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Caught in a synthesiser trap of their own making - 40%

Warthur, December 22nd, 2011

As had become traditional for Rush by this point, after four studio albums they brought out this live piece to summarise this particular era of their career ranging from Signals to Hold Your Fire. Of course, the problematic aspect here is that half the albums in that range are rather lacklustre efforts on their part, but I still had reason to hold out hope - after all, if the live versions of the tracks showed a bit more flair and style then perhaps the album could be a better way to experience that material.

Alas, in common with too many other live albums from the era A Show of Hands is simply an exercise in wheeling out performances indistinguishable from the studio renditions of the songs in question bar from the ever-present roar of the crowd (which, to be honest, is mixed far too high for my liking). As other reviewers have pointed out, a lot of this is due to the constraints of the synth-heavy period of their sound - with only three musicians onstage, the synth parts had to be largely preprogammed, more or less killing any scope they had to introduce any variation into the songs.

Still, though I understand why the album sounds this lifeless, that still doesn't excuse said lifelessness; as it is, whilst the musical direction the band took in this period sometimes yielded incredible results in the studio (as on my favourite of their synth-heavy albums, Grace Under Pressure), it clearly horribly compromised their live show. Perhaps hiring a guest musician or two to provide backup on the synths might have made for a more organic experience, but then again the trio's chemistry has always been so tight that incorporating more musicians into it would be a dangerous proposition indeed.

Alternately, if the album had included more 80s performances of less synth-dominated parts of their back catalogue it might have gone better - it closes with a reasonable rendition of Closer to the Heart, and the difference between that track the program-locked material before it is striking. But then again, All the World's a Stage and Exit Stage Left had already covered all the best songs from prior eras, and there seems to have been an effort made to avoid duplicating songs presented on those two.

In short, by this stage of their career Rush had written themselves into a corner with their live albums, in that everyone was expecting this release to focus on the tracks from Signals to Grace but the fact was that the songs in question just didn't lend themselves well to live performances. If you already own the studio albums these tracks came from, then you already have more interesting and lively renditions than the tracks in question than the rote runthroughs on offer here.