posted 03-06-2002 09:02 PM PT (US)
I ran across this whilst looking for stuff about Lifeson on the Internet - pretty well written, I'd say; a good read.
Alex Lifeson - The one and only
by Taishan | Aug 01 '00
So, who would I consider one of the most underrated guitarists? Alex Lifeson. Now, some of you might be thinking, "Who's that?", while others are thinking, "But he isn't underrated." It all depends on the view you take.
First of all, to answer the question of "Who?". Alex Lifeson is the guitarist for a band called Rush. He plays electric, acoustic and classical guitars. With a variety like that, you would be right in assuming that Rush isn't just your typical Rock band. The music can best be labeled under the category of Progressive Rock. Seeing how this area of Rock often goes unnoticed and under appreciated, it's no surprise that Alex Lifeson too has gone unnoticed by several millions of people.
Now, to explain why he is underrated. I mentioned it briefly, Progressive Rock on a whole is a category that has been hidden in the background of mainstream Rock for years. Encompassing groups such as Yes, Jethro Tull, Rush, Queen, Styx, Pink Floyd (partly) up to Dream Theater, this genre of music goes unnoticed for the most part. Yes, the bands are known and the style is easily recognizable, the fact remains however, that with the amount of pure Hard Rock, Heavy Metal, Alternative, etc. around, many of the still existing Progressive Rock bands have never made it into the media's spotlight.
The reason I pick out Lifeson as being one of the most underrated guitarists is that there are only three members to Rush. There's Geddy Lee on bass , keyboards and vocals, Neil Peart on drums and lyricist then there's Alex Lifeson on guitars. The group appeals more to musicians who focus on rhythm and beat, this means the guitar gets left in the background while the bass and drums are the focus on many songs.
When it comes to creativity, Lifeson shows just what he's made of. His rhythm guitar consists of complex riffs, time and key changes, as well as a constantly changing sound. The song, "Spirit of Radio" for example shows how Lifeson can take a segment of a song that many guitarists would just consider a rhythm section and play a chord or two, and change it to become a complicated string of 32nd notes and hammer-downs, repeated in various forms throughout the entire song.
Another technique that Lifeson uses in his playing, that other guitarists either avoid, or use too often, is the use of a whammy bar. It's difficult to describe exactly how he uses this, the best example would perhaps be in the song, "Red Sector A". Whereas most guitarist who use the whammy bar use to accent the notes they play, Lifeson uses it to take the place of the notes he's about to play. To clarify, he might play a chord in one beat, then press the bar down to create the next chord, ease up a bit to create the next one and then play the next one free.
The final, notable style Lifeson uses is minimization. Instead of playing a constant pattern of chords in a song, he might play one every third beat. This shows that he's a well trained and disciplined guitarist. He plays what he feels fits in best with the song, not just for the sake of showing himself off. After all, he gets enough of a chance to do that in his solos.
These are just mind boggling. They're perfectly clear, never a "ghost note" present, always sound as if he knows exactly what he can do with a guitar, stay true to the song and some are just plain weird. One of the most important features is that they stay true to the song. How many times have you heard a guitar solo that went on for 5 minutes without any point to it? Lifeson never plays any of these. Every solo in a song holds a meaning within the songs they're played. "2112" for instance, a 20 minute long song, has at least three different solo performances by Lifeson. Each and every one of those solos binds the plot together or even tells a story. A battle scene for instance would be fast and harsh sounding, while the hero's death scene will be slow and depressing.
The creativity behind some of these solos is amazing! Possibly the best example of one of his genuinely unique solos could be heard in "Kid Gloves" off of Grace Under Pressure. Words can't even describe the way he pulls each and every sound out of the heart of his guitar. With his use of natural and artificial harmonics in many of his solos he's also able to get a sound out that doesn't sound like any other guitarists out there, again, look at the solo to "Red Sector A".
Distortion is a recognizable feature in Lifeson's style. He rarely uses very much of it. Every song seems to have the right amounts so that there's never a moment where the notes get blended together into an unrecognizable mess.
Classical playing ability. Lifeson is one of the only guitarists I know of that can stand on stage in front of thousands of screaming fans at a Rock concert and play a 4 minute classical piece on his classical guitar and get a standing ovation (See "Broon's Bane" off the live CD, Exit Stage Left). Many of the group's songs also consist of classical introductions by Lifeson.
Effects. During the mid-late 80's effects ruled Lifeson's life. The band in general became more electronic and Lifeson adapted many of these qualities to his works. Some songs don't even sound like a guitar is in them, "Mystic Rhythms" off of their mid 80's album, Power Windows, shows how heavily synthesized Lifeson's guitar playing became. In many cases there are people who aren't even able to tell he's playing guitar, even though he does. Needless to say, this doesn't help him become famed or recognized all that easily... Since then he's switched back to a more rough, pure style, easily identifiable as a guitar.
Some side notes
His primary guitar brand is Paul Reed Smith. He's also been known to use Gibsons as well, especially early in his career.
He's been performing for over 30 years.
He's released an independent project called Victor, where he can be heard playing in most of the songs as well.
For the best example of Lifeson's many talents, one song in particular, stands out. "La Villa Strangiato" off the Hemispheres album, boasts some of Lifeson's best playing.
From: Alex Lifeson: The One and Only