Live rock albums are tricky to pull off perfectly.
Without the visceral thrill of being there in person, the at-home concert experience is often like buying a souvenir to a vacation you didn’t take. Without the benefit of studio quality and control, blemishes in performance are also often left in plain view. Then again, overdubbing and post-production feel inauthentic — like Photoshopping a spur-of-the-moment selfie.
Rush‘s catalog illuminates these never-ending debates. It’s challenging to rank their 11 official live LPs, partly because the criteria is so slippery. Should we penalize sloppy playing, or does that looseness add to the charm? If a concert recording rises to studio-level polish, does that make it redundant?
For many fans, Rush’s formidable skills were most evident in person, with the prog legends — singer-bassist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and late drummer Neil Peart — embracing their status as the last great power trio. They were no jam band, but Rush’s songs often expanded with subtle new riffs and flourishes. And it was always a marvel to watch them pull off such complicated songs with only three people, Lee alternating fluidly between bass and synth.
They recorded some fascinating, if flawed, live documents — from Rush’s raw 1976 debut, All the World’s a Stage, up through 2015’s R40 Live, which captured their final tour. We aimed to examine these LPs from every angle, striking a balance between sound quality, energy, strength of performance and uniqueness of set, as you’ll see in the below list of Rush Live Albums Ranked Worst to Best.