Revisiting Rush’s Third Live Album, ‘A Show of Hands’
The '80s were a busy time for Rush, with seven studio albums and a pair of live LPs stuffed into a 10-year span. On Jan. 9, 1989, the band released its second concert recording of the decade, A Show of Hands.
Summing up a prolific run that included the Signals, Grace Under Pressure, Power Windows and Hold Your Fire albums, A Show of Hands found Rush at a crossroads. Although its fans didn't know it yet, the band was preparing to shift away from the relatively keyboard-heavy sound that dominated its '80s output, leaving this collection to serve as a sort of capstone for a chapter in Rush history.
Recorded during the group's tours in support of 1986's Power Windows and 1987's Hold Your Fire, A Show of Hands also caught Rush in a bit of a commercial lull. Although they remained a steady live draw and were certainly one of the bigger rock bands on the planet, Hold Your Fire had proven something of a sales disappointment for the group, breaking a string of platinum records that stretched back more than a decade. Like Fire, Hands enjoyed a respectable-but-not-spectacular showing on the charts, peaking at No. 21 and selling more than half a million copies.
As they'd done with their previous live release, 1981's Exit ... Stage Left, Rush released a video to complement A Show of Hands, drawing footage from the U.K. shows sourced for the record and packing on some extra tracks to round out the expanded 90-minute running time. And just as they'd done in '81, when they released Exit along with the Moving Pictures album, Rush served up a double dose of new product in 1989: On Nov. 21, less than a year after A Show of Hands arrived in stores, they returned with their 13th studio LP, Presto.
"I think it's an honest album," mused guitarist Alex Lifeson after A Show of Hands, reflecting on how the band wanted to find a happy medium between the slickly produced Exit ... Stage Left and the rawer sound of their first live album, 1976's All the World's a Stage. "A lot of the live albums you hear are 50 percent live and 50 percent repair jobs in the studio. Fortunately, we didn't have to worry about that. We spent weeks going through the material, picking the songs and the best parts, getting all the right stuff. To me, it sounds like a live album, it's got that atmosphere to it."