SIXTEEN years into its career, the Toronto-based rock trio Rush is producing some of its most exciting and provocative music yet. The trio's current album, "Presto," is following the path of its last seven consecutive albums by pressing quickly into the Top 10 on Billboard.
The three Canadians have managed to produce their technically challenging and intricate music in such a way that its albums always reach platinum status. That dichotomy is no easy task in the real world of rock 'n' roll.
However, since the release of its last studio album, 1987's "Hold Your Fire," the band has undergone a few significant changes. While the lineup of singer/bassist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart remains rock solid, there has been a change in record labels and producers. However, for Rush it is business as usual. In fact, the band's most immediate concerns the afternoon Peart telephoned were sorting out the gremlins that seem to plague all outfits in the early days of a busy touring schedule.
"No matter how well-rehearsed a band and crew may be," Peart said, "there are always the occasional surprises during the first few performances. Rush hasn't been on stage since our last tour ended in June 1988. It was the longest time off the road in our career, and there were various technical loose ends to be tied up. However, it feels so good to be performing again, these inconveniences are barely worth noting. And as important as the recording process is to one's career, there is simply nothing like performing in a concert situation. It is such an immediate transference of energy."
When Rush performs at The Arena March 5, it will play five of the songs from "Presto." It will be interesting to hear the transition of the songs from recording to concert versions.
On its debut Atlantic album release, Rush and producer Rupert Hine have returned to the group's power base for the foundation of its material. They have utilized the inherent impact of such an arrangement with considerable effect.
While there are still the keyboard padding, the simple slam-bang of stripped-down guitar, bass and drum on "Presto," the total sound has more in keeping with early Led Zeppelin than some of the more esoteric influences supposedly linked to Rush's progressive style.
The choice of Hine on "Presto" is especially significant. Not only is he the producer of more 70 than albums by prominent acts such as Tina Turner, Howard Jones, The Fixx and Stevie Nicks