Rush makes rock and roll look so magnificent.
With a barrage of speakers, an array of instruments, and visual effects second to none, percussionist Neil Peart, bass-guitarist-singer Geddy Lee, and Alex Lifeson are putting on a two hour show of magnificent proportions.
With Peart's epic poems span galaxies, and infuse the Universe with mythological creatures, gods, and tales of honesty and integrity in world's gone rank without balance of heart and mind.
As the dry ice clouds rolled off the stage at a recent concert in Edmonton and thunderbolts flashed across a movie screen, a sudden crowd of headless horsemen, riding mythological serpents strode across the stage.
I blinked my eyes.
They disappeared, innocent illusions in my own mind: Fashioned by the collage of sound and fury that is Rush.
Peart would be pleased. As the writer of the power trio, he delights in fantasy.
Off-stage, it's hard to imagine this tall, spidery fellow, with a bowl cut hair-do across the front and flowing behind, is the same Faustian creature that 10 minutes before lurked in a lair of percussive instruments.
"Fantasy," Peart says, while gracefully sipping white wine from a fine-stemmed glass, "has a big advantage in lyric writing.
"It's a way to put a message across without being oppressive."
Peart is not one to rest on his laurels. He keeps throwing larger and larger challenges into his own writing ability. First carne the search in Caress of Steel in Fountain of Lamneth.
Then he tackled an entire concept album in 2112, a future vision of an individual rising against a religious tyranny, fashioned on author Ayn Rand's book, Anthem.
For Farewell to Kings, a new phase for the band, Peart carne up with Cygnus X-1, a spaceship delving into one of the infamous Black Holes of outer space.
He left that song hanging, in true adventure style - "hanging over my head" he now admits. "To finish the tale of Cygnus X-1, book II, took me hours of tearing my hair out.
"I hadn't even begun to write it until three weeks before we went back to Wales (to record Rush's latest album, Hemispheres, at Rockfield studios). It was only half written when we went into the studio. It came half close to killing me!"
His own imagination didn't fail. Hemispheres takes a few time leaps back and forth in history, to emerge through the "timeless space" to the city of immortals, where the warring symbolic Gods of Apollo (mind) and Dionysus (heart) are resolved, the splintered Hemispheres brought together by Cygnus, the God of balance.
Peart doesn't know what will come out in the way of stories for the band's next album. "I can never predict what will come out," he says. "It usually is panoramic. I tend to dismiss every idea until I find one that's suitable.
The road, the constant touring that is part of the Rush package, brings a barrage of ideas to Peart. "It's all input, everything. Books, people. Usually a whole pile of little things start to bug me. Then I find the thing that strings the ideas together."
Though the writing is a labour of frustration, love and pain, Peart someday would like to take a stab at writing a science-fiction novel. Geddy Lee has a fascination with film, and would like to involve himself in that aspect of entertainment.
These ideas are many years off in the future. Because Rush occupies every single minute of its members' waking lives.
"Our days are so busy," Peart says. "So many decisions have to be made. To put together songs, we have to take time out from touring, find a place to rehearse, set up our gear. It's complicated."
No kidding. To record Hemispheres, Rush had the Rockfield Studio around the clock for two and a half months. Farewell to Kings took five weeks. 2112 took a month.
"After we finished Hemispheres, we were drained," Peart says. "Totally worn out, lower than we'd ever been. We all took six weeks vacation. We had to, for survival."
The energy put into Hemispheres has reaped dividends. Hemispheres has shot up the best-selling album charts in sky-rocket fashion.
Neil sips from his glass, and looks thoughtfully into the crystal. "It's an absolute fallacy that you can relax at this stage of the game. You know how managers and record companies are." (He drops his voice into a heavy Brooklyn Mafia type accent.) "Jest do what we tell ya fer now. Later on when yer established, you's can do what's you's want's."
He shakes his head and chuckles. "I'm so glad we never listened to that nonsense. Look at how many bands want to do something worthwhile and progress. But how many do?"
Here Peart has touched on the heartstone of the Rush success story. This group practically has a secret pact, sworn in blood among the three members, never to compromise their own values and desires.
"Once you give up, do what they want you to, you're gone," Peart says. "Once you say goodbye to yourself, your values, standards and tastes - we just didn't give in."
For Rush, the crisis came when they were readying to record 2112.
The record company was very nervous about the album. Peart recalls. "As soon as we started talking about it, the response was totally negative. Nobody wants a concept album, we were told. It was depressing, really depressing."
"That was our choice right there. Either to give up, not make waves, or to follow through with our own ideas. Actually we thought 2112 wouldn't be that successful. We were quite prepared to see the band go further down the tubes! We thought people would love Caress of Steel. They didn't we expected them to dislike 2112, but they loved it."
"We gave up after that," he laughs. "We've decided to do just whatever moves us."
The touring will always continue, Peart says. Rush tour continually, playing non-stop in Canada and the United States.
"Touring makes us play better." He says. "We're all very reluctant to take it easy. It pays off when we go into the studio, with practical results. When you can see results, you hate to stop doing whatever makes things tick."
"Besides, we really enjoy performing. We don't want to let ourselves down."
Holding true to themselves, is one secret of Rush. The other is their dedication to their own professionalism - a dedication too often missing from other rock bands.
"We embarrass ourselves if we give a poor show," Neil says. "In a sense it's very selfish, for ourselves we want to play well. If I do three sloppy things in a show, I don't consider I've done well. A couple of nights ago I played rough in places. The audience couldn't hear it. Even the others in the band didn't pick it up. But I felt terrible. Because I like to be really, really good."
And with that, Peart sits back, finishes his wine, and flashes a bright, bright smile.