Rush: Snakes & Arrows Live

DVD Reviews | Dec 11th, 2008

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Starring Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, Neil Peart
Written By:
Directed By:
Studio: Anthem Entertainment
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Rush is the greatest band in the universe. Let’s get that out, straight away.

That said, in the past 15 years since Counterparts (1993), Rush has released only three studio albums, including their career’s two worst, and some would say ONLY bad, albums: Test for Echo and Snakes & Arrows. (Admit it, Rush fans.) They also released truckloads of filler.

This lengthy span includes FOUR greatest hits albums (Gold, The Spirit of Radio, and Retrospective I & II with III coming out in January 2009 ), an EP of covers (Feedback), and – messing up their pattern of one era-capping live album after every four studio albums – they released FOUR live albums. These live albums have been multi-CD behemoths (as their live show is now a glorious three hours long), and they’ve been released alongside live DVDs.

This is a lot of non-original output for a band that hasn’t released a mind-blowing studio album in 15 years (though I do like Vapor Trails quite a bit).

I gripe and yet I own every one of these CDs and DVDs, continue to see them multiple times each tour, and still want to have their babies.

I’ve even come to terms with the fact that Rush will release a live DVD for every tour. I no longer think it’s a bad thing or a last-ditch money grab before retirement. These DVDs ARE a good document of their tours, they’re well packaged, and, generally, enjoyable to watch. Heck, I even paid to see a screening of the Rush In Rio DVD at a movie theater – even though I’d seen them twice on the tour and was sent a promo copy!

But the Snakes & Arrows tour is different. The set list is simply not strong; in fact, it’s a shocking downer with some of the moodiest selections from Rush’s oeuvre. On one hand, it’s a nice surprise at first to hear “Digital Man”, “Entre Nous”, and “Circumstances” on tour, but then again, do we really need to? (Well, yes to “Digital Man”.) “Mission” and “Ghost of a Chance” are pleasant songs, but achingly maudlin. Give me any of the Fear songs over the glassy “Witch Hunt” any day. And “Between the Wheels” is simply abrasive, like being hit repeatedly with a hammer; even the depressing and minor key “Red Sector A” would’ve been better, though it’s been overdone live.

Still, the odd choices gave hope to other interesting culling from their epic career. Maybe they’d finally do “The Camera Eye”! Or maybe a surprising set of their older stuff, maybe shock us with a little “Fountain of Lamneth.” Unfortunately, the rest of the show were The Big Hits and a nearly entire replaying of Snakes & Arrows’ mopey, sludgy tracklist that feels more like chores than songs. A prominent Rush website calculated that more of this tour’s concert time was dedicated to new songs than on any other tour, and it sure feels that way.

The DVD acts as testament to the recent direction into Rush’s torpid ennui. Torturously, the second set begins with five or six new songs in a row – over half an hour of songs that fans endured politely but unenthusiastically, immediately sapping crowd momentum at the onset of the second set.

This particular concert is at a huge, packed arena in Rotterdam, Holland, where occasional long-range crowd shots pans a sea of standing fans. But excitement and energy seem to be lacking. Although European rock crowds are known for being sedate, I put some blame on the cameras, which stay on the band. They rarely go into the crowd or show any closeups of the kids you know are air drumming and singing along (there must be SOME of them, even in Rotterdam). As I said, I attended shows on this tour and loved the experience. Just being part of a huge, fanatic crowd and seeing Rush up close was almost spiritual. It’s unfortunate that this DVD doesn’t capture that magic through the eyes on the ground.

The sound, though, is very good, and the band plays with its usual precision. Age, however, is catching up to Geddy and while he sounded great when I saw them, his voice here sounds craggy. The best part of the live show is Alex – he’s a smiley guy, and I’ve never seen him grin more goofily and widely than on this Rotterdam stage. And his guitarwork on “Hope” is much more lyrical and affecting than Neil’s new drum solo, which also seems to reflect Rush’s musical foray into abject misery with an industrial-sounding part replacing his usual upbeat electro section, and then a haunting, quiet section that sounds like an Ewok funeral (yes, yes, I know it’s Momo’s Dance Party).

What’s weird about the downkey tenor of Rush’s show is that their pre-set video skits are hilariously absurd. One DVD bonus feature is the full “What’s That Smell?” skit, played between sets, which follows Geddy as a deranged Scotsman as he cruises a Transylvania-like place (the Tobes of Haiti) looking for chicken and picking up Barbie dolls. Outtakes of the skits have the band splitting their sides in peals of laughter (even Neil a little bit) – I wonder why that good humor couldn’t translate into the studio and again when choosing the songlist.

So all of this is to say that I’m not a big fan of the set list and the camera work could have done a better job in catching crowd reaction and energy. This isn’t my favorite live DVD of theirs, but it’s Rush and I love them and they can do no wrong, even if sometimes it seems like it. Rush work in mysterious ways and who are we to judge or criticize them?

I love you, Rush.


Disc 1
1. Limelight
2. Digital Man
3. Entre Nous
4. Mission
5. Freewill
6. The Main Monkey Business
7. The Larger Bowl
8. Secret Touch
9. Circumstances
10. Between the Wheels
11. Dreamline

1. What’s That Smell (DVD Content)
2. 2007 Tour Outtakes
3. What’s That Smell Outtakes
4. Far Cry (Alternate cut featuring rear screen footage)
5. The Way the Wind Blows (Alternate cut featuring rear screen footage)
6. Red Sector A from the R30 Tour

Disc 2
1. Far Cry
2. Workin’ Them Angels
3. Armor and Sword
4. Spindrift
5. The Way the Wind Blows
6. Subdivisions
7. Natural Science
8. Witch Hunt
9. Malignant Narcissism – De Slagwerker
10. Hope
11. Distant Early Warning
12. The Spirit of Radio
13. Tom Sawyer

14. One Little Victory
15. A Passage to Bangkok
16. YYZ

Disc 3
Oh, Atlanta – The Authorized Bootlegs
1. Ghost of a Chance
2. Red Barchetta
3. The Trees
4. 2112/The Temples of Syrinx

ENGLISH: Dolby Digital 5.1

Standard 1.33:1 Color


Favorite Scenes:
Rating: NR
Running Time: 220 minutes
Extras Rating:
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