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Neil Peart Solo Number One – Snakes and Arrows, 2008

by Omar on April 21, 2009

in Drummers, Editorials

source:  Snakes & Arrows Live DVD

source: Snakes & Arrows Live DVD


Well here it is.  We've been waiting a long time for this, and now it's here!  The number one solo on the Neil Peart solos countdown is "De Slagwerker"* from Snakes and Arrows Live, 2008. This performance occurred on October 16th (or 17th), 2007 at the Ahoy in Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Why do I feel that this solo is an 'arrival', of sorts, for Neil?  Because both chronologically and artistically, to me this is the solo that Neil has been striving for his whole career.   All the other solos prepared him for this one.

The previous solos were very similar to each other in some form or fashion.  But even though this solo is unquestionably Neil, he introduces new patterns, triggers, and arrangements that are unique to this solo.  In the Anatomy of a Drum Solo DVD, Neil stated the following (very important!):

"I'm not going to go through and demonstrate and tell anyone how to play my solo.  The point is really just to help inspire you to play your solo, find your voice, and by example show where some of my tools and concepts have come from, and trigger your own imagination."

By golly, Neil took his own advice!  He's always mentioned that he analyzes the solo from the previous tour, and sees if there's still something there that he wants to 'say', or expand on a concept that he feels hasn't completed fruition.  Well not only did he do that in this solo, he also drew inspiration on how to develop the new solo for the Snakes and Arrows tour, found his own voice, dug into his tools and concepts, and let all this trigger his imagination.  What resulted was a solo that has power, grace, complexity, comedy, restraint, serenity, and is downright fun to listen to!

There are so many changes and variations in this solo, but at the same time it seems fluid and logical.  It really feels like every strike is deliberate and has a purpose.  Several sections had Neil strike the skins with such force, such as in the beginning, then after he engages the snares on his snare drum, with some stop and go patterns, and then during the big band trigger before "Cotton Tail".  And speaking of that, it was nice for Neil to vary the jazz section at the end of the solo (will he change it again next tour?).

When I heard this solo for the first time, I was mesmerized.  There were just certain sections where I wondered, "How is he doing that?", for example, that drum pattern right before the cowbell section (which was a totally new arrangement also).  This solo was refreshingly new.  There were familiar parts, but they took a backseat to the new ones.  Also, I heard no missed strikes - the solo flowed unobtrusively.

I also think that Neil stepped away a little from a comfort zone of sorts.  There were many new parts in this solo, which I'll highlight shortly.  The signature fills were there, but the new parts definitely stole the show.  The familiar patterns complemented, rather than overtook, the new ones.

And now, on to the stellar clips from the solo.

Many solos before this one included Neil playing his toms in a random fashion over a driving 'drum also waltzes' beat with bass drum and hi-hat.  This time around Neil uses a different pattern.  Instead of the usual 3/4 pattern of the waltz, he's playing the random toms over an upbeat 4/4 pattern#.  You could sum up the four beats in the pattern this way:

  1. Bass drum 16th note
  2. Hi-hat 8th note
  3. Nothing struck
  4. Hi-hat 16th note

The above differs from the waltz pattern, which are quarter notes in a 3/4 pattern.  The above beats are repeated over and over during the beginning phase of the solo.  You'll also notice that Neil's hitting those lower toms with authority. This is one of those spots where the aforementioned power is being used.  Here's a sample of the beginning of the solo:

New Random Toms Underlying Beat

Next clip is one that has me confused to this day.  It's like he's picking a sloppy pattern out of thin air, completely random, just to go into a beautifully organized (and somewhat comedic) cowbell pattern.  And dare I say, do I hear a variation of the paradiddle in there?

Unexplainable Pattern & New Cowbell Lick

Next clip we've heard before.  Way back at #7 on the countdown we introduced the double-handed crossover pattern.  Each time Neil played it subsequently, it was very aggressive.  However, I don't know if it's just me, but this time around it feels like Neil's holding back the power a little bit.  But I like it!  Even with a familiar pattern Neil finds something different to do with it.  You can tell more in the video than in the audio-only version.  And if you think I'm just hearing things, explain to me how the tone of the snare goes down towards the last second of the pattern?

