2112 is considered the album that established Rush but it didn’t do the job alone. They were not a singles band so they couldn’t count on radio to carry them up the charts. Instead, they found success the way a lot of rock bands did at the time: on the road, winning listeners over concert by concert. Rush toured relentlessly in their early days, a process that really wouldn’t start to slow down until the mid-’80s, and their work ethic as a live band is what gave them a sturdy commercial base. All The World’s A Stage was the first of what would be several live albums for the group and it captures the raw power of their early road-dog days in all its hard-riffing, drum-bashing heavy-prog glory.
Like all the great live albums of the ’70s, All The World’s A Stage was a two-disc affair. The first side offers Rush’s hard rock side in a series of concentrated doses, starting with a one-two punch of “Bastille Day” and “Anthem” that show off their power-trio theatrics and ability to navigate tricky arrangements without ever letting the intensity flag. You also get a fun medley of “Fly By Night” and “In The Mood” that craftily segues together two of the pop-hookiest early Rush tunes and a taut rendition of “Something For Nothing” that leans into the song’s dynamics. Side two starts in a low-key fashion with a suitably mellow rendition of nostalgic ballad “Lakeside Park” but quickly catches fire with an abridged, nearly 16-minute rendition of “2112” (only the “Oracle” section is dropped). Hearing this suite live allows you to appreciate how the band created an epic that showed off their chops and supported their prog-rock ambitions yet was also streamlined, cohesive and layered with catchy themes (kind of like The Who’s Tommy).
The second disc is primarily concerned with epics. Side three starts with a fire-breathing rendition of fantasy fave “By-Tor And The Snow Dog,” It extends the song’s running time nearly 50 percent but never feels bloated because the band’s showmanship is on point and there’s a giddiness to how they explore this piece’s many textures. A similarly extended version of the Zeppelin-esque heavy ballad “In The Mood” follows and it achieves a lovely mix of moody sweep and steamy hard rock. Listen for how Peart adds interesting little percussive flourishes in its second half. The album’s final side returns to their early days with material from the first album but adds the heavy-prog verve they had developed with drummer/lyricist Neil Peart. A medley of “Working Man” and “Finding My Way” retains the riff-happy hard rock of the originals but adds a new, tighter dynamic to its rhythms and lots of percussive flourishes. It also boasts the first version of a drum solo that Peart would sculpt and rework over the years. The double album closes with “What You’re Doing,” which has mutated from a midtempo Zep-cruiser into a molten stomper that rolls over your eardrums like a Panzer.
The band would later critique All The World’s A Stage for its raw sound but the mix, masterminded by Terry Brown, feels spot-on for the hard rock-driven approach of the band’s early era. The result is rich in atmosphere, putting you right in the center of audience as a young, hungry band roars through its repertoire with energy and adventurousness. When you listen, stick around until the final seconds for a sweet little sonic Easter egg that shows the band literally closing the door on this era and gearing up for proggier adventures to come.