Canada's Rush in San Bernadino

By Robert Hilburn, Los Angeles Times, March 10, 1980

I did my duty Friday night.

So that this report could appear while Rush was still in town tonight at the Inglewood Forum, I drove 75 miles to San Bernadino's Swing Auditorium to see the Canadian rock trio.

I didn't mind the 100-minute trip in rush-hour traffic. I spent that time listening to my new Bob Seger and Elvis Costello tapes. The drag was the three hours inside the Swing Auditorium.

38-Special, the opening act, wasn't bad -- just predictable. The Florida-based outfit churned out its whisky-soaked rock 'n' boogie with poise, but with little to separate it from other bands in the same genre.

The group's main distinction is that its lead singer is Donnie Van Zant, younger brother of the late Ronnie Van Zant of Lynyrd Skynyrd. Ronnie Van Zant sang with gritty bar-room exuberance and co-wrote such anthemlike tunes as "Sweet Home Alabama."

Donnie looks and sounds like his brother, but 38-Special's material isn't as notable. The band does broaden its sound on record, edging close at times to a Foreigner sheen. Live, however, it's strictly blues 'n' booze.

Though it hasn't the explosiveness of fellow Floridians Molly Hatchett, the unit has an eager-to-please manner on stage and the closing numbers, including the sing-along "Rockin' Into the Night," were catchy enough for the audience to bring it back for an encore.

Bearable by most standards, 38-Special was a godsend next to headliner Rush. One fan's T-shirt Friday read: "Rush -- God's Gift to Me." After the group's two-hour set, I leaned more toward "Lord, Have Mercy."

Rush isn't a critic's band. Of the trio's first seven LPs, only two received even two stars ("mediocre") in Rolling Stone magazine's new "Record Guide" book. Two other albums didn't receive any stars. They were rated worthless.

So why is the band popular enough for producer Larry Vallon to book it into four Southern California venues (read: 40,000 tickets) this tour?

Like a hapless but successful TV situation comedy, Rush employs enough familiar rock elements to be diverting: Led Zeppelin assault, Moody Blues' cosmic musings and Emerson, Lake & Palmer technology.

Friday's highly responsive audience didn't seen to mind that most of those ingredients have long been exhausted in rock and that Rush does little to revitalize them. Alex Lifeson did get almost every possible sound from his battery of guitars, but they were mostly recycled. Neil Peart is a vigorous drummer, and contributes most of the band's what's-life-all-about lyrics. Geddy Lee, who sings in a squeaky Robert Plant voice, doubled on bass and keyboards. It was all very workmanlike.

Still, the only rush I had on my mind by the end of the concert was a hasty exit to the parking lot and the sanctuary of the Seger-Costello tapes.