The End of an Era
Number two on the countdown towards Neil Peart's best solo is from the Counterparts tour. This performance occurred on March 27th, 1994 at The Palace of Auburn Hills in Michigan.
Well, obviously we now know which solo is number one, but that's all I'm going to say about it at this point! It's time to give this solo its due. We got very, very lucky that this performance was included in the Anatomy of a Drum Solo instructional DVD. This undoubtedly was one of Neil's best performances on a solo, for the reasons we'll discuss shortly.
Neil is a solo machine. He's performed thousands of solos, and all of them are different. From what he's explained to us in copious detail, although there are some elements in his solos throughout a particular tour that remain constant, the other parts are random. This allows him to not get bored night after night performing the same solo, because, in fact, they're not the same. This countdown singles out eight of the best solos, the ones that encapsulate the essence of a Neil Peart solo, and how they've progressed in complexity throughout the years.
Due to the above, Rush fans, and more specifically fans of the drumming of Rush, always crave new material. When the band releases a CD, they gobble that up, and then the band goes on tour. We've been fortunate lately that Rush has been publishing a CD/DVD of their concerts, so bootlegging may not be as 'glamorous' as it used to be. But back then, videos (VHS mostly) and cassettes, LP's and the like, would leak to hungry fans wanting access to out-of-reach performances. I never bought any of these myself (really, I didn't!), but if someone already had access to these recordings, you know I wanted to hear and/or see it! One of these just happened to be the entire show on the date above. I missed that tour. My brother and a friend went to the show, and boy was I depressed! They were rubbing it in as to how 'The Boys' played exceptionally well. Counterparts is one of my favorite Rush albums, and it must have been incredible to witness this tour.
But now we have a solo from that tour where Neil definitely had it that night. He was simply awesome, and his solo from start to finish was a phenomenal display of technique, control, creativity, and balance. It was amazing to see, in this video, how 'all over the place' he was playing, and absolutely did not miss a beat. This solo is everything the previous solos were, while encompassing elements of future solos, without overdoing it. The solo clocks in at about 7:15, which is just long enough to contain, well, a little bit of everything. The video quality is not that good, and the video producers took certain liberties in the presentation (like the fast in and out zooming, which was a little annoying at times, but mostly amusing), but the solo more than made up for those minor inconveniences.
You really have to see the solo to really appreciate it. Neil dominates the kit. Yes, he always does. But it seemed like he wasn't thinking at all - it was instinctual. Any of the other solos we see you may surmise that he's thinking at some point. But not this one. He's in absolute, complete control. From the look on his face throughout, it seemed like he was feeling the solo more than he was thinking it. This allowed it to have a fluid, organic feel. Even the electronic parts, when he switched to the back kit, seemed very smooth and not choppy. The transitions between movements were fast and not drawn out, like some of the longer solos in this countdown. For everything we know about his solos before and after, the length of this one is perfect.
It was a little difficult to pick sound bites from this solo to present here because, basically, we've heard many of them on previous solos in the countdown. But some are worth noting anyway, because he does them better here than in some of the other solos.
This is the first solo chronologically where Neil employs the waltz pattern. Even though this pattern is relatively new for him, the tom combinations he plays over the pattern is one of the best, if not the best 'drum also waltzes' piece of all of his solos. Observe also the 'crazy tom' combination towards the end of the piece. It's one of my favorite passages of all of the solos.
This next clip features the best Pieces of Eight passage of any of the solos, where Neil displays incredible interplay between the snare and toms, while maintaining the driving beat with the bass. First we have a driving beat leading up to it, a beat unique to this solo as well. Then after the Pieces of Eight clip, we have one of Neil's best displays of dominance over his kit: start-stop, splash, toms, cowbells, snare to toms to snare, double-bass, you name it - it's in this clip. Again, one of my favorite passages of all his solos:
A venerable display of bests continue with what I think is the best version of "Momo's Dance Party" and "Scars" of any of the solos on the countdown. You'll notice that it's the fastest version, where you'll be able to sense the urgency. Also, this is the only version of "Scars" (from the solo perspective, of course) where towards the end Neil's playing triplet eighth notes with the bass, instead of the straight fourth notes. What results is a very energetic and engaging electronic kit solo.
Another section in this solo presents us with a unique pattern again not found in any of the other solos. It has to do with alternating floor tom combinations, between the floor toms found to Neil's immediate right and left. I happened to attend the Roll the Bones tour way back on December 10th, 1991, at the Worcester Centrum in Massachusetts. This was the first tour where Neil dropped the second bass drum in lieu of the double-bass pedal. This configuration allowed better room for another floor tom to his left. Very interesting alternating floor tom combinations between the left and right floor toms resulted (as in, for example, Bravado). I specifically remember in the drum solo how, while driving with the snare and bass, he would alternate between the right and left floor toms, which I thought looked and sounded incredible. Well, not only does he repeat it in this solo, he does it at a faster pace, without losing a single beat. He then quickly incorporates the tom toms, alternating between them and the snare in random but organized patterns. Still driving with the basic snare and bass, he then goes into the famous double-handed crossover pattern. A unique cowbell pattern is next, one we won't hear again on any other solo. You'll just have to hear for yourself.
And finally, the big band ending makes its return. We've heard it before in the countdown (at number six, The Rhythm Method on "A Show of Hands"), but this version is hands down the best big band ending, pre-"One O'clock Jump". Besides all the great fills in between the horns, the alternating floor toms return for a big ending.
For a long time, my favorite solo was the "YYZ" solo on Exit... Stage Left (ESL). Once I heard this one, though, my opinion changed. This solo is a grown-up ESL solo. Neil doesn't waste any time transitioning between movements, which makes this solo very efficient. There are many unique patterns in this solo as well. This is an overpowering solo. It's a solo that needs to be viewed as well as heard. You get the full impact of Neil's mastery if you see and hear it.
This is an interesting time in Neil's career. He was at the top of his game. For 30 or so years, and for 20+ years with Rush, he had developed a style, a certain persona, and honed it to its conclusion. In the instructional DVD (originally VHS) A Work In Progress, Neil mentioned that at about this time he was starting to get restless, not in a smug or overconfident way by any means. But he felt that he had taken that style of playing to its conclusion, that this was the best of him. He was somewhat at a crossroads with what he wanted to do next drumming-wise. After learning from his colleague Steve Smith that drumming master Freddie Gruber had helped his drumming immensely (which Neil graciously admitted), he felt it was time for a teacher (that was Freddie!) to help him learn a new approach. Neil basically reinvented himself, incorporating new techniques in drum positioning, more use of the traditional grip, a different view about, for example, the space between the beats, and so on. This 'new' Neil was evident from Test for Echo onward. It was the Neil we knew, with an added dimension.
This is why this solo signified the end of an era. The Neil Peart we knew before Test for Echo was summed up perfectly within the 7:15 of this solo. Neil was a more aggressive drummer before. After Counterparts, he was more melodic, colorful, and inventive. The aggression is there, but only in spots, where it serves the song (or solo!). And to this day, he is a better drummer for it.
Well now we come to it. As good as this solo was, it's not the best. We now know which solo is Neil Peart's number one solo of all. Next installment we'll discuss it in detail. In the meantime, let us know what you think of this solo! Enjoy.
Number 3 | Number 1