Review: Neil Peart Taking Center Stage: A Lifetime of Live Performance. 3-DVD set (Hudson Music). A film about a journey to the heart of the drumming experience.

Taking Center Stage: Neil Peart, review

The drum community is healthier for the release of this lavish triple-DVD package portraying Neil Peart at home—in the recording studio, rehearsal studio, back stage, center stage, and on his motorcycle descending into Death Valley. Obviously comfortable in his surroundings, the hugely popular drummer/composer in the long standing rock trio Rush speaks candidly and unloads a wealth of musical detail, practical drumming tips, and personal revelations, some of them jolters. All this for under thirty dollars, if you shop here. When you buy Taking Center Stage you’ll immediately appreciate that this is not your ordinary drum instructional DVD.  Obviously, a whole lot of time, money, and mobilization of scarce resources went into this, to borrow from Billy Ward, movie.

Neil is ever steered by vigilant co-producer Joe Bergamini, whose research, well-paced interview questions, and persistent follow-ups steer a potential vanity project into a  serious documentary. Would that more drum videos aspire to this lofty level; everything is top shelf, from videography to production values to provocative content that will draw seasoned drummers like flies to a porch light yet remain amenable to hobbyists.

This is due, in no small measure, to the willingness of a drummer of Peart’s stature, customarily cloaked in secrecy, to get naked in public and examine the bits and pieces in forensic detail that distinguish the career musician from the caterer, admitting the good, the bad, and that which he knew he must change.  Indeed, there’s something here for everybody: Rush fans, Peart aficionados, serious drummers hoping for inspiration, and even Peart naysayers. Aside from Neil’s candid, blatantly truthful account of how he made and continues to shape his drumming contributions in the context of a band that appears to be a model of democracy, there’s enough pure entertainment value to put this one at the top of Christmas lists from Denver to Dubrovnik. Peart observers and detractors alike will take heed of the peeling of the layers that comprise a Peart drum part, and will want to watch him perform all those old (and new)Rush hits with enthusiasm. No one will be aggrieved for his attitude or playing, neither in the spirit or the flesh.

Listen, if you’re still after more info by the time you’ve viewed these 3 disks, which take you from tuning to hitting to backstage to center stage to reflecting in hotel rooms and venturing into purple valleys, you need a shrink. Take two of these, you’re over the top. You need to do as Peart has done and ride that motorcycle to smack into some dust bowl that envelops you and puts things right. Only then will you be ready to achieve success and longevity in this tenuous business. I’ve never listened to Rush much but I respect greatly Peart’s stance, namely that we ought to seek knowledge: to serve our agenda and for its own sake. And if something resonates contrary to our druthers, then take another look across the floor and walls of Death Valley and be humbled sufficiently to effect major change. This is how careers are built and sustained.

Another important aspect of Center Stage is the tug of war we’re privy to—Peart’s deliberations on his stated mandate to compose drum parts vs his gnawing urge to toss the script and improvise. There’s enough footage and reflection on this alone to keep you busy for a day or ten. In fact, I suggest you park yourself in front of a big-ass plasma screen three nights running (I house-sat for my neighbor to ensure access) and do one disk at a time. I say “running” because I made good use of my neighbor’s exercise machine.

Taking Center Stage is an exhaustive examination of Peart/Rush drumming, from conception to fruition. It’s autobiography and biography. It’s music history and drum lessons and sage wisdom. It’s also a statement on the lifespan of passion and how no serious musician ever retires, dies, or fades away. Anyone who rags on Neil Peart would be best to sit down and view all three disks in their entirety, as I did, before sniping from a distance.  And distance is the operative word, given that for 30 years Peart has patiently paced the path (or cycled it) to the heart and the home of  the drumming experience, which, it turns out,  has no fixed address.

Taking Center Stage Neil Peart is a masterful piece of work in scope, intent, and content. I wonder, would the Queen consider knighting a couple of Yankees, not account of Center Stage alone but for a decades-in-the-making rich catalog of videos and films that serve the music community? If so, lets recommend Rob and Paul,founders of Hudson Music, with a nod to Joe Bergamini, who, if I may be so bold as to sit a moment in judgement, seems to be coming into his own. Okay, so not the knighthood…maybe an honorary OBE, you know like The Beatles?