Number three on the countdown towards Neil Peart's best solo is "O Baterista" from the Vapor Trails tour, as presented on the Rush in Rio CD and DVD. This performance occurred at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on November 23nd, 2002.
I know what you may be thinking. "Grammy excellence and Rush? Who cares?" The two have not really fared well with each other. Rush has been nominated several times for their instrumentals, and lost. But this is the first time Neil's solo was nominated. How many solos are nominated for a Grammy? At least it's not the majority. As much as Rush fans don't care very much for these types of accolades, the big wigs at the Grammys found this solo to be worthy of nomination. That just means that this solo has mass appeal, beyond even the casual Rush fan. And that's worthy of note. Can't say that about any of the other solos in the countdown! I'm certain that Rush themselves appreciate the recognition too.
This solo really is a complete 180º from the previous solo, chronologically speaking. "The Rhythm Method" (TRM) from Different Stages, as mentioned previously, most likely was not Neil's best night on that tour (at least in my eyes), and finished last in this countdown. The other solos in the countdown had few errors, if any, whereas TRM 1998 had, well, a little more than a few. It seemed like Neil analyzed his solo and really scrutinized where he could improve, and he accomplished that with aplomb. Also, it is well chronicled the very painful trials and tribulations Neil went through after the Test for Echo tour, and all wondered if the band would ever even consider playing again. But play they did - it was a sensational tour.
In the Anatomy of a Drum Solo DVD (gee, we always seem to go back to that, don't we? Fitting!), Neil mentioned that that night in Rio 'became a totally transcendent experience where the band and himself and the drum solo elevated to a previously unattained level'. I would have to concur with him! Such a great DVD (Rush in Rio), great crowd, great musicianship by all three members. And the drum solo was no exception. You'd think that they would at least look tired, being this the last show of the tour. But apparently, they saved the best for last.
We mentioned at the onset that this solo has mass appeal. And it did right from the start. It looked as though Neil was very happy to be there - he didn't seem as stern-looking as usual. It was such a crisp, tight, and articulate solo - yet another flawless performance. Although it showcased many of the signature Peart fills, the 'beat' of the solo was more, well, danceable! Mostly towards the beginning of the solo, you could see the crowd clapping and dancing to the beat of the solo, more so than in any other solo in the countdown (this crowd also sang "YYZ", so that may have something to do with it [nothing wrong with that!]). There were several different patterns and fills that were not played on other solos (and weren't played again), which make this solo very unique.
The 'dancing snare' at the beginning had some rhythmic patterns that are unique to this solo, in addition to the sound effects that he incorporated in it as well. The single stroke rolls were very fast and precise, unfaltering. Here's what I mean:
A signature of Neil's later solos is when he's just playing randomly across the whole kit over a sustained 'the drum also waltzes' pattern. This allows him to vary his solo night after night to make it interesting for him (and for the fans!). Interestingly, in the aforementioned DVD Anatomy of a Drum Solo Neil mentions that it was during this time period where he finally was free of time, that he could play over that sustained waltz pattern an array of different time signatures, be it 4/4, 7/8 (and other signatures, be it implied or inferred), or even, as displayed on the solos, completely random. He had already done this in previous solos, but I guess at this time is when he got completely comfortable with it. I've tried this myself. Let's just say quite bluntly that I can't, so I won't! It's amazing how well Neil pulls this off. But on this occasion, more than any other I think, as much as he tries to randomize the tom-striking, a pattern seemingly emerges. The next clip takes place during the waltz pattern right after he throws off the snares (I just love how he does this so inconspicuously, during solos and songs - you have to pay attention if you want to catch it!) During the clip he starts off very randomly, but from about the middle to the end erupts a beautiful pattern, almost as if he can't help it!
The 'floating snare' technique (I guess you could call it a technique) has become a staple of Neil's solos as of late. In this solo, however, it doesn't float, it drives - hard. The next clip displays how the snare not only floats, but is very prominently in the forefront. Not only that, but what I call the 'magic drum', although prominent throughout the whole concert, is played very pronouncedly in this section. It's the 9x13 tom. I'm not sure if it was because there was no sound check, but this is the sweetest (and fattest) sounding tom in all of the solos! I just love it.
What Neil Peart solo would be complete without the 'chaotic organization' section? The following clip contains the last part of the "Pieces of Eight" section (which we've heard before on the countdown). What's unique about this section is the 'stop-and-go' nature of it. I love it when Neil's flailing away on the drums and then out of nowhere suddenly stops - then flailingly starts right up again. You'll hear it here. His use of the lower toms here are also very pronounced, and there's even a new cowbell pattern! (There's also another new cowbell pattern later in the solo). Notice also at the end of the clip the bass-splash-snare pattern, which you won't hear on any other solo (at least not that I could tell!).
After a most excellent display of the double-hand crossover pattern (do we ever get tired of seeing that? And thank goodness for those supreme camera angles!), the big band triggers arrive. However, for the first time, Neil plays with the seemingly real big band on the debut of "One O'clock Jump", the shout chorus. Here's another reason why this solo has such mass appeal. Even though Neil played to a big band trigger before, I don't think we ever thought of him playing jazz in a Rush concert until this solo. And he pulled it off big time! The solo went beyond just the drummer - it was grand. Neil became not just the drum soloist, but the big band leader.
All in all, this solo definitely deserves to be rated one of the best. At this level, they're almost interchangeable, and subjectivity starts to get in the way. When this solo came out, I had a hard time convincing myself that any other previously published solo by Neil was better. But now that we have eight, well, as good as this one is, it ranks at number three.
I believe this solo to be better than the previously rated Exit... Stage Left (ESL) "YYZ" solo at number four, because after all is said and done "O Baterista" is more dynamic, more varied, and appeals to a wider audience due to its diversity. The ESL solo was very linear, the best that could be done going in that direction. "O Baterista" has more height, width, and depth, if you will. If this were a boxing match, the ESL solo would be pounding "O Baterista" in the early rounds, but the latter would eventually win by points (be it by unanimous or split decision!).
However, as good as this solo is, the two remaining have something more going for them. Yes, this was a statement solo. Neil was definitely back to stay, and he reminded us why he's one of the best drummers in the world. But the remaining ones are almost epic in their scope. Which one will be number one? How can we justify their positions on the countdown?