By: Skip Daly
As a lifelong Rush fan and a nascent (“wanna-be”) drummer, it was with no small level of excitement that I popped in the new Neil Peart instructional DVD, Taking Center Stage. With a track listing comprised of Rush’s 2010/2011 “Time Machine” tour set list, which featured the entire Moving Pictures album, this release is a fulfillment of many Rush fans’ long-held wishes, as it offers a chance to see what Peart is actually doing on many classic Rush songs. This quality package was obviously assembled with tender-loving care and great attention to detail, and includes interview segments (set against the beautiful backdrop of Death Valley) wherein Peart is prompted to expound on his approach to live performance and other topics by Hudson Music’s Joe Bergamini. An accomplished drummer in his own right (and a long-time Rush fan), Bergamini does an excellent job in coaxing out the kind of details and insight that Peart fans will lap up.
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Each discussion is followed by rehearsal performances of the pertinent parts, and then a full-on live performance of the song with video from the drum cameras only and a special drum-heavy live mix. With a running time of 7 hours, 37 minutes, this 3-DVD set is best viewed in pieces. As one might imagine, the coverage is fairly thorough, and there is a plethora of interesting trivia nuggets dispersed throughout. Peart not only discusses the various elements involved in live performance, but invariably gets drawn into discussions about the origins and inspirations behind certain structural elements in the songs themselves. I particularly enjoyed where he explains how the arrangement of “The Spirit Of Radio” was deliberately intended to simulate the feel of a listener flipping around the radio dial and coming across punk, rock, new wave, reggae, etc. Still, the really die-hard Rush fans shouldn’t expect answers to every question (I remain curious as to why the snare figure leading into the first chorus of “Marathon” was changed on this last tour, but thankfully it doesn’t keep me awake at night).
Truth be told…while there is certainly a bounty of good things to be learned about “live performance” from this release, the real focus here is on pulling back the curtain to reveal the details in Peart’s performance of Rush songs. It is possible that drummers who are only casual Rush fans might have difficulty with the length of the program, though this package may also serve as a gateway to “converting” them – it could go either way. One thing that shines through above all else is Peart’s commitment to his craft, and his intense discipline toward the goal of making sure that every beat is correct. Aside from his obvious technical proficiency in being able to pull off this kind of playing (night after night), the level of detail in the drum arrangements is mind-blowing. Peart once described performing a Rush show as being akin to “running a marathon while solving equations”. This DVD provides a view into what that actually looks like up close.
Read Peart’s own description of how the project came to be in his write-up, which you can read here, and be sure to check out www.TakingCenterStage.net for (among other things) Joe Bergamini’s enjoyable four-part write-up on the “Making Of” this DVD.