Sunday, May 11, 2008

CD Review - Rush Snakes & Arrows Live

Snakes & Arrows Live is Rush’s latest (and sixth) live release, from last years’ leg of the tour supporting Snakes & Arrows, Rush’s best new release in ages. The band thinks so too, as they play nine (yes nine) songs off the new album on the tour. More new material busted out on a tour since probably Power Windows, where they did the whole album minus one song.

Keeping in mind that this was the exact set list of the show I saw last year, here is my rundown of the new live CD song by song. By the way, I have mostly nothing but good things to say, so if you don’t like Rush, you can maybe skip this post!

Limelight is fairly obligatory but as usual very solid. This song fits anywhere in the show – first, last, encore, whatever.

Digital Man is face melting, especially in Alex’s department. This is great example of how the band is so polished and confident at this stage that they can play very much ‘outside of the lines’ on their older material. They have moved some things around in the song, and the ending is one big jam. I feel like they put this song second so they could jam it a bit and get loose for the rest of the show. Neil beats the shit out of his kit in the end outro. In fact they all are rocking this one as if it’s a set closer. Very nice.

Entre Nous is such a gorgeous song and for sure was one of the big surprises from the tour. I mean, who would have thought they would have brought this one out? Never done before live, either. Also, it was very nice to see Alex play the acoustic parts on an actual acoustic guitar (mounted on a stand so he could switch to electric quickly), instead of using a sample of an acoustic guitar triggered by his electric, like he does a lot in other songs. Aside from doubling the last chorus, they play it just like the CD

Mission from Hold Your Fire. One of those mid 80s keyboard songs that led to everyone starting to lose interest in the band. But it’s catchy, and the center section is killer and intricate. Like Rush is saying, “Hey, we can write a catchy radio friendly song, but also blow people’s minds in the center section.” Also, Alex’s face-ripping live guitar tone really makes songs like this rock harder than their original studio version, even though they stick to the arrangement exactly.

Freewill is an island of awesome in the set list. You cannot go wrong with this song. One of my favorite Rush songs by far and I will never get sick of it, especially live. That crazy center section is one of the best rock moments ever created. OK, do I like the song? Yes. Oh, and Geddy can still hit that screaming high last verse. Pretty amazing for his age.

The Main Monkey Business – The first of four instrumentals in the the show. It’s long at more than six minutes and is the first of the nine new Snakes and Arrows songs. It’s no YYZ but it’s pretty damn fine. Catchy. Lots of great changes, different moods and feels. Fits right in with the rest of the stuff played already and is a nice transition to all of the other Snakes and Arrows songs we’re going to get barraged with over the show. Particularly bluesy and tasty solo from Alex on this one.

The Larger Bowl – One of the strongest Snakes & Arrows tunes in my book. It has everything I like about the album. Based on acoustic guitar, catchy vocals, bluesy guitar solos. If you break this song down, though, it’s really one big chorus. The verses and choruses are musically the same. That’s a rarity for Rush, and within this simple structure they keep changing the coloring of the instruments and intensity. Good for Rush to write a ‘it’s just one big chorus’ song!

Secret Touch – So after a couple of forays into the new album, we go back into the Rush repertoire with Secret Touch from Vapor Trails. This one is pretty pummeling in parts and catchy in others. There is some real DISSONANCE in this one. Reminds me how pissed off they sounded on most of that album in general. It’s not my favorite but it has good moments.

Circumstances – So after all of this relatively new Rush stuff, the boys dive back to the Hemispheres album for a tuned-down version of Circumstances. The riff sounds heavier with the guitars tuned down a whole step to help Geddy sing the song (it’s still tourniquet underwear high). A great live version – the center section is also powerful and rocking. This one benefits from the years of experience the band has in between writing the thing and now.

Between the Wheels – The last song off of Grace Under Pressure. This song is pretty weird. Very dissonant. It’s actually one of my favorite songs from that album but if I HAD to take a leak at the concert, I might run out for the first half of this one. The saving grace of this song (again) is Lifeson’s solo at the end. And the chorus. Soaring, catchy and moody. I can see why they keep playing this one live. It does stand the test of time. And sadly, the topic is still valid:

We can go from boom to bust
From dreams to a bowl of dust
We can fall from rockets' red glare
Down to "Brother can you spare..."
Another war
Another wasteland
And another lost generation


Dreamline – Not a horrible song but probably my least favorite in the whole set. If I could hold out through Between the Wheels, Dreamline is my pee break song. Just doesn’t do much for me and they seem to play it on every tour. This was the last song in set one. We come back from the break to a funny intro video and then five songs off of Snakes & Arrows in a row.

