Released November 10, 1998
3 hrs, 42 min, 44 sec
By 1997, Rush’s successful Test for Echo tour had concluded, and the band took a break to unwind from the tour. Test for Echo, being Rush’s sixteenth studio album, would almost certainly be followed by a live album documenting the tour, as was the traditional Rush release schedule (studio album → studio album → studio album → studio album → live album → repeat). However, just a month after the conclusion of the tour, tragedy struck, and the band very nearly broke up forever.
On August 10, 1997, Neil Peart’s 19-year-old daughter Selena was killed in a car accident. His only daughter at the time, both Peart and his common-law wife, Jacqueline, were devastated, and all work on Rush completely ceased. Just ten months later, on June 20, Jacqueline died of cancer, and what Peart attributed to a “broken heart.” He called it “a slow suicide by apathy. She just didn’t care.”
These two events caused Peart to almost completely shut down, and at his wife’s funeral, he informed bandmates Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee that he was done, telling them to “consider [him] retired.” Peart then took several years to himself, embarking on a cross-country road trip on his motorcycle, chronicling the experience in his first book Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road. Lifeson and Lee, thus, were left to put together a live album on their own, without any input from Peart, forced to operate under the assumption that the live album would be Rush’s final release.
Even given this, the album is much like other Rush live albums, in that it is built around the Test for Echo set list. However, there are some gems – in particular, a full-length live recording of “2112” is included, representing the only tour in which the song was played start-to-end without anything cut out of it. And, of course, several songs from Test for Echo itself are represented, also being the only tour in which any song from that album (save for “Resist”) were played in a live setting. These quirks make Different Stages a distinct and essential live release, even though it closed out the overall forgettable 1990s in Rush’s musical catalogue.
Then there’s the added gem of a third disc, containing a complete performance from the A Farewell To Kings tour of 1978, leaving the listener with one last glimpse of early Rush before a four-year hiatus from any sort of musical work.
While Peart traveled on his own to figure out how to move on in his life, Lee and Lifeson separately recorded solo albums, neither of which established them as bona fide solo artists. However, by 2000, Peart had met someone new, who helped him put his life back together, and by 2001, he approached his bandmates and announced that, finally, he was ready to return to Rush and get back into the swing of things. For the time being, at least, all was well once more.