Exit... Stage Left
Mercury Records, 1981
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/12/2002
By 1982, Rush was at the top of its game. Their last two studio albums had finally broken the Canadian trio into the mainstream and given them commercial success which they so richly deserved. Geddy Lee and crew seemed like they could do no wrong.
Ah - but then came Exit... Stage Left, their second live album (and tenth release overall). This set captures Rush making the mistake of breaking three cardinal rules of live albums. First, they fade in and out on almost every single track, breaking the continuity - this being a particular pet peeve of mine. Second, they sound almost mechanical in their reproductions of their music. Third, and possibly the worst of the sins, they produced an album that is flat-out boring.
Let's first, though, address what Rush does right with this set. It would have been easy for Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart to have created an album which relied solely on the well-known moments from their studio albums - meaning there would have been a lot of "doubling up" material that appeared on All The World's A Stage. Instead, Rush performs a whole new plate of songs, not forgetting to touch base (albeit briefly) on some of their earlier albums. "A Passage To Bangkok" and "Beneath, Between And Behind" are prime examples of how well Rush covers their career - and though I understand why there's more material from the "second stage" of Rush's career, I'd have liked to have heard a little more from the first four albums.
That's about all that Rush gets right on Exit... Stage Left, unfortunately. Granted, I can't find fault with featuring songs like "Tom Sawyer," "The Spirit Of Radio" and "Xanadu", since they do show how far Rush had come since their last live effort. But the performances on this disc, unlike those on All The World's A Stage, feature precious little humanity, almost becoming robotic in the rote performances of the songs. (I will admit, though, that seeing the show live might make me think differently; Rush does show some good-natured humor on-stage. I believe there is a video release with the same title as this album; maybe I'll send a search party out to find it.)
Therein lies the problem with Exit... Stage Left. Because the performance is so by-the-numbers and lacks any real warmness, the listener finds themselves relatively bored with the whole scene. Yes, Rush features three musicians who are absolute masters of their instruments - just listen to Peart's drum solo in the middle of "YYZ" if you needed any proof. But there seems to be an invisible curtain between performer and audience, almost as if any attempt to reach out to the other side would end in catastrophe. If only Lee had tried more than just a different intro to "Jacob's Ladder" to interact with the fans in a personal way, this disc would have been significantly better.
Exit... Stage Left is an accurate portrait of Rush's musical journey to this point, but it is about as warm and cuddly as a brick. While the true Rush fan will want this set if merely to have a complete discography, the casual listener would be better off sticking to the studio versions.