Restrained Double-handed Crossover

Now we really start to go where no Neil has gone before!  Again, we have something old, something new.  We've all heard Momo's Dance Party a bunch of times, but never like this!  Seems like the party got raided by machine gun totin' intruders!  They join the party, and what results is a fiesta of all sorts of machine gun sounds (and all sorts of other sounds that I can't recognize).  I don't know how Neil came up with this idea, but it's fascinating.  The different patterns, random and yet organized, he comes up with here are simply spectacular.  This section of the solo is one reason why, to me, Neil is truly a unique soloist.

Machine Guns at Momo's Dance Party

No modern day Neil Peart solo would be complete without some form of "The Drum Also Waltzes".  Oh it's included in this solo, but yet again, something old, something new.  For the first time that I recall, Neil uses his waltz pattern on the electronic kit instead of the acoustic one.  Not only that, but he creates a sort of dreamy, walking through the pastures-type waltz that takes you to some serene place you just can't make out where.  It is so creative, so out of the blue.  It's amazing he remembers what each drum and cymbal sounds like.  I think Dancing With the Stars could actually use this in one of their routines!  But I digress.  Here's the clip of the dreamy waltz:

A Waltz, Perchance to Dream

The familiar theme of 'something old, something new' pops up yet again towards the end of the solo, with a new big band arrangement.  This one has Neil again striking the lower toms very hard, sort of the antithesis of jazz, with all its intricacies and nuances.  Neil just slams it in your face.  Oh well, I'll take it!

New Big Band Arrangement

And finally, Neil finishes off with "Cotton Tail", which he performed on the Burning for Buddy tribute, which again, is different from previous tours.

The very first time I heard this solo, I thought, "My goodness, this might be Neil's best solo ever!"  I had that feeling then.  I had heard by then the Counterparts tour solo, which is one of my favorites, and the YYZ solo from Exit... Stage Left, which is a huge favorite among Rush fans (me included!).  But in my [humble] opinion, this solo tops them all.  It really does have a little bit of everything, many totally new patterns and sounds, new arrangements, new time measures - it just has a little bit more than the rest of the solos do.

I had the privilege of seeing them during the second leg of the Snakes and Arrows tour in Atlanta (Alpharetta), GA on July 22nd, 2008 at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre at Encore Park (chronicled in my review of the DVD).  I thought the solo Neil performed that night was the best I've ever seen him.  Ever. In fact, I was thinking the same thing about the entire band, and wondering, "How do these guys still do this?"

As of today, from what Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee have said in the press, it looks like Rush will eventually write new material, and tour again.  As for me, I'll look forward to that.  But this time, I'll try to get the best seat I can, so I can view one of the greatest soloists to ever don the drum kit.  Congratulations, Mr. Peart, on an outstanding career as a soloist, and in achieving legend status as a drummer.  Your refusal to play mere rudiments and flashy displays of chops (even though you incorporate those as well!) has given your fans a plethora of solos that we can enjoy, depending on our mood!   You've left us complex solos to dissect and analyze, and continue to wonder, "How the heck did he do that?!"

"De Slagwerker", Neil Peart's best published solo ever.  What's next?  I can't wait to see!

Number 2


*This solo clocks in at eight minutes, two seconds
#Many thanks to Nate Sanders of the band Kadense for helping me sort out the musical notation of these solo parts.  You can check out his bio and of the rest of the band at the Kadense official web site

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Raven Storm October 26, 2010 at 2:34 am

You’re right about the snare tone… Strange! Can you change the tone by striking at a different angle?

Great article!


Mark March 5, 2010 at 9:08 pm

Thanks for the great information. I have a troubling comment about this new trend—that the faster you play, the better. I find this strange because most of these “fast drummers” have no compositional style; also, their solos are only 2 minutes at most. Mr Peart conducts a two-hour show, THEN DOES HIS 9-MINUTE SOLO, WITH 45 MINUTES AFTER. Could you comment on where this “Fast” mentality came from? Also, do you agree that Mr Peart and Tony Williams are reincarnations of one another, even if in two different genres?


Omar March 5, 2010 at 9:46 pm

Hi Mark.

Great comments! Let’s see if we can break it down a little bit.

