If ushering in a new decade means foregoing the “Behind The Music” cliché that VH1 made popular in lieu of nerdier, more music-based films handled by Scot McFadyen and Sam Dunn, then thank goodness. The duo behind “Metal: A Headbangers Journey” that undoubtedly sparked a minor cinematic remembrance of all things leather and tri-tone, now rock a bit more obscure with “Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage.”
This time, the lens shifts to the Canadian prog-rockers best known to the mainstream for crippling fingers in Guitar Hero with “Tom Sawyer.” But it isn’t fair to pretend this documentary isn’t meant to just be a few live songs thrown against morphing still images (a continuing trope from the McFadyen/Dunn camp that doesn’t grow old at all.) This is a look into, to quote Geddy Lee, the “world’s most famous cult band.”
In a 13-part program, the history of Rush is broken down through Lee and Alex Lifeson being lifelong friends, growing up through the Canadian music scene and early touring on the 70s American music circuit among KISS and Ted Nugent while trying to sell a record to an American audience. Going through their catalog over their shift from gritty rock into the sprawling epic concept albums that went through roman numerals and references to Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead”–mainly attributed to second (and current) drummer Neal Peart.
The music documentary’s evolution went from concert film to the Maysles-friendly “fly on the wall” to give fans a happy medium of live music and proof that our rock gods are just like us—but cooler and awaiting a helicopter to take them up to Woodstock (so yes, I am a fan of “Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out.”) But McFadyen/Dunn have given this up and thrown the “Behind the Music” idea out the window, focusing instead of letting music speak for the band, its fans and a who’s who of other musicians that love them; in the case of Rush, we’re given affidavits from Jack Black, Sebastian Bach (“I was the number three member of Rush’s Backstage Club!”) Gene Simmons, Matt Stone and countless other producers, musicians and pop culture kingmakers (i.e. Stephen Colbert) showcase that we’re not just dealing with a famous band. But they’re a band that helped crate a new brand of listener: the dedicated geek.
At least, that’s the intended goal throughout this film. Rush doesn’t need a new fan, but vice versa; in our current pop culture climate where being a nerd is now cool, Rush helped pioneer literary references and sprawling fantasy concepts so bands like Coheed and Cambria could produce a comic book based on their entire song catalog. Likewise, Rush are a power trio that continuously tweak their sound, their voice and their image for people—ok, mainly guys—to attach to and broaden their view.
Or, you know, maybe we should just plot out our daily lives using roman numerals and pretend we’re Tom Sawyer.