Lighting Director Howard Ungerleider has over 300 channels and 650 lamps to play with
FIRST THING that hits you on entering Wembley Arena before a Rush gig is the size of the podium that holds the lighting and sound mixing desks. It's an astonishing 20 ft square, sits 2 1/2 ft off the ground, and according to production manager Nick Kotos, "it's somewhere to invite the girls and party". Well it's good to know that these boys have their priorities in the right order.
Rush sound mixer Jon Erickson is at pains to point out that the band now use far less backline than they used to in order to keep the sound level down onstage. This is compensated by increasing the size of the PA which adds to the quality of the tone as well as increasing the volume potential.
Onstage, the Rush performance I'm treated to is loud though not at skull crash level, with plenty of clarity in the mix. The drums especially are favoured here and stand well to the fore, not too tubby, not too harsh, very tight, very controlled. Part of the reason for this is choice of mixing desk. Rush utilise a pair of Midas desks with a 24 into 12 solely for the drums and 38 into 8 for the keyboards and vocals.
When touring, the band carry an alarming amount of personnel. In England they have a crew of 41 people not including the caterers, while in the States they have 33 crew travelling with them. Sound men Jon Erickson confesses he can't tell me what the other 40 people are doing on the tour - he can't remember. "I'm just the sound man," he says with a wicked look in his eye.
Well I can tell you that they have a road manager who doubles as a lighting director, a sound engineer, stage manager, stage right technician who doubles as crew chief, stage left technician, centre stage technician (these are the guys you see leaping about in semidarkness at gigs, and occasionally copping a healthy swipe from a disgruntled employer - not a pleasant job), guitar and synth maintenance man, stage monitor mixer, security chief, production manager, four follow spot operators, a projectionist, personal roadie, bus and trucking personnel, lighting riggers, bottle washers, and probably somebody to roll joints for the road crew when they're too busy to build up themselves. Maybe this was why I encountered two members of the old Bill shuffling around the auditorium, hand in hand, before, during, and after the gig - don't say I didn't warn you!
ACCORDING TO Jon, the one thing Rush demand of all their employees above everything else is professionalism. This opinion is reinforced when I try to speak to Rush lighting director Howard Ungerleider prior to the band's arrival onstage. He tells me he's already talking to 12 people on his walkie talkie and can I politely piss off until the end of the show when he will gladly speak to me.
I've seen lighting rigs before and the one Rush are using is absolutely enormous. Hired from See Factor International, this rig offers over 300 channels of light from 650 separate lamps. So that's why they say Rush are a hot band - they must be under that bloody lot!
The PA itself has 60 channels of sound with the power amps racked up with the light dimmers on stage right. These amps are PSA2s for bottom end and Crest for the mid range and top end. About a third of the speaker bins are flown above the stage for superior sound projection.
Says Nick Kotos, "We brought this lighting rig over from America. A lot of bands come over here to do a show, and because the venues are smaller, they bring a smaller rig. We bring the whole show, so the public see the same show everywhere we play."
The backdrop, projections and mini movie that serve to great effect during the performance have been a part of every Rush show for around seven years now, and I asked guitarist Alex Lifeson how they'd managed to avoid being corny with this part of the show after all that time.
"It's a very expensive medium to get involved with so we had to budget ourselves carefully, and try to get the most out of 30 seconds of film that we could. We use a guy in Toronto, and Geddy gets quite involved with him. He'll go down and work on ideas with him, and we'll work on the concept, all of us together, but as our relationship grows there's more and more confidence in what he does, so that basically we just leave it up to him." These film clips have a life span of one or maybe two tours each.
This equipment used by each separate member of Rush is quite considerable, and Neil Peart's drum kit stands on a riser surrounded by what appears to be the contents of several large LA boxes. All but all of the accessories are used to amazing effect in Neil's drum solo, making it the most melodic I've heard.
Both Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson split duties on the Taurus bass pedals, an essential part of the Rush set up. All of their bass pedals are interfaced with the synthesisers onstage so that it's possible to obtain bright synth chords by hitting one note on the aforementioned pedals.
BACKLINE FOR Alex is a group of four Marshall 100 watt combos. One is set for a pretty hot sound, with two more sounding clean with most of the top rolled off to give a little more bottom end. Geddy Lee on the other hand prefers to use a pair of BGW power amps coupled with a pair of Ashley pre-amps.
In the effects department, Lifeson has chosen to go WOTT - well over the top - in his choice or should I say choices. Operated from the floor he has an Electric Mistress, a couple of Yamaha delays, harmoniser, parametric, two Boss Choruses, analogue delay, Morley volume pedal. IVIXR distortion, noisegate, wah-wah pedal...The boy's gone mad!
When Geddy Lee is not splitting his time between a Steinberger bass and a Rickenbacker 4001, he can be caught fiddling with his two Oberheim OBXAs, one Minimoog, a Roland Jupiter 8, Roland 808 drum machine and of course his beloved pedals. Alex Lifeson also has a pair of OBXAs onstage.
Lifesons' guitar collection numbers around the 25 mark, although at Wembley he was most of the time sticking to his '78/79 Fender Stratocaster that, like all of his axes, has been modified with the addition of a Bill Lawrence L500 humbucker in the rear position. Other changes there include a Floyd Rose Tremelo system (great for bending strings to undreamt of levels and keeping your guitar in tune) and a replacement neck that's not lacquered, made by a small company in Ottawa. Being a modest sort of fellow Alex only told me about the part of his collection that includes three Strats, Gibson Howard Roberts Fusion, Gibson Doubleneck, Gibson ES355, Ovation Adonis and Ovation Classic guitars.
As you might imagine the Rush roadshow doesn't suddenly come into being over night, and there are at least three or four months of detailed preparation before each tour they undertake.
"The shipping bills are enormous" says Nick Kotos, "but we do make a profit in England".
Wembley merchandising manager 'John' claims in sheer sales terms, Rush are hot and getting hotter. lf you'd like to be this hot, Band Aid suggest you start practising and saving those new £1 coins of the realm, because you'll need 120,000 of the little suckers for an operation like the one we've just described. Have a nice day!