Saturday, January 28, 2012

Review: "A Show Of Hands"

As the 80's were starting to come to a close, Rush continued their tradition of releasing a live album after every four studio albums.  Perhaps already aware that they would soon be moving into yet another direction musically, A Show Of Hands would wind up being a snapshot of the band's synth-heavy oeuvre from that decade.

The majority of the album consists of songs taken from the group's keyboard-based albums that ranged from Signals to Hold Your Fire.  Not counting the intro piece (the Three Stooges version of 'three Blind Mice' - who says the band doesn't have a sense of humor?) and Neil's now-signature drum solo, only two tracks are from earlier albums ('Closer To The Heart' from A Farewell To Kings, and 'Witch Hunt' from Moving Pictures).  Over half the album draws from songs originally on Power Windows and Hold Your Fire, from which four tracks each are drawn. 

The audio quality is clean and easily listenable, if at times somewhat over-produced.  It's not as rough as All The World's A Stage, but it also lacks the power of Exit... Stage Left.  Many of the songs don't sound that different from their studio versions, an while that's a testament to the skill of the band, it also means that much of the album lacks the spark that helps to make a good live show so special.  There are exceptions - the version of 'Closer To The Heart' which closes out the album has a two-minute instrumental jam added to the end of the song, giving the album a jolt of extra flair, but overall this is an example of an album that would have benefited from a little less production, and a little more spontaneity.    

It is also an example of an approach to live albums that I don't personally care for.  My preference for live recordings is that of a singular performance, all taken from one show.  Many live albums are actually compilations of recordings from different nights, sometimes even in different cities.  A Show Of Hands takes this to an almost ridiculous extreme, with different tracks actually taken from different tours, specifically the '86 Power Windows tour and the '88 Hold Your Fire tour.  Although the audio mix doesn't make it obvious - unlike Exit... Stage Left, there are no obvious breaks between the various tracks - but this is still essentially a compilation disc, as about as far as an example of a single night's performance as you can get.

This isn't the best of the the band's live albums by any means, but neither is it without merit.  Those who dislike the group's musical direction during the 80's won't find much here to their liking, but even if (like myself) you find the band's output during those years to be hit-or-miss, there's still much to appreciate here, as A Show Of Hands for the most part represents some of the high spots of an uneven era.

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