Pleasant surprises in Rush's flashy set

By Alan Niester, Toronto Globe & Mail, March 24, 1981


Any nervousness that the three members of the power trio Rush might have felt due to playing in front of a hometown audience last night must have been dashed the moment the lights went down. The instant the switches were pulled, the entire inside of Maple Leaf Gardens erupted in one hellish shrill whistle, louder and more intense than all the canaries in Hades singing en masse. Those who didn't cheer stoked up their disposable lighters in such numbers that the inside of the hall looked like Toronto as seen by night from a descending 747. In case there was ever any doubt, this is Rush country, buddy, and proud of it.

Not that Toronto rock fans don't have a great deal to be proud of in Rush. The last time I saw the locals perform was outdoors at Varsity Stadium near the end of the summer of 1979. Playing a half-hearted set before a smaller than expected crowd, I speculated at the time that Rush had peaked as popular entertainers.

Ah well, win a few, lose a few. For while Rush was performing the first concert of a three-night stand at the Gardens last night (an early date in a tour that will not end until roughly March 1982) I mused on the following current events: Rush's latest album, Moving Pictures, is edging into the top three in album sales in the United States; it was gone platinum in Canada; and it is rushing up the Top 20 in Britain, parts of Europe and Japan. All logic to the contrary, it appears that the success of this interesting but not terribly original outfit has yet to find its peak.

Even long-time fans who haven't seen the trio in a year or two will undoubtedly be pleasantly surprised by the show that the band is now capable of performing. It is an intensely energetic set, and the band members are willing to take more risks and more extended instrumental forays within the pieces that fill the set. For example, last night they opened with 2112, but introduced the number with a lengthy, jagged jam session between guitarist Alex Lifeson and bassist Geddy Lee before getting into the meat of the number.

In fast, if anything, Rush seems to be simplifying its ponderous instrumental attack throughout. Last night it worked its way through four numbers (2112, Free Will, Limelight and the prelude to Hemispheres) before Lee even moved behind his banks of keyboards. All told, it gave the set a sharp beginning, and proved that at least in the case of this band, less is more.

The tendency away from the synthesizers and toward the power-trio approach proved conclusively just how much Lifeson means to the band. While Lee's sky-scraping vocals give him star placing on the studio albums and drummer Neil Peart's lyrics and lyricism make him the band's natural spokesman, it is Lifeson who unassumingly leads the band instrumentally on stage. Last night, he sported a new look, with a nice, neat page-boy haircut that would make him welcome at any doting mother's home, and a flashy red suit, tie and shoes that gave him a certain innocent Elvis Costello appearance. But his confidant power chording was the axis around which the music revolved all night.

The show was also filled out by a boggling array of colored spotlights, (which were all very impressive, but ultimately gave the group the aura of Niagara Falls on an August night) back-projected slides and cartoons, fire pots and dry ice. Nice touches all, but not exactly crucial to the overall effect. Rush played with enough flashy power to hold the stage all by itself.