Rush – Time Machine – Live in Cleveland 2011 (review)

Rush – Time Machine – Live in Cleveland 2011 (Roadrunner)  

Grizzled Canadians Return to the US City That Embraced Them First

2011 marked the 30th anniversary of Rush’s Moving Pictures album – their biggest, and best album.  To celebrate, the band played that classic record in its entirety, along with an eclectic smattering of album cuts and hits.  Time Machine: Live in Cleveland 2011, the document of that tour, has just been issued for the first time on a 4-LP set on vinyl.

The city of Cleveland played a significant role in the band’s history.  DJ Donna Halper of Cleveland’s WMMS was the first person to play Rush’s music in the States (she’s actually thanked on the back cover of the group’s debut album).  So, it would only be fitting to play in front of fans that believed in them first.

Part of the, er…rush of a Rush concert is hearing the band effortlessly tackle their intricate studio arrangements in a concert setting.  That’s great live and in person, but usually doesn’t work too well on their countless live albums.  What sets Time Machine apart is the amount of humanity that shines through.  Okay, these tracks still mostly sound like the studio versions, but, for one, Geddy Lee’s voice has aged.  More of a squawker than pure singer, his vocals have a deeper, resonating quality to them and there’s a hint of rasp as well, giving some of these songs a “lived to tell about it” feel to them that isn’t apparent on the studio renditions.  

Other times, like in the early part of “Red Barchetta,” the band doesn’t seem to lock in quite like they used to.  Yet, there’s a kinetic sense of playing together for so long, that things don’t ever veer too far off course.  

The show kicks off with “The Spirit of Radio,” a little rough around the edges, and slower than usual, but still rockin’.  This jumps right into “Time Stand Still,” with the band still reprising Aimee Mann’s background vocals, courtesy of a sampler.  Other early highlights include a decent version of moody “Subdivisions” and the seldom played “Presto.”

A minor quibble is that Neal Peart’s drums seem somewhat buried in the mix.  Largely, he’s the main attraction here, as he still sounds in fine form.  Yet, at times he’s lost under the sludge of guitars.  

Moving Pictures comes at the midway point in the concert.  Only problem is, that means the album performance starts on Record two and completes on Record three (again, minor quibbling here).  Just for consistency, it would’ve been nice to have the complete album in live form on a single disc.  “Tom Sawyer” flat out rocks, while there’s some silly carnival sound effects at the start of “Limelight.”  It’s nice to hear songs like “Vital Signs” in a live setting.  

For the remaining tracks, the band digs back to their prog rock roots for the “2112 Overture” and  “La Villa Strangiato.”  At the same time, you also get both “BU2B” and “Caravan,” songs that were brand new and would show up the following year on the album Clockwork Angels.

And what would a Rush concert be without a mammoth drum solo by Neil Peart?  This one, originally titled “Love For Sale,” gets retitled “Moto Perpetuo,” clocking in at over nine minutes in length.

The concert ends on a surprising note, with the band diving into a reggae version of “Working Man” (hmmm…).  Thankfully, it morphs into the real song about 1:30 in.

By showing a band that’s aging, and a little rough around the edges (yet still in fine form), Time Machine is the most human of all Rush live albums, and that’s a good thing.  —Tony Peters