Different Stages is perhaps the best live collection that Rush have released. Overall the sound quality is pretty good, with only a few exceptions, and the performances are strong. The set gives a good picture of Rush performing at their mid-90's peak. Arguably their level of performance was even higher on the Snakes & Arrows tour of 2007; judge for yourself by comparing this set to the `Snakes & Arrows Live' disc.
Part of the strength of this set is Alex's use of the Paul Reed Smith guitars in place of his traditional hollow body Gibsons and his Fender Franken-casters (and on the previous live album, the poor sounding Signature guitars). Alex uses the PRS guitars for most of the album, bringing out his fantastic sounding Gibson Les Pauls only for select tunes. Geddy has dropped the Wal bass that he used on the previous two or three tours and has brought back his trusty `72 Fender Jazz Bass for most of the songs here. The weakest part of these recordings is the sound of Neil's drums. At times they are amazing, particularly in the tracks that were not recorded in Chicago, but for most of the Chicago tracks, they are clattery and thin with the snare being too loud relative to the other drums. Fortunately for the solo, the drum sound issues were not present.
Different Stages is a three disc set. Disc III was recorded in 1977. It is included as a bonus disc, and so I will discuss that in a separate review.
Disc I starts off weak in terms of sound and performance, but builds up to a huge climax. It opens with "Dreamline" the first thing that is obvious is the sonic improvement over the studio version! The guitar is so clear and strong. The Fender Jazz has such great tone compared to the old Wal. Unfortunately, the drums don't sound great here.
"Limelight", a perennial favourite, does not have the greatest overall sound. It is a bit muddy. On the plus side, it has a great raw live feel to it that reminds me of the less polished `All the World's a Stage` live album from 1976. This performance doesn't reach the emotional peak of `Snakes & Arrows Live'.
"Driven" features a nice tight and clean performance and sound! Geddy's huge bass sound really polishes out some of the rough edges that you hear on the studio version. This performance has amazing energy compared to the studio version. The bass solo is killer. This tour was easily the best in terms of performance of this song. Alex gets a great bounce in his playing when he is doubling the bass.
"Bravado" always works so well live. Alex punches the little riff through the bass and drums to great effect. Neil's independent limb motion on this one always boggles my mind. It's hard to believe that he can actually do it live. Geddy's voice falters in places, which is too bad, because otherwise this performance is astounding. Alex's PRS really shows off its quality as an emotional guitar during the solo.
One song that really comes to life is "Animate"! The drums have an amazing energy. The bass is smooth yet raw. Alex gets to show off his versatility as lead and rhythm player all in one, without overdubs to rely upon. What a sound he gets in the solo! Hearing his performance here makes me want to run out and buy a PRS!
After three great songs in a row, we get a bit of a dud. On "Show Don't Tell", the bass is a bit loud and boomy and takes away a bit from the drums and guitar. The drums have a strange mix. The snare overpowers everything else. There are some awkward guitar moments too that make me wonder why this version was chosen. I think I would have preferred to have something from 'Test for Echo' in its place.
"The Trees" has not really been a favourite of mine for a long time. It`s one that they should have retired after the early 80's. However, this version is FAR superior to the version that appears on "Exit...Stage Left". This is how this song should sound. The synth sound is very cool. It is a little different from the old days and not as sterile as it was on the 'Vapor Trails' tour. The PRS really comes through again--it is superior to the ES-335, in my opinion.
"Nobody's Hero" is rough and raw. This recording almost sounds like a bootleg. It is a kind of a cool take on the song, which to me sounded overproduced on `Counterparts`.
This set features, possibly, the definitive version of "Closer to the Heart". I can understand why they dropped it after this tour.--how do you top this? Again, the PRS totally comes through with the power and the emotion that this song demands!
