How do you explain the Canadian rock trio Rush to someone who’s never heard them? Often misunderstood, frequently marginalized and sometimes ridiculed, Rush has to be doing something right after three decades of filling arenas, producing dozens of albums and selling over 40 million records worldwide. Despite these accomplishments they’re generally regarded as a nerdy, cult band by the mainstream. Directors Scot McFayden and Sam Dunn (“Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey”) attempt to both illuminate the unfamiliar and do justice by their fans through a comprehensive examination of Rush with their latest documentary, “RUSH: Beyond the Lighted Stage,” which had its world premiere Saturday night.
The film extensively covers the band’s considerable history and backgrounds of members Alex Lifeson, Geddy Lee and Neil Peart. Starting out as a straight ahead, hard rock band, Rush evolved into a musical entity that is arguably unclassifiable. Their songs often took up entire sides of albums and the lyrics (penned by drummer Peart) progressed from earlier Tolkien/fantasy fare to later albums dealing with heady themes of non-conformism, pathos and social alienation.
As far as proficiency with their instruments, they are all regarded as rock virtuosos. Asking a musician if Neil Peart is a good drummer is like asking an English professor if Shakespeare wrote decent plays.
The film includes fantastic photographs, footage and of course plenty of music, but most entertaining are the insightful interviews with many rock legends and notable musicians sharing their take on Rush. These musicians gush when talking about the band and how influential they were on them as teenagers, and later, as artists. The cavalcade of stars interviewed range from members of mega bands Kiss and Metallica to musician/goofballs Jack Black and Sebastian Bach. The common thread among fans is having identified with a band that spoke to the dreamers and misfits of high school. The popular kids never listened to Rush.
McFayden and Dunn accurately capture the unwavering and intense loyalty Rush fans possess for the band and each other. Just as engrossing are the filmmakers exposing the members of the band for what they are: funny, smart, likable family men. The film has some hilariously telling moments revealing them as the antithesis of hedonistic rock-stars (after playing a sold out arena, they prefer books in their hotel rooms over groupies.)
Perhaps best captured in “RUSH: Beyond the Lighted Stage” is the band’s integral element of progressiveness. Regardless of their ridiculous clothes worn during the 1970s, the skinny ties and synthesizer heavy periods of the 80s, musically and lyrically the band has always tried to remain fresh - uninterested in repeating themselves. They embrace their need for innovation even if sometimes it doesn’t always work. But that’s fine, Rush and their fans understand and appreciate that. As a wise Canadian drummer once wrote, “changes aren’t permanent, but change is.”
"RUSH: Beyond the Lighted Stage" is playing at the Tribeca FIlm Festival April 26 & 30