In determining the order in which these solos should be listed, the inevitable happens: one of them has to be last! This is a 'worst to first' list, unavoidably; but seriously, are any of them bad? No! However, one of them has to be last, so at number eight in our countdown is the solo that appeared on Different Stages in 1998 for the Test for Echo tour. Although the CD came out in 1998, this particular solo was recorded in the World Amphitheatre in Chicago, IL on June 14th, 1997.
It may come as a shock that one of the relatively newer solos (chronologically four come before this one) comes in last in this countdown. But as I scrutinized all of the solos, there were some subtleties in this solo that made it stand out, but in a negative way.
But first the positive! One thing I have to say is that Neil's drums on this CD sounded excellent, arguably the best of the bunch. The snare drum had a 'fat' but well defined pop, and the response during the solo was very articulate. I think we have to give kudos to drum tech Larry Allen for helping in getting the best sound out of this kit. The electronics sounded great as well, especially the thunderous bangs during the first part of the solo.
But the real test comes in comparing this solo to the others. The one word I would use to describe this solo is sluggish. It seems like he never really picked up speed after he transitioned to each section of the solo. For example, most of Neil's solos start with the drum roll on the snare. Whereas most of the time the rolls are very smooth, on this solo they seemed a little choppy. Here are a couple of sample comparisons of the drum roll from the Counterparts tour vs. the one on Different Stages:
The sample from Counterparts is flawlessly smooth, whereas on Different Stages, it was less so.
Some of the solo parts that Neil tends to repeat in other solos were somewhat slower in this one. For example, in comparing the second pass of 'Pieces of Eight', in Different Stages it's slower (to the point of sounding almost lethargic), than in, say, the R30 version, which was some eight years later.
Not only that, but in the subsequent sections, the solo lacks a sort of explosiveness and creativity that are found in the other solos. After the 'Scars' section and upon returning to the acoustic kit, it seems that the solo just linearly drags to the end. And then, expectedly, the big band is triggered, similar to before.
Now it may sound like I'm being very harsh on Neil, but I'm really not! If this was the only solo Rush put out to the public, it would be sensational. The problem is that we've been spoiled with even greater performances! I'm not sure if Neil had a say as to which solo from the Test for Echo tour he would have wanted included on Different Stages. To me, this was an off night for him. Yes, per the band members, that night in Chicago was an exceptionally good show, hence the inclusion of many songs from that show on this compilation. I just think there may have been another solo from the tour that was better.
In addition, if I'm going to place any of Neil's solos at the bottom, I better have solid reasons for putting it there! So I've presented them here; now it's your turn to speak up. In the meantime, number seven will be coming up shortly, so watch out for that. Drum while you wait!
Intro | Number 7