WINDSOR: "God, it's great to bring a show like this back to Canada!"
Neil Peart, lanky drummer for Rush, sat backstage at Cleary Auditorium, tapping a drumstick on the side of his high-rise clog. He was rarin' to go: after 18 weeks on the road in the United States playing Aerosmith and Kiss concerts, Rush were back on home ground, rejuvenated by four days rest-and-recreation in Toronto, and ready at last to show Canadians what they've learned from the Southern neighbor.
Which is plenty, as all three of them acknowledge. They had the professional attitudes before, but now that they're running their own show as headliners, they've imported a big time approach to staging their concerts. They come on strong - as long as the power supply holds up.
"I just know it," fretted Howard Ungerleider, Rush's road manager, wheeling back and forth across the stage to make sure his lighting system - all 48 lights - was exactly right. At 1,000 watts per light, that's a lot of electricity. Throw in a few thousand more for Band-Aid's sound system, and you know why Howard was worrying about the three-week Canadian tour that was starting in Windsor.
If the band reaches the Prairies without ever running out of juice, Howard will be surprised. As lead guitarist Alex Lifeson said, "A lot of the places we work have never seen a band with this amount of equipment - especially not a Canadian band."
The hardware looked first class. The lights (from Atlantis, of Washington, D.C.) spun a pink cocoon over Cleary Auditorium's stage, with sprays of green and mauve hitting the musicians. Gold spots under Neil's drum kit threw an angelic glow through his floppy white shirt. A rear projector sent the snow owl from their "Fly By Night" album glowering on a transparent scrim behind the band. while a rotating mirror-ball caught flecks of light and tossed them into the auditorium. Alex and Geddy Lee, the bassist and singer, danced on a white shag rug while sending their heavy-metal abrasions thundering through speakers that were so loud they could have shot Jonathan Livingston Seagull from the air at a hundred paces.
No wonder Rush can beat the Americans at their own game.
Outside the Cleary, separated by a scant half-mile of murky Detroit River, they could see the city that gave them their push into the States. A month ago they headlined their first major American date there, at the Michigan Palace; with an official capacity of 4,200, the hall sold out and the band expects to return for two nights in the fall.
By then, they will have graduated from opening act of "guest" act to headliners in the American Midwest and the Northwestern coast their two strongest areas thanks to constant touring, and the two albums. Both records have sold 100,000 copies in the States, Geddy said. They go back into the studio in July, so a third album will be out by fall. "Fly By Night" has sold 35,000 copies in Canada, and by fall they hope it will be gold, especially since they will have toured to the eastern and western fringes of the country where they've never played before.
That's an enormous amount of progress for a year - they took to the road only last August with their American Mercury contract in their pockets. "We don't want to waste any time," Geddy explains simply.
"I think working with Kiss taught us that the kids are expecting to see more at concerts - plus the competition is getting stiffer," Geddy said as the sound check was proceeding before the show.
"We could never get into an elaborate thing on stage with make-up and all, so we'd like to surround ourselves with a show while we take care of the music. Eventually we'd like to get props, too. It could never be the main part, of course. That'll always be the music."
Geddy's a serious young man, a pro. During the spring he caught tonsillitis and the band lost a week. So, once the new album's done, the tonsils will go - "that kind of time-waste just won't do."