Rush have taken to the DVD format so well, that they could keep churning out the live concert DVDs every couple of years with no new studio releases, and no one would mind. The enormously successful Rush in Rio, released in 2003, was an enthralling account of one of the most memorable concerts in the band’s history, as the Canadian trio performed a lengthy, career-spanning set that thrilled the 40,000 rabid Brazilian fans from start to finish. With the threat of severe weather and working with unfamiliar recording and filming equipment, chaos seemed to swirl around the band (brilliantly accounted in the accompanying full-length documentary), but Rush and their fans managed to remain in the eye of the metaphorical storm long enough to emerge with an unforgettable recording that raised the bar, as far as live DVDs went.
Seriously, how do you follow up something like that? In Rush’s case, they took an entirely different approach. When the band reconvened for an extensive 2004 world tour in celebration of their 30th anniversary (and partly in support of their surprisingly fun covers EP Feedback), they played European venues in cities where they hadn’t been in more than a decade. With the relative comfort of playing indoor arenas, and thousands of fans who had been waiting forever to see Rush live, it afforded the band an opportunity to film a more polished concert DVD, and while it was next to impossible to top the energy of that Rio show from two years earlier, the concert filmed in Frankfurt, Germany, which forms the centerpiece of the lavish two-DVD, two-CD R30 collection, has a charm all its own.
First of all, if you’re an especially obsessive Rush fan (and goodness knows there are a lot of them out there), it has to be noted that we don’t get the Frankfurt show in its entirety on R30. In fact, a whopping eight songs have been cut (more specifically, “Bravado”, “YYZ”, “The Trees”, “One Little Victory”, “Secret Touch”, “Red Sector A”, “La Villa Strangiato” and “By-Tor And The Snow Dog”), and while it’s indeed a slight disappointment, the cuts are understandable, as a good DVD transfer of a three-hour concert would have required an additional DVD and CD (hence a higher retail price), and besides, all eight of the excised songs already appear on Rush in Rio. What’s left, though, is an enormously pleasing 130-minute concert film.
Normally, when a band plays a medley of their songs, it rarely works, but when bassist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson, and drummer Neil Peart tear through the six-part “R30 Overture” at the beginning of the show, it’s all done with great exuberance, each song excerpt a sly wink to the more knowledgeable fans. A six-minute look at the band’s early years, the medley works its way chronologically from 1974 to 1979, beginning with “Finding My Way” and ending with “Hemispheres”, before launching into live staple “The Spirit of Radio”, from 1980’s Permanent Waves. The trio offer a wide range of tracks from their three-decade history, from stirring performances of early material like “Xanadu” and “Working Man”, to ‘80s nuggets “Red Barchetta”, “Subdivisions”, to ebullient performances of Feedback covers, highlighted by renditions of The Who’s “The Seeker” and Blue Cheer’s “Summertime Blues”. The usual crowd-pleasers are present (“Tom Sawyer”, “Limelight”), and Neil Peart’s drum solo, while pretty much the same as the one in the Rio set, is still fascinating to watch, but it’s especially fun to have the band pull out such underrated ‘80s gems as “Force Ten” (from 1987’s Hold Your Fire), the sublime “Mystic Rhythms” (from 1985’s Power Windows), and even dusting off Grace Under Pressure‘s “Between the Wheels”, performed live for the first time in 20 years.
The concert is beautifully shot, employing 14 high-definition cameras, and unlike Rock in Rio, in which the audience was as much a part of the show as the band, the Frankfurt film focuses primarily on the band and their stage show. Instead of the rapid-fire editing of Rio, the direction on R30 is much more controlled, affording viewers excellent glimpses of each band member at work, with no distracting jump cuts. To their credit, the always likeable trio never take themselves too seriously, and their trademark sense of humor is present during the concert; in addition to the spinning dryers and vending machines behind Lee, the concert features a hilarious filmed appearance by actor Jerry Stiller, a short film called “Darn That Dragon”, starring the Rush bobblehead dolls in a Thunderbirds-style spoof, and even a highly surreal, pirate-themed moment during “2112”, where sword-fighting roadies raid the stage, Jolly Rogers are unfurled, and Lee sports a parrot attached to his shoulder strap, snarling, “Arr, we are the pirates of the Temple of the Syrinx.”
Because of the ability to pay more attention to detail this time around, the Frankfurt DVD is presented in anamorphic widescreen (something Rush in Rio lacked), but there’s one distracting flaw in the DVD, as there’s a layer change, inexplicably, right in the middle of “Dreamline”, making for a distracting, one-second hiccup. Why the DVD makers couldn’t have had the layer change take place in between songs is beyond comprehension.
The DVD’s supplemental features are outstanding, as the band’s vast video archives were plundered, giving fans a good two and a half hours’ worth of interviews and performance from over the last 30 years. The live footage is especially interesting, as we get early MPEG footage of the band playing “Finding My Way” and “In the Mood” on Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert, and great performances of “La Villa Strangiato” and “Xanadu” from the band’s kimono-wearing days. The 2005 performance of “Closer to the Heart”, for the CBC’s tsunami relief special, is a fun one, as it features the character “Bubbles” from the popular Canadian TV series Trailer Park Boys on guitar, which leads us to believe that all has been forgiven in the years since the Alex Lifeson “kidnapping” incident.
While there’s a reasonably priced two-DVD version of R30, the deluxe edition is the one to get, as it comes with the double CD soundtrack of the Frankfurt show, as well as a couple of guitar picks and a backstage pass. The full Frankfurt set would have been nice to have, but for what it’s worth, R30 is still a must-own for longtime fans, who, despite their nitpicking, are fully aware of how lucky they are to have a band who always gives their audience as much bang for their buck as possible.