A four-night engagement at Wembley Arena, London's largest regular music venue, is eloquent testimony to the continued hold Rush has on the thin wallets of Britain's heavy metal fanatics. By comparison, the much touted Iron Maiden settle for four nights at the Hammersmith Odeon, a considerably smaller hall.
This final night in London coincides with Britain's largest annual sporting event, the FA Cup Final, so the sea of red and blue football scarves streaming out of the adjacent Wembley Stadium merges into the mass of leather and denim of the incoming metal fans. Early on in the show, Geddy Lee acknowledges the earlier fixture: 'We don't play football, but we'll do what we do." And that was just plain dandy with the assembled throng.
But let's backtrack a bit. Countdown for Rush's entrance, and anticipation grows, nowhere more so than in the quickening pulses of two of the band's biggest fans, ME Rock Poll content winners, Kevin and Rob from Ottawa, flown over specifically for this gig. "Rush always starts on time," they assure me, but the minutes tick past. Curiously, the taped music features groups like Wall of Voodoo and Split Enz, while the familiar 'fa-fa-fa's' of Talking Heads Psycho Killer get the crowd really primed. Perhaps, in fact, such a selection is a cunning maneuver to open the fans' ears to the more contemporary sounds that Rush itself is now tackling.
The Rush of Signals and Moving Pictures is light years away from the early albums, and more than a few of their original followers are unhappy with the change.
The letters columns of the British rock papers are filled with missives from kids who prefer the old material. but Rush in concert creditably chooses to concentrate on the fresher, more recent songs. Old classics like 2112 and Closer To The Heart received rapturous applause, with the crowd uniting in a singalong on the latter tune, but the strength of the new numbers is such that they will surely be regarded as classics a few years hence.
Seeing Rush in concert confirms why all three members fare so well in all those Best Instrumentalist polls. The controlled power of Alex Lifeson's virtuosity on guitar and Neil Peart's drumming tend to overshadow the proficiency of Geddy Lee's bass work, but it's the combination of all three that gives Rush a live sound that often verges on awesome.
Although constantly written off as a cavernous, sterile venue, Wembley Arena is almost intimate compared to Canadian concert settings like Maple Leaf Gardens and the Montreal Forum. Both sound and lights are impressive, while the usually silly gimmick of smoke-bombs is appropriate as a complement to Countdown, at least.
The use of video projections as introductions to many of the new songs generally works well. Joe Flaherty's Count Floyd character does his "scary stuff" schtick for The Weapon, but this falls a bit flat on an English crowd never exposed to the joys of SCTV. The videos for Subdivisions and Countdown easily leap such cultural barriers, and these two songs emerge as stand-outs in a 90-minute set that only rarely flags in energy.
Geddy Lee seems more upbeat and animated in his onstage movements these days, and his exuberance helps win over all but the most .dour of the "play-the-old-stuff" sourpusses. In all, an impressive showing. If Rush were, in fact, a football team, it would be the equivalent of Cup winners Manchester United or Liverpool: top of the first division.