Revisiting Rush’s First Live, and First Top 40, Album, ‘All the World’s a Stage’
From the Who's Live at Leeds through Rockin' the Fillmore by Humble Pie and moving forward, live albums became commonplace in the '70s. As the decade went on, these records went from being mere souvenirs of a concert to career-defining works, like with Kiss Alive, Cheap Trick at Budokan and Frampton Comes Alive!
Released in September 1976, All the World's a Stage was Rush's first live album of several released over the next four decades. The band was in the middle of becoming a more and more complex unit, but its hard rock-foundation was still in place.
The two-record set was culled from a three-night stand in Rush's native Toronto earlier in the year, when they hit Massey Hall in support of their 2112 album. In a 2015 interview with the Toronto Globe and Mail, singer, bassist and keyboardist Geddy Lee discussed his love for the venue.
"The first show I saw here was Cream, I believe -- don't ask me what year it was, but it's a very clear memory," he recalled. "I couldn't get anyone to go with me, so I said, 'Screw you all, I'm going by myself.' When you are in front of the stage, the place feels huge, but when you stand on the stage, it just feels so much smaller than you remember it. There's a shift in perspective that happens, and it becomes a different place. You cannot reconcile it's the same place you used to sit in the audience and watch bands."
The band dishes out fierce renditions of songs from its catalog over four sides. They even played most of 2112's epic title track -- a smart move since that album was pushing them to the next level. But the concert versions found on All the World's a Stage often eclipse the original studio takes. "Bastille Day" and "Anthem," for example, shake foundations in ways the studio recordings couldn't quite capture, thanks to Alex Lifeson's fierce guitar work. There's also a landmark drum solo by Neil Peart on the medley of "Working Man" and "Finding My Way."
Though they would go on for many more years and release several more live albums, All the World's a Stage captures Rush at an early peak, when they were searching out more esoteric ground while still kicking out the jams. The album helped break the band in the U.S., even reaching the Top 40 -- a first for the band. It was just the start of their rise.
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