The last few fans were still being ushered out of the concert hall when Alex Lifeson entered the backstage dressing room. Wearing jeans, shirt and a jacket, he hardly looked the part of lead guitarist with the Canadian power trio Rush. With his blonde hair neatly parted to the side, the 34-year-old musician looked more like an older college student than a rock star.
It was Rush's first appearance in Germany in five years and Lifeson was glad to be back.
"It's been a very short European tour, but it's been a lot of fun for us. If we could have spent more time here we would have." Lifeson said in an interview last month after a performance in Frankfurt. "Now, after we finish this German tour we go home and go into the studio. A week later we start mixing a live album."
That's how it's been for Rush for the last 19 years-constantly busy and always on the go. Rush started out in suburban Toronto in the late 1960's by playing in local clubs. The band's first album wasn't released until 1973 and it was relatively unknown outside Canada.
Lifeson described Rush's first concert in America shortly before the album was released as a "non-event."
"It was an outdoor festival in Michigan with 1,000 people. They had expected 20 to 30 thousand. It was very dismal."
Today Rush albums are megahits and the rock trio sells out large arenas worldwide. The band's concerts are known as much for the film footage and lasers as for the music.
Rush developed its following not by radio airplay but by constant touring.
"We enjoy performing. We have to, really," said Lifeson. "That's how e developed our following. We never really relied on radio. We never had hit singles on AM radio.
"You work like crazy and do 250 dates a year playing like mad. We went everywhere two or three times that year and just worked real hard. We were young and we were having a riot and it just became a way of life for us. It still is."
Ironically, Rush's first commercial hit on the radio in 1980 was a comment on commercial radio. The Spirit of Radio is a statement on radio and, in particular, on a station in Toronto.
"The station in Toronto would only play songs that you wouldn't year on other stations. We wrote that song with this in mind - that there was still freedom in music."
Most of the band's lyrics are written by drummer Neil Peart. Lifeson, Peart and singer-bassist-keyboardist Geddy Lee have made up the band since 1974. When the trio was formed, it was hailed as Canada's answer to Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. The music had a gritty edge and Peart's lyrics resembled science-fiction epics.
Peart's themes dealt with man facing a futuristic world of machines and finally winning out against the high-tech society. This style was epitomized by the ambitious 2112 and Hemispheres albums.
But Rush later abandoned this style for a more fusion-oriented type of music.
"With Hemispheres we realized we got as far as we could with a conceptual idea: using a theme on a whole side. We were tired of it," Lifeson said, "and it was time to move on to something else.
"Influences in the late '70s and the early '80s were a lot more diverse. Music was more rhythmic. We naturally evolved into that."
Lifeson is both personable and intense. He has been voted best guitarist by Guitar Player magazine several times and he is a perfectionist when it comes to the search for the right sound and the right guitar.
"It's the most recent material that's the most challenging and the most satisfying to play and to reproduce," he said. "We're actually quite old-fashioned when it comes to that. We try to reproduce (the record) as faithfully as we can.
"We are not a jamming band, never have been an improvisational group. We're quite disciplined because our stuff is fairly complex."
Rush's latest release, Hold Your Fire, has a tighter more synthesized sound than previous efforts. But Lifeson doesn't feel it represents a new direction for the band.
"For us, you never know what's going to happen until you do it," he said. "It's quite difficult to speculate. Geddy and I talked about getting together and maybe writing songs that don't have any keyboards on them ? it might be a bit of a challenge to recreate that kind of energy now that we've done so many other things."
Like many rock 'n' rollers, Lifeson has a sense of humor. During the last few tours Rush has opened its concerts with the Three Stooges television show theme.
"We all grew up with the Three Stooges," Lifeson said. "We just thought it would be kind of funny. It's more a reflection of how we really are than some people think."