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Cobbled together in a hurry to cash in on the success of 2112, All The World's a Stage is an adequate but not exceptional summary of the early period of Rush. The recording quality is just about acceptable but not stellar, hinting at the band's live power without quite adequately capturing it. The songs from the first three albums are by and large improved by the raw live performance and the band's increased technical chops - in particular, the selections from the debut album now only sound influenced by Led Zeppelin, as opposed to being slavish imitations of superior Zep songs.
However, the songs from 2112 suffer from the production quality, and from the fact that 2112 itself is trimmed by about five minutes or so, a decision which will enrage purists. (Particularly since one of the sections trimmed - "Oracle: The Dream" - is the part which most points the way to the style the band would adopt on Farewell to Kings.) Still, the album is an authentic-sounding snapshot of the Rush live experience at the time, with between-song chat preserved - as well as several minutes of post-concert chatter tacked on at the end of the last track, which feels rather needless.
On balance, I'd say this album was recorded slightly too early in their career - it relies a bit too much on material from the first three albums to fill out its running time, and they're just not strong enough to carry it. The Different Stages set has a live disc from a 1978 performance, and having an extra album's worth of quality material to balance out the setlist makes all the difference. This is a live album which was probably welcome at the time, but has surely been superseded now by later live releases.
*Cue the MC*...."Would you please welcome home...Rush!"
And with that, the beginning of their first live album. And what a live album it was. Comprising material from their first four releases, All the World's A Stage proved to non concert goers and live faith alike that Rush knew how to deliver the goods, when it counted, in a live setting. The album features songs recorded over four days at Toronto's Massey Hall and the production is not too raw yet not unpolished, putting forth the perfect sound for the kind of performance the band will be delivering. Speaking of the performance, it's very energetic and tight (when have the band sounded anything but?) and some songs sound faster at times even superior to their studio counterparts.
Bastille Day is the opener. A fast, hard rocker that gets the crowd on its feet and is many times better than the original album version from Caress of Steel. It just sounds much more exciting and lively and it really is the perfect way to kick off the show. Actually, the next three songs are quite similar to the first in that they're all fast, really solid tunes that plug along without missing a beat. You'd swear the band had about fifty cups of coffee before taking the stage as they rock off the first five numbers with tons of energy and near flawless execution. Not at one single point do they sound sloppy, lethargic or uncomfortable. It's evident they had their act together on this night.
Continuing, Lakeside Park is a slow to mid paced song that's simply okay. Geddy's vocals are kinda overbearing here. It is probably the weakest moment on the album but it is by no means intolerable. 2112, the band's magnum opus is next. It's a condensed version from the original seven parts to five but still succeeds with the peaks and valleys formula, slowing down during one part and speeding up the next all the while gradually building until the final climax that is the Grand Finale. This sounds as just as good as the studio version even if it is shortened.
By Tor & the Snowdog could be considered the highlight of the album. 5 or so minutes are tacked on to the original 7 minute version to allow for some extended live jamming, The song concludes on a crashing, boisterious note that leads into "In the End" a Fly By Night song that features some killer soloing from Alex Lifeson but is ultimately a little too soft and laborious for my liking. The band concludes their set with two songs from their debut: Working Man & Finding My Way. At the nine minute mark we get the essential Neil "the Professor" Peart drum solo. Yes, he was a machine even back in '76.
While Rush would continue with the four studio albums followed by one live album formula for the majority of its career, All the World's A Stage is important in that it showcases the bands best material from the first part of their existance before they turned into a full-fledged prog outfit. Many of the songs are superb slabs of high octane rock n' roll while only two come to mind as being simply 'average'. The performance is full of energy and each band member was on top of his game on this night, making it very difficult to find faults in the release.
For 1976, this live album was simply unbeatable.
The 70’s saw the explosion of the live album upon the music scene, a relatively new concept in rock, but one that would immediately become popular. It made Kiss, as well as Frampton. Hell, it is the only thing Frampton is remembered for. Cheap Trick is better remembered today for Live at Budokan than the pop they produced in the entire 80’s. It was logical for Rush to follow suit. How could a band devoted to performing not do that? All the World’s a Stage is a natural step in the bands discography, one they embraced so well they decided to release a live album every five releases there after until the millennium.
The production is the first thing to get your attention. It is good, clean, and portrays the band well. It gives you the feeling of being at the performance without any over-production nonsense that turns a live album into glorified greatest hits with crowd noise. The second thing that jumps out is the viability of the performances themselves. This is a band that knows how to play there instruments, meticulously able to recreate their studio releases live. Not very surprising for a band born of the seventies, but must be said due to the rabble that has soaked into the music landscape over the last 35 years; I’m sure everyone has been burned at one time or another by a band that can’t bring it live, making you realize how essential the producer and engineer are to many a groups success story; none of that here with Rush being the real deal, actual adding to their catalog. That is the true test of a live album. Does it add to their catalogue? Does it make you wish to see them live? Would you just rather listen to the studio version of these songs? God I wish the labels would ask those questions before releasing most live albums.
As an example, “Bastille Day” ounce for ounce pounds out better than the original. Don’t fret if you have put off the purchase of the murky depths of Caress of Steel, for you get “Bastille Day” here arguably better. Let them eat cake indeed. Another example is “Something for Nothing”. Lifeson is on fire through this, swinging his axe with a passion that projects how much he loves his chosen profession. I want to see him rip through this song, which means the live format succeeds. That’s the kind of thing you look for in a live album.
“2112” is played out in all is glory, not quite as awesome as the studio, but still a good time. Oddly, “Discovery” and the “Oracle” are both missing from the performance. I assume this is due to time constraints or something similar. Fans will have to wait 22 years for Different Stages to hear a full live performance of this immortal classic. “Soliloquy”, on the other hand is here and flat out better than the original, and that is saying a lot; simply beautiful.
“By-Tor and the Snow Dog” rocks out more than the studio, sacrificing a little progy precision for outright jamming, and that is not a bad thing when done right. This is done right. It finishes with the ambience of the original sounding more psychedelic, before jamming out to the finish. It’s a great listen that makes the listener wish he was on hand to take in the waves of music washing over the crowd.
Another notable mention is “Working Man”. Its great to hear the band bring this monster live, the listener treated to hearing Peart pound this out. Just Glorious. As a performance treat, the band breaks into “Finding my Way” in the middle, and also interrupts the attack with the professors drum solo. The band is tight and spot on bringing down this medley, wrapping up the album to an epic conclusion. Although the CD re-masters include the encore of “What your Doing” from the record.
Live albums to many times come across as filler in a bands catalogue, more of an excuse to squeeze money out of an existing song; but there was a time when live meant new, exciting, and a measure of a bands success; a time when performers found success by the strength of a live release. When done right, it should act as a badge of honor. A right of passage from performer to artist as if the young apprentice was holding up his first masterpiece to the craftsmen of his trade. While sadly this is not always the case, the fact is Rush proves their right to join the ranks craftsmen. Part metal, hard rock, progressive, and out right jamming, All the World is a Stage is all of that. But at the end of the day it succeeds because it is the most important thing of all: A concert I wish I could have seen.