Show Don’t Tell

Background and Commentary

“‘Show Don’t Tell’ illustrates Rush’s move away from synthesizer in favor of a more guitar-oriented approach; the band favored a more funk/groove style of play and away from the 1980s style of music typical in the two preceding albums Power Windows and Hold Your Fire. In Presto and particularly in ‘Show Don’t Tell,’ Rush continues to play in the style of progressive rock but in a different way. In Rush’s music of the late 1970s and early 1980s, their progressive rock is indicated by asymmetric time signatures and lyrics fitting into a concept album, and in ‘Show Don’t Tell,’ their progressive rock is shown by using a very complex riff played in unison by the members of the band. The band chose to use more funk by using extended chord tones, a dramatic pause eighteen seconds into the song and other methods as well. The funkier song structure proved to be difficult for Neil.

“He explained in Canadian Musician, ‘”Show Don’t Tell” begins with a syncopated guitar riff that appears two or three times throughout the song. That was about the hardest thing for me to find the right pattern for. I wanted to maintain a groove and yet follow the bizarre syncopations that the guitar riff was leading into. It was demanding technically, but at the same time, because of that, we were determined that it should have a rhythmic groove under it. It’s not enough for us to produce a part that’s technically demanding; it has to have an overwhelming significance musically. So it had to groove into the rest of the song and it had to have a pulse to it that was apart from what we were playing.”

“Lyrically, the piece is an example of his trend from the album Grace Under Pressure onward from writing concepts and abstractions to a more concrete, first-person viewpoint, or as Neil noted when interviewed a perspective with a ‘stance and a good attitude.’ Peart alternates between narration and a first person perspective as he writes about confronting a person who has fooled the protagonist of the song too often.

“Neil’s philosophy throughout the song is epitomized with the very no-nonsense lyric “‘You can twist perception. Reality won’t budge!’ The first verse explains the frustration of depending on others and finding out that is the wrong approach (e.g. ‘Everyone knows everything, and no one’s ever wrong, until later. Who can you believe?’). The chorus shows the protagonist’s resolution to being fooled: stop listening to the schemer’s persuasion, pay attention only if the schemer shows evidence, rather than being convinced by conniving words.

“The second verse uses vivid imagery of a courtroom trial as the solution to the protagonist’s; however, in this case, the deceived protagonist is the ‘judge and the jury.’ After the second verse and chorus, an instrumental section features a bass solo by Geddy and a shorter guitar solo by Alex. The chorus in the last section uses more courtroom imagery and then alternates lines from the chorus between the two verses and the chorus using courtroom imagery.”—Wikipedia

“The title is a phrase used by story editors. Neil’s voice is mixed in low in the background on the lines, ‘I will be the judge / Give the jury direction.'”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“By then we were working with Rupert Hine as our producer. Oddly enough, I had been working on the basic ideas of that song at home and brought it to the studio when we started writing the record. We developed it from there. It was much heavier in the early version; the tempo had come up a little bit. Rupert’s approach to the guitar sound was a little lighter than I wanted. That was partly my fault, because I was still using the Signature a lot, which didn’t lend itself to a very thick sound. That amp lineup stayed the same as before, and effects would come and go. I was fiddling around with whatever was new at the time, as I’ve always done. We’d taken a seven-month break, which at that time had been our longest hiatus. We needed to clear the cobwebs and get away. We came into Presto feeling a lot more enthusiastic about working. The change to Atlantic Records was good because we felt like we needed a change all around. We were going into the Nineties, and it made everything fresher.”—Alex in a 1996 Guitar World interview


How many times do you hear it?
It goes on all day long
Everyone knows everything
And no one’s ever wrong
Until later…

Who can you believe?
It’s hard to play it safe
But apart from a few good friends
We don’t take anything on faith
Until later

Show, don’t tell

(Show me, don’t tell me)
You’ve figured out the score
(Show me, don’t tell me)
I’ve heard it all before
(Show me, don’t tell me)
I don’t care what you say
(Show me, don’t tell me)

You can twist perceptions
Reality won’t budge
You can raise objections
I will be the judge
And the jury

I’ll give it due reflection
Watching from the fence
Give the jury direction
Based on the evidence
I, the jury

(Show me, don’t tell me)
Hey, order in the court
(Show me, don’t tell me)
Let’s try to keep it short
(Show me, don’t tell me)
Enough of your demands
(Show me, don’t tell me)
Witness take the stand
(Show me, don’t tell me)

(Show me, don’t tell me)
Hey, order in the court
(Show me, don’t tell me)
Let’s try to keep it short
(Show me, don’t tell me)
I don’t care what you say
(Show me, don’t tell me)
Let’s see exhibit A


Excerpted from Fretplay.



let open G ring
^ This may not be right,
but sounds close enough.

Chords for verses: Bridge chords:

For complete tab, go to Fretplay.


“Show Don’t Tell” guitar cover (starts at about 00:20)

“Show Don’t Tell” bass cover

“Show Don’t Tell” drum cover

Back to Rush Vault

~ by rvkeeper on February 9, 2011.

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