"Of course, I felt deeply honored to be entered into Modern Drummer magazine's Hall of Fame," said Neil Peart of the Canadian rock trio Rush in a recent telephone interview. While Sunday mornings are not exactly peak waking hours for a musician on a busy concert tour, the percussionist was already well into his day. As he spoke, only the slightest trace of irony in his voice betrayed the fact that his tongue was planted firmly in cheek. "However, as I went down the list of previous inductees, including Gene Krupa, Keith Moon and John Bonham, I found it slightly disturbing to discover that almost everyone who had received the award was already dead."
One listen to Rush's current album "Hold Your Fire" brings home the fact that Peart is in the pink and involved in some of the most challenging music of the band's 19-year career. Emerging from its roots as a classic power trio, Rush has evolved into the upper echelon of '80s high-tech music wizardry.
Rush will bring its "Hold Your Fire" tour to The Arena March 1. The concert will also feature a performance by special guest Tommy Shaw, former lead guitarist with the rock group Styx.
With each successive release, Peart, bassist-vocalist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson have expanded the boundaries of Rush's musical vision. The three Toronto-based musicians have gracefully matured from the heavy-metal excursions of their early days to the experimental brilliance of the band's science-fiction opus "2112."
When Rush released its self-titled debut album in 1974, the group made significant impact on rock music with its crunching, riff-dominated sound and Lee's high-pitched vocals. With the radio airwaves already filled with the heavy rock sounds of acts such as Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple, Rush's powerhouse style fit in perfectly with the times.
However, with the success of progressive groups like Yes, King Crimson and Genesis in the late '70s, one element of rock became increasingly orchestrated and intricate. Unlike most acts, which develop a stylistic personality and stick to it for the life of a career, Rush took notice and began making radical changes in its sound.
John Rutsey was the group's original drummer. Peart replaced him for the second album, "Fly By Night." Although the songs still retained the impact of the early material, the changes in style were already making themselves evident. With Peart contributing the lyrics to the music, the focus of the songs began taking on a more fantasy-oriented direction.
Then, as such space-rock acts as Pink Floyd and Hawkwind began gaining popularity, Rush moved in that direction. It released its "2112" and "Caress of Steel" albums and recorded its live show on "All the World's a Stage." The albums were laced with Peart's other-worldly images that would have fit nicely into the science-fiction novels of Michael Moorcock or Larry Nivens.
By the release of its 1980 album "Permanent Wave," Rush began concentrating on shorter, more concise arrangements and thematically unrelated songs. Although Peart's lyrics retained the flow and depth of poetry, the songs were accepted on a more commercial level and the band was rewarded with its first hit single "Spirit of the Radio."
Throughout the '80s, the band has continued to cement its reputation as one of Canada's biggest contributions to progressive rock. Albums such as "Moving Pictures," "Signals" and "Power Windows," captured and held the public's attention, while the trio continued to be one of world's highest-grossing arena attractions.
"Shifts in the band's style have never been premeditated," Peart said. "If anything, we have evolved entirely at our own pace. Fortunately, music technology has improved as we have continued to expand Rush's textural possibilities. Today, with the advent of sequencers and digital sampling, one can easily recreate a recorded studio performance onstage.
"Even with the changes in our style," Peart continued, "we have never considered adding another member to the group. We have always worried about upsetting the delicate balance of personalities we have established. It is no secret that if you can't get along as people, it makes it difficult to expect any long-term commitment to the musical unit."