I am so glad that they finally played a complete version of "2112" live. The "All The World's a Stage" version always felt like a rip-off. While this piece is kind of old, it is still pretty cool--especially the way they give it so much more growl and thunder. This is the best live rendition of "Overture" that I've heard from them. Alex brings out the Les Paul and proves why it is the best hard rock guitar in the universe! Wow!! You can see why he relied on it so heavily for the Snakes & Arrows tour to achieve a harder sound. Geddy's singing is spot on. The sound on this track, recorded in Massachusetts, is far superior to the sound they got at the Chicago show for most of the other tracks on this set, which begs the question: why did they rely so heavily on that Chicago show for the track selection?
Disc 2 rocks from start to finish! It opens with "Test For Echo" I really love this song. I do wish they had kept it in subsequent tour setlists. The Les Paul doesn't sound as amazing here as it did in Massachusetts. The vocals are a bit buzzy and thin. But, overall, the performance is excellent and energetic, which makes up for some of the audio deficiencies.
I was thrilled that they included "Analog Kid" on this album even though it was recorded from a previous tour. I love this song! I wish that they would play it live more often! The sound is a bit dead on this recording, but it is nice just to have a live version.
"Freewill" features an excellent performance, but the bass lacks some definition. "Roll the Bones" is good, but not as good as the version that they released on `Rush in Rio`. For "Stick it Out", Alex is back with his Les Paul, and it sounds great! This is an awesome performance. I like the feel here better than on the studio version. It features a nice extended bass solo at the end.
"Resist" is beautiful! This version really takes this song to a new height. The PRS again shows its emotional quality.
For the stunning instrumental, "Leave That Thing Alone" we are back to the Massachusetts show. This is one of the best Rush live tracks ever. There was something about this song on this tour. It was a total highlight of the night, as it was on the `Vapor Trails` tour too.
Neil's drum solo, here called "The Rhythm Method" is, as always, an outstanding performance. This is possibly my favourite drum solo of all the albums that they have released. He takes us on an incredible journey.
When they played "Natural Science" on this tour I nearly cried! This is a great version, as is the version of "Spirit of Radio". To me, this is one of the best performances that they have ever caught on tape.
The disc wraps up with two from the ever popular `Moving Pictures' album: "Tom Sawyer" and "YYZ". "Tom Sawyer" is another perennial favourite. It always works to get the crowd going. Alex brings back the Les Paul to crunch up the song. If I remember correctly, on this tour, this song featured dancing dinosaur puppets behind Alex`s speaker cabinets. The version of "YYZ" is incredible! The PRS proves it is a hotter guitar than the Fenders Alex used in the studio and in earlier live recordings! What a finish!
Disc 3 of the `Different Stages' CD set is a bonus disc featuring a concert recorded back near the dawn of time--1978. It documents the shift that the band was making from the heavy metal days to their prog rock days. The older tracks show well whence they came, but the new, `A Farewell to Kings' tracks are where the band shines. The set opens with the heavy metal tune "Bastille Day". This version is nice and punchy. It has a harder and more spacious sound than the version on `All The World`s a Stage`. Geddy is very squeaky--I believe that he had a bad cold at this time.
"By-Tor & The Snow Dog" is played very fast and harder than previous performances. The heavily distorted guitar is a bit indistinct. They come together very tight for the instrumental section. Neil's drum solo is fantastic! This is not the full version that was featured on `All The World`s a Stage`.
The crowd goes wild for "Xanadu". Oddly, they don't take advantage of the power of the Taurus Pedals to make the opening more thunderous (as they started to do in the `90's). The bass doesn't punch through as much as on the studio version, but the guitar and drums sound great. The performance is clearer and sharper than the 'Exit...Stage Left' version. This is the definitive official live version for me.
This album contains the only officially released live version of "Farewell to Kings". I don't know why this song did not persist in future sets. Alex opens beautifully on the nylon string guitar. The idiot who whistles through some of the prettier parts is very annoying. The Moog is turned up here compared to the studio version which enhances the feel of the song. This version is less majestic than the studio version, but more biting. Sadly, Geddy's vocal issues that night mar an otherwise outstanding performance of this song.
"Something for Nothing". is a bit jarring right beside "Farewell to Kings". It is not as well performed as on `All The World`s a Stage`. It does show how much they progressed as musicians and writers between `2112' and `A Farewell to Kings'. Read more ›