Rock critics spend a lot of time splashing about in the new wave, but an occasional dunking in the old wave probably wouldn't harm them any. Of course, the notion of "old wave" rock is even vaguer than "new wave," because it encompasses anything that isn't new. Rush, a Canadian rock trio that was at the Palladium Saturday night (and again last night), no doubt thinks of itself as venturesome, and it can hardly be denied that a big, demonstrative crowd was on hand Saturday. Even if Rush feels a bit miffed about the way it's ignored by the supposed tastemakers of rock, it can take consolation in its audience's enthusiasm.
What Rush does is play tight, energetic progressive rock with a strong science-fantasy overlay. That's hardly uncommon -- indeed the very familiarity of the combination has created a whole sub-genre of rock and rock fans. Rush's distinction is that by confining itself to three players, it keeps its music free of the clutter and fuss that afflict too many science-fantasy bands.
Basically this is a power trio, meaning lead guitar, bass guitar and drums. Except that "power trio" implies gonzo assaults of the Ted Nugent variety. Rush is a lot cleverer than that, both in musical style and in the addition of periodic keyboard lines -- from Geddy Lee, bassist -- and in the complexity of the parts played by Alex Lifeson, guitarist, and Neil Peart, drummer. In addition, Mr. Lee sings in a spare but unusual way -- a brittle, androgynous tenor -- and there are some fairly well-done animated films to reinforce the fantasy themes.
To this taste, the whole thing seems busy and empty in the manner of too many of these souped-up, neo-King Crimson outfits. But there can be no denying that Rush answers some sort of need, and answers it with crisp, professional dispatch.