel is spot on as are Neil’s drum fills.

The band play into first part of Hemipheres with Prelude, again they are able to hit these milestones without being weighed down by them. The song does what it is titled and serves as a prelude to Between, Beneath and Behind from the Fly By Night record. The song was originally played during that tour and since there are only a couple of live recordings from that era the addition of this song in the set list is very exciting (as is its addition to the Exit…Stage Left record). Written in their Jurassic period the song does not sound dated like other early song and is great in the live setting.

When I first starting to really listen to Rush, past turning up the hits and moving on the next, and went delving into the other songs not played on radio I found a whole new world. One song that blew me away was The Camera Eye, the long epic song from Moving Pictures. A wonderful trip through the lenses and beautifully layered with the keyboards accentuating the guitars and percussion. It has an old school Zeppelin style riff and some great time changes and has been a favorite of mine for the first time I listened to it and it does not miss a punch live. Incredible to listen and see how three musicians where able to recreate the music live, interestingly Neil states in both the Time Machine and the Clockwork Angels tour books that the band never played it live when in fact it made it through this tour and the next. I am a guitar guy and Alex plays the piece fantastically, including the phenomenal solo making for a great live version of the song.

The instrumental YYZ follows, for one that does not know YYZ are the identification letters for the Toronto airport. Probably their most beloved piece with no words, they play incredible tight and has the feeling of just rolling off them. The highlight is the drum solo, for me getting the first two Rush live records (All The Worlds A Stage And Exit) where must haves. The drums solos found within both are as individual as finger prints, the one played during this tour is probably one of his best, just before Neil gets into the electric percussion the solo is filled with a multitude of drums and other percussive instruments and his textured incorporation of them is fantastic, as usual the crowd cheers through out. Another revelation from Exit…Stage Left was the addition of “Alex Lifeson on the classical guitar” and his piece entitled Broon’s Bane.

A wonderful piece that hearkens back to a Renaissance period and is a fantastic prelude to The Trees, Broon for those of you wondering is the nickname of Rush producer Terry Brown. The Trees is one of Peart’s most endearing lyrics, about in fighting between several species who are not grooving with each other but who are kept equal in the end. I love Alex’s guitar effects in this song, it seems to be phasing in and out, there is a small cut about 2 min 30 seconds in and a very minimal amount of music is lost. The songs gentle ending gives way to the prog classic Xanadu, the transition is beautiful, full of chimes and other percussion with some keyboard effect that sounds like one is being lowered down and we know it is time to settle down and take the aural experience in. A song for me that does not tire with repeated listening’s it sounds like a warm old friend and the subtitles added over time only flesh out the songs lush landscape and is superbly played on this recording.

The second disc start with The Spirit of Radio, the song that first hooked me on FM radio some 32 years ago, Permanent Waves was the first record to snare me although I initially had some reluctance from my mother about buying it for me as she did not approve of the panty flash on the cover ! A radio smash from the beginning, probably cause it praises FM radio, then song is a live favorite. Again interesting to hear how fans still cheer in the same part today as they did back then. The futuristic tale of mans fascination with fast cars comes in the form of Red Barchetta. The “wind in my hair” section is perfect, the band play their instruments as they are mechanical machine and are in a perfect sync with each as an engine is and ? Alex nails the solo and the whole band rock out on the rollicking riff. Tom Sawyer is huge, the crowd goes crazy, people beating on their chairs can be heard but soon are diminished by the music. The playing is again perfection with Gedd’s keyboard prominent in the mix giving the song a very clear electric vibe, this is one of Neil’s big drum pieces and he does not disappoint and Nail’s the drums fills to perfection.

The final song to be played from Moving Pictures is Vital Signs, an electronic and robotic sounding song that owes it riff to the bands love of Reggae music and sounds as if The Police where playing progressive music, it is also a quiet milestone and the band would continue to explore this kind of music. Such is the bands confidence with Moving Pictures that they play the entire record save one, Witch Hunt (that would make the set list as part of the Fear trilogy in coming years). Another one of what I call the bands deep tracks is played next, Natural Science.

