Arena Baptized With Heavy Whine

By Jim McFarlin, Detroit News, February 19, 1980

Walk, walk, walk, walk, walk, walk. Mutter. Climb, climb, climb, climb, climb. Grumble, grumble.

Step, step, step, step, step -- gasp, wheeze -- step, step, step. Shiver, curse, deleted expletive. Legs are turning to frozen marmalade. Aren't we there yet?

The rock 'n' roll kingdom discovers the Joe Louis Sports Arena.

There is apparently no truth to the rumor that the Detroit Red Wings don't practice regularly in their swanky new downtown home because some team members are still trying to find their way inside the building on their own. But you'd have a hard time disproving that to many of the weary stragglers who gathered at the river Sunday for the premiere live concert experience at the Brown Bomber's namesake.

Because not all Detroiters regard slap shots and rim shots with equal zeal, most of the sellout crowd that packed the arena for the musical opener were sampling the delights of urban travel to Joe's Place for the first time. They trudged en masse through the long, labyrinthine passageways of Cobo Arena, tramped down the narrow sidewalk against a biting winter wind and negotiated the infamous 36 steps to the front door, all the while gaining reinforcement for the notion that the best route to the virgin facility is via Bob-Lo boat.

"Why is everybody walking this way?" one perplexed pedestrian asked no one in particular, stuffing his wineskin inside his jacket as he pointed behind him to the building he sought. "Because this is the way you get there," came the equally puzzled reply.

Now we know why hockey fans are considered such a hardy breed.

Once inside, patrons were greeted by $1 hot dogs, improving rest room facilities, a resplendent red-and-white interior that easily rivals or betters such major league playgrounds as Denver's McNichols Arena or the Market Square in Indianapolis and, not incidentally, the blustery Canadian rock trio Rush.

There are no lousy sight lines, practically no viewing obstructions, and acoustics are remarkably good for a building designed primarily for ice capades. But those holding tickets for Rush's second show tonight, take heed: Getting there is most definitely *not* half the fun.

It's amazing how much the place looks like an inflated Cobo when filled with thousands of screaming rockers and various types of smoke billowing to the ceiling. But a feeling of breaking new ground also permeated the air. "You know something?" bellowed the show's emcee, WABX disc jockey Steve Kostan. "You, me, everybody in this whole ----- place, we're making history tonight!"

True enough. But history is not always cloaked in appropriately capricious trappings, nor is it always particularly pleasant. In this instance, history first appeared in the guise of Max Webster, a four-piece Canadian entity that apparently has gained enough acclaim in its native land to release a new live LP, "Live Magnetic Air." Capitol Records contends the album has captured 11 of the band's "audience favorites." Not this audience. Max would make a tremendous American bar band, but little else.

Then, to the whining drone of a spaceship launching, the equally alien Rush took over, generating as much contrived presence as three slender man can on an oversized stage.

Rush is obviously in its natural element when it the concert environment, and the band is composed of three consummately talented musicians. But Rush imprisons its music in such wearisome heavy metal conventions that its skills rarely have the opportunity to come forth.

For the uninitiated, it's difficult to determine when one Rush song ends and another begins. "2112," their opening selection and the one which first brought them prominence in the States, is a 20-minute ode to frustration which sounds more like a muddled amalgam of five dissimilar parts.

The shorter music from their latest album "Permanent Waves," particularly "Spirit of Radio" and the contemplative "Jacob's Ladder," burst from the bands self-imposed shackles, but by the time they finally got around to making listenable music in a five-song concluding medley highlighted by "Bastille Day" and "Finding My Way," they actually *needed* the gaudy technical effects upon which they rely in order to support the sound. Their lone encore number, "Strangiato," killed what little momentum had been started. The whole affair ultimately became as predictable and grating as Geddy Lee's high-pitched "ThankYEW" at the end of each song -- when he wasn't singing in that same brittle whine, that is.

Alex Lifeson is a quiet virtuoso on guitar, but his contributions were more than overmatched by Neil Peart, who kept performing simple assault on his drums. Nevertheless, Rush undeniably fills a need: The throngs roared their unbridled delight at every change of key or tempo, and the rafters held more banners than you're every likely to see for McCourt or Nedomansky. Still, Joe Louis coulda had a real contendah for its musical debut. The pushover that served as main event was game but couldn't go the distance.