Far Cry – Great song. Just like all of Snakes & Arrows, it is a bit of a throwback to the band’s past but with a very modern spin. The riff is classic Rush and the song just has a great groove and chorus. I can see this one sticking around the set list on tours to come. It seems to achieve what they TRIED to do a lot in the 80s and 90s which was to write a catchy song without losing the essence of Rush, which is rocking musicianship, weird changes, etc. It has a heaviness missing from the 80s stuff, without the heaviness sounding forced like on some of the 90s stuff and even Vapor Trails. They just hit a groove with this one.

Working Them Angels – I could also see this one sticking around the set list for tours to come. A great interplay between acoustic parts and rocking parts. I also love the message. “All my life I’ve been working them angels overtime.” You ever feel that way? Like, we are blazing through life, sometimes not being very careful yet something keeps us from fucking up so bad we die? Great song overall and they beat the shit out of it live.

Snakes & Arrows – Sort of like Working Them Angels part two. Again, very cool interplay between acoustic and super heavy electric. This one took longer for me to get into, but I enjoy it now. It has a weird chord structure like Secret Touch. And, the vocals don’t flow as well the other S&A songs but you can’t deny the greatness of the “No one gets to their Heaven without a fight” chorus.

Spindrift – They get noisier and noisier in this set, culminating in this song. I am not a big fan of this one. The only song on this live album I will likely skip.

The Way the Wind Blows – Another one of my new favorites. When has Rush been this bluesy? I wonder if this song came right from their jams on the Feedback album. Lyrically this one really hits it for me:

Now it's come to this
Wide-eyed armies of the faithful
From the Middle East to the Middle West
Pray, and pass the ammunition

Driving, power riff gives way to acoustic chorus – a nice touch. Another song I hope they keep around for a long time.

So, after all of this new material, the band “rewards” us with some classic gems.

Subdivisions – Always loved this song. It sounds so sad and melancholy and it reminds me every time I hear it that this is how I felt back in 1982-83 when it first came out. Just going into high school and being very insecure and unsure. Adolescence. What you gonna do? I never get sick of it. One of their best songs of the post Moving Pictures period. My favorite live version is on A Show of Hands but this one doesn’t disappoint.

Natural Science – Gorgeous intro. Very relaxed. Sung very laid back by Geddy. The rest rips your face clean off. This is one of those songs where you say “This is what I came to this concert to see.”

Witch Hunt – Same as above. Such a great gem to hear live. Between this and Natural Science, Digital Man, Circumstances, Entre Nous and Passage to Bangkok, I have to laud them for bringing out so many nuggets on this tour. Nice short solo at the end of this live version

Malignant Narcissism – A close second to YYZ in the instrumental department. Really rocking. Geddy’s weird pseudo-slap technique is featured here. There is some YYZ-esque bass and drum fills trading back and forth.

Drum solo – Obligatory but killer. More fun to see than to listen to but yeah, Neil hasn’t lost a step over all these years. Still the master.

Hope – Last tour, Geddy and Alex did acoustic versions of some songs as a follow up to the drum solo, and it was a nice switch in the energy. Along those same lines, Alex pulls out the acoustic instrumental Hope to change the mood after the drum onslaught.

Distant Early Warning – Good tune. Well done. I can take it or leave it at this point. They were alternating this with something from Feedback on the tour and opted for this song for the live CD.

Spirit of Radio – As with Limelight, totally obligatory. The one song (besides Tom Sawyer) that they HAVE to play every time. Luckily it’s a great tune. I don’t really have a favorite live version but maybe Exit Stage Left since the song was so new at the time it was recorded. Same with Tom Sawyer.

Tom Sawyer – see above.

One Little Victory – The encore starts. More angry music from Vapor Trails. Great riff.

A Passage to Bangkok – Sweet! And in the original key no less. Geddy almost hits all the notes. Very good nugget to bring back.

YYZ – Interesting closing number. After Passage, Geddy must be spent vocally so they bust through this baby.

This is a LONG night of music, people. The Snakes & Arrows live CD really captures the tour. I will see the band in June and will let you know how the set list changes from this first leg. If you want some recent live Rush, this one and R30 are top notch. I’d pass on Rush in Rio, as the audio is not nearly as crisp.


VoxMoose said...

Nice breakdown, Isorski. What an epic songlist. I missed them on that tour and regret not hearing Circumstances and Entre Nous live. I'll definitely have to get this CD.

Dr. John said...

Isorski - got the CD and largely had the same opinion as you. Very nice mix of old and new and new-old, so to speak. The ONE thing I did not like, though, and you may call me nit-picky for this, was the cowbell on "Witch Hunt". Like the old SNL sketch said, "I need more cowbell!". On the original studio version and when I saw it performed live on the Grace Under Pressure tour, the cowbell sound was huge, dark, and meaty. The one on this song just isn't and it detracts from the overall darkness of the song. Other than that, the albums kicks ass and is a definite classic in their live repertoire.