Rush Happily Dwarfed By Its Own Technology

By Craig MacInnis, Toronto Star, March 8, 1988, transcribed by pwrwindows

No one does The Funky Chicken quite like Geddy Lee.

The lead singer's dainty little pas de poulet came as a welcome respite from Rush's more portentous exercises last night, seen and heard to mind-numbing effect during the trio's first of two shows at Maple Leaf Gardens. It plays the same venue again this evening.

So there was Lee, prancing from behind his battery of keyboards to execute a nifty little barnyard gavotte, which naturally sent the faithful into paroxysms of delight.

Much has been made of Rush's recent revisionism, its streamlining of the huge prog-rock blob it lobbed at the world more than a decade ago.

But the fact of the matter is that the three Torontonians have merely used available technology to subtly retool what remains a wildly bombastic machine.

The green pinpoint laser beams that fanned out over the heads of 12,000 fist-raised devotees during "Turn The Page", from the group's recent Hold Your Fire album, only confirmed what many have known all along - that Rush is unapologetically full of itself.

Sombre musicianship

New World Man, indeed.

With a dizzying onslaught of rear-screen projections - running the gamut from cute little cartoon characters to documentary footage of the nuclear bomb drop on Hiroshima - the band was happily dwarfed by its own technology.

I think it all had something to do with man's inhumanity to man, especially that incriminating snippet of Albert Einstein during the Hiroshima bombing. Why, the conspiratorial little lout.

What all this had to do with rock 'n' roll is far less obvious, although Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart made a whole-hearted effort to at least seem interested in what they were doing.

Most of the time this meant sombre, stationary musicianship circa 1976, augmented by the occasional outburst of physical exuberance. Lee's chicken step helped undercut the high-finance gloom of "Big Money", and he and Lifeson's soft-shoe number on "Closer To The Heart" was almost affectionate (as these things go). The audience responded in kind, singing the words as if the whole thing had been rehearsed before the concert.

Peart, the architect of Rush's dour lyric monuments, remained the stern timekeeper during this terpsichorean merriment, dispensing busy rhythms from behind his huge drum kit. Peart is the essence of art-rock deliberateness, building the music's foundation with rolling percussive thunder.

But there was so little to watch on the stage that it finally seemed a better idea to just lean back and watch the movies fly by. The travelogue of northern wilderness during "Time Stand Still" was soothing to the eyes, especially after the lime-green lasers had taken their toll on 24,000 dazzled retinas.

And the three red balls that hung mysteriously from the Gardens' ceiling were a source of endless amusement. Would they open up to reveal a terrible, futuristic truth? Would they fall onto the crowd, smothering the happy masses in latex gunk?

Or were they just another symbol of man's inhumanity to man?