I’m not sure that the trend of ‘faster is better’ is necessarily a bad thing. Yes, there are drummers that are very, very fast, yet they lack in the compositional aspect. However, if this ‘trend’ happens long enough, enough drummers notice and start to add composition to their solos. So in the end, the drumming community is better for it, because both speed and composition may start to merge more. I just recently (as of this comment) attended a drum clinic put on by Marco Minnemann, and he is now on my short list of favorite drummers, precisely because of his ability of compositional soloing while playing incredibly fast. I suggest you look into this drummer more, as an example, to see if you agree with me. I’ll be writing a full review of the event soon, so stay tuned (better yet, if you subscribe to my newsletter, you’ll be notified when the article is up). Also, check out what I had to say about Glen Kotche and his solo “Monkey Chant”, in the second article reviewing the Modern Drummer Festival 2006.

I echo your sentiments about Neil Peart. Amazing that he can play with all that intensity and concentration, for three hours actually, and put on such a creative solo to boot. He’s certainly not a ‘spring chicken’ anymore; can’t wait to see what he does next!

As far as Neil Peart = Tony Williams, well, I’ll have to look into that. I haven’t had the chance to explore Tony Williams’ playing in too much detail, but from what I’ve heard from him he is phenomenal. Maybe you can comment on the similarities you see (I’d love to hear it!).

Drum on!


Mark March 5, 2010 at 11:11 pm

Thanks for the reply, and the clarification. I agree with you about the “speed and compositional” aspects, so long as one is part of the other. My point was that drummers (from my readings) are being judged solely on how fast they can drum; but I could be wrong.

I know of Marco. He’s unique. Anyone who can do a time check with the Buddy Rich Band MUST BE AMAZING.

Just watch Tony Williams http://www.drummerworld.com/Videos/tonywilliamsnewyork1.html by copying this link. Close your eyes and it is Peart. Unfortunately, we lost this great talent in 1997.

Anyway, I’ll certainly keep an open mind. By the way, the drum set that Peart used on the Snakes and Arrows tour was actually mine. I had one that looked exactly like it and he stole it out of my studio. (I wish).


Bill September 17, 2009 at 12:04 pm

Finally some one who really understand how intesnse this band is
I got into Rush during the prerelease of Permanent Waves
The funny thing was, that only two day before I heard that release on WLIR long island radio way back in the 70’s
I had a friend of mine who was an avid guitar player tell me of this mindblowing band from Canada they were called RUSH then I heard PW and have never gone back. There are other good bands but nothing like Rush at this point I have seen over 25-30 shows and love them more after each show. One last point for snakes I went with my exwife and I knew at that show it was going to be the last thing I ever really did with her and the show was amazing It was a fitting end to the hell she put me through and the rebirth I have experienced since my liberation. She liked Rush but did not really understand the significance of the band or their music. The best solo I ever saw was on Grace under pressure in the meadowlands Neil threw the sticks spinning all the way up to the lights and caught each one and never missed a beat… Musically I thought the solo from hold your fire was amazing. that was due to the fact I had tickets on the side right next to Neil maybe only fifty feet from him… By the way I hope he continues to grace us with his unequalled gift…

Cowabunga to Neil the Professor
Bill_Orova aka by-tor


Henk van der Tas June 23, 2009 at 5:37 pm

Nice article. Good explanations with the right samples. I’m happy having witnessed the concert in Rotterdam. Honestly I expected the solo of ESL was going to be the number one. At that time (beginning eighties) drummers hadn’t have the advance of instruments they have today.
Anyway, hopefully we will enjoy more solos of Neil in the future.
Can’t wait for a ninth one!


Omar June 23, 2009 at 5:48 pm

Hello Henk.

Thanks very much for reading! A pleasure to hear from someone who was at the Rotterdam show! Yes, many expected the ESL solo to be #1. Before I started this project, even I thought it would be #1 (or #2). But after hearing them all carefully, I came up with the order you see here. Of course, I had to back up my reasons, and that was hard!

Indeed, can’t wait for the ninth one. Where would it fit in the list? We’ll just have to wait and see. Anyway, thanks again for reading, and stay tuned!


Mark - Total Drums April 22, 2009 at 8:43 am


Nice article. Neil Peart’s drum solo’s are just out of this world. Full of creative ideas and super technique.



Omar April 22, 2009 at 10:49 am

Hi Mark.

Thanks for the comments! I like the variety Neil uses in his solos. It’s not just a clinic; they tell stories, they say something. Different emotions. It was a lot of fun putting these articles together.

Please keep coming back!


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