Taking is complexity from La Villa Strangiato and taking to the next, mechanical level it is the bands science meets prog masterpiece. It is a lot of intricate time changes woven in a tale of musical complexity and is perfection to my ears. My first Rush CD bootlegs was the St. Louis soundboard from 1980 and my reason for buying it was for this song. I love the gentle acoustic beginning that gives way to Alex guitar sounding like an undercurrent flowing in. The bass and guitar are incomplete unison throughout the song, Gedd has had his keyboards in his arsenal for four years at this point and has mastered the use of them, he alternates between bass and keyboard flawlessly. The song is not with out its issues, at about 5:36 there is a small cut in the tape and some very short tape issue but clears up quickly.

The medley portion of the show is next starting with Working Man, the band play the song using the Reggae into that is great, Gedd has a nice fat bass sound and he does his best Marley impression before they fall into the hard rock version we all know and love. It goes right into a brief stab at Hemispheres Armageddon that is more of a prelude to By-Tor and the Snow Dog. They play a decent chuck of the song with Alex playing a nice psychedelic sounding solo full of wah pedal. They play a snippet of In The End from Fly By Night, a welcome addition even though its short and its In The Mood that gets the crowd up and shaking their collective asses.

A nice and heavy 2112 Grand Finale ends the main set and the show is kind of book ended by the piece and almost brings the whole thing together in unison. They play the same closing section on their latest Clockwork Angles tour and for me it was a highlight. The band quickly return to the stage and finish with their ode to complex musical intensity in the form of La Villa Stagiato, it sounds as if they play with ease and the song builds to an exciting Alex guitar solo and ultimately climax. A fantastic concert from beginning to end, the crowd agree and give the band a massive standing ovation.

The packaging is simple, full color inserts with art work that is a take off from Moving Pictures with some great live shots to boot. it is all packaged neatly in a slim lined jewel case and is a nice package. With the popularity of Godfather’s box sets one has to wonder if there is demand for something similar focusing on Rush, with their name being on the ballot for the Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame (about time), their latest record and tour selling incredibly well it would be a dream come true. The last word on this release, Definitive ? HELL YES.

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  1. THANKS very much for this review. I just got “Def. Chicago ’81” early last week, and I was pleased with it a lot more than “Long Beach 1981” (Cygnus 034/035), which goes to show how inaccurate Lighthouse’s sound quality descriptions can be. That is, when I got “Long Beach 1981” several months ago, I was somewhat disappointed, esp. given Lighthouse’s claim of it having “TRULY PERFECT SOUND”, as I found it quite far from being anywhere near “perfect”.

    But when I finally got “Def. Chicago ’81” early last week, I was glad that I found it to have better than what an experienced Lighthouse collector would expect of “TRULY AMAZING / PERFECT SOUND”. If anything, “Long Beach 1981” is the one that should be described with “TRULY AMAZING / PERFECT SOUND”, whereas “Def. Chicago ’81” is the one that is much more deserving of a “TRULY PERFECT SOUND” rating.

    However, I’m still waiting for Cygnus/Lighthouse to release the new version of Rush’s Anaheim 1981 show from Mike Millard’s master rather than settle for the 1st generation version (Cygnus 032/033).

  2. This show has prior interesting CD-R releases, such as the one by Moose Records (Exit…Stage Right) and the one JKR Productions, which are different from each other only due to the tape genaration used. In 2001 (if I’m not mistaken), the japanese label Gypsy Eye released the only silver relase of this great concert knocking off the Moose version. Now, Cygnus releases what seems to be the definitive edition, which I already own. It’s definitely crispier, very upfront with lots of warmth. It would be just amazing if Godfather, in order to celebrate Rush’s nomination (possibly) to the RNR Hall of Fame, releases a box set. If so, it has to include a Signals show on it.


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