A couple of weeks ago, during an interview with Neil Peart of Rush, the talk turned to the Canadian rock trio's reputation -- a reputation as a band that, as Peart put it, "the press was always dumping on. Though I don't know why people think that," he added with some puzzlement, going on to say that the group has gotten good reviews over the years as well as rotten ones.
Nevertheless, it's not hard to see why few people would figure Rush to be critics' darlings. For one thing, the band's power-trio format, forged in the early 1970s, has not been fashionable for some time. In a time when short, snappy, danceable tunes are in vogue, Rush goes in for a lot of lengthy, quasi-philosophical numbers. Even so, the lyrics matter far less than their musical approach, which tends to alternate between hard rock -- that bludgeons the listener into a stupor -- and spacey dirges.
That there is still a surprisingly large market for what Rush offers, however, is equally evident. Thursday night's show at the International Amphitheater, where the band is playing through Sunday, was sold out, and so are at least two of the remaining three nights. There is no opening act. This is partly because of the band's extremely lengthy sets, and partly because past experience has shown that their audiences then to be so consumed with Rush-lust that they are unwilling to sit patiently while a hapless opening act does its stuff, or rather tries to.
At any rate, nobody can fault Rush for not delivering in terms of quantity. Thursday's concert ran more than two hours, during which drummer Peart, guitarist Alex Lifeson, and shrill-voiced singer, bassist, and occasional synthesizer player Geddy Lee reprised material from their earliest albums to their current "Permanent Waves," which, thanks to the Top 40 success of the single, "The Spirit of Radio," is their most successful effort to date.
That song, like "Freewill," "Natural Science," and a number of others in Rush's repertoire, is concerned with the band's concepts of integrity, ideas that are heartfelt though simply stated ("art as expression, not market campaigns"). Another theme is science fiction, with the band making occasional use of film to accompany such songs as "Cygnus X-1," which has to do with black holes in space.
A couple of firepot flashes, fog effects, and special lighting effects also figured in the evening's entertainment. Meanwhile, offstage, there was a distressing display of fireworks launched at random by idiots in the audience, and others turned cigarette lighters into perpetual torches to indicate their approval of everything the band did.
What Rush is doing, however, is nothing all that special: There is nothing all that overwhelming about their music or their performance. Nevertheless, at their best, which is when they are rocking the hardest, Rush is appealing enough in their own way. Despite their lengthy set, although few segments really soared, few really dragged.