Sound — 8
Rush have been at the top of the progressive rock scene for the past forty years, spinning out a broad discography of studio albums and live efforts along the way. Four decades of rigorous touring and recording schedules brought the members of Rush to a point in their career where they would consider embarking on one last major tour before secluding into their personal lives, potentially to only return for a new album here and there. While there has been no definitive answer from the iconic musicians as to whether their 2015 run of North America will serve as their final curtain call, what Rush did deliver as part of their "R40" tour was an extensive set list compiling selections from across their massive catalog. This was especially true during Rush's pair of shows in their hometown of Toronto during this tour, which were both captured for future release as part of the newly issued "R40 Live" title.
Instrumentally the members of Rush have never been stronger, as any fan who attended the band's past three tours could attest. The main weakness here (if you would even call it that) would likely be the weathered vocals of bassist/keyboardist/lead singer Geddy Lee, which received some amount of scrutiny upon the pre-release of "Closer to the Heart" from "R40 Live." Although this is usually addressed in the following portion, it is worth noting how Lee's singing only appears to have progressed since the Time Machine and Clockwork Angels tours, with his middle register maintaining more of his signature approach and his higher register similarly bearing more weight and resiliency. This is apparent from the get-go on "R40 Live" as Rush moves in reverse chronological order through engaging renditions of "The Anarchist" and "Headlong Flight" off of their 2012 concept album "Clockwork Angels," where Lee especially nails the banshee screams of the former. Two songs into the show and Rush have already ran through nearly sixteen minutes of manic arpeggios and contagious drum fills that bring out the air guitarists and drummers in all prog rock advocates - quite the achievement, particularly for a band of seasoned musicians.
While no Rush show would be complete without the obligatory performances of "2112" and "The Spirit of the Radio," what makes "R40 Live" such an essential addition to the personal library is the extended emphasis on deep cuts and live rarities. Songs such as "Roll the Bones," "Jacob's Ladder," "Hemispheres: Prelude" and "Lakeside Park/Anthem" don't often find their way into a Rush setlist, and in the cases of some songs found in this track listing, have never been previously played live. Case in point, "Losing It" off of 1982's "Signals" makes it's live debut here, complete with a guest appearance from the song's original electric violinist Ben Mink. The appearance of "Subdivisions" and "YYZ" have not lost their appeal in any way, yet they seem to pale in comparison when Rush throws out "Cygnus X-1," "Animate" and "Natural Science," all anthems which are seldom heard outside of the vinyl pressing. There are no studio touch ups to be found throughout, either; when Neil Peart misses a swing (gasp!) towards the conclusion of the previously mentioned "Closer to the Heart," that's preserved, as are the times when Alex Lifeson offers a variation of a lick and Geddy Lee has a challenging time belting out the title track from "Clockwork Angels." This is authentic Rush live onstage, and it's these rare moments that allow the more frequent segments of aggressive musicianship to especially standout.
Lyrics — 8
There aren't that many 62 year old rock vocalists still out touring and recording on a regular basis that keep the songs in their original key and give everything they have in an often successful attempt to match high notes originally recorded in the studio decades ago. Geddy Lee is one of those rare singers and his abilities shine through on "R40 Live," where the vocalist doesn't back away from reaching the soaring intro to "Closer to the Heart" or the ascending outro to "Headlong Flight." We often find Lee hitting notes with a precision that hasn't been noticed in some time, which is quite the achievement for such a prominent frontman. Granted, we don't hear Rush tearing into "Farewell to Kings" or "Passage to Bangkok," however that doesn't take away from the rambunctious performance found here.
Overall Impression — 8
If there was ever a quintessential Rush live album, "R40 Live" would be a worthy contender for that top position. This is by no means the progressive rock band in their prime, however it shows this power trio delivering a massive performance featuring a cast of songs which rarely find their way onto the set list while still making room for their most well known hits. "R40 Live" is certainly a standout title for anyone who pays attention to those rarities and is interested in picking up an authentic representation of what Rush is like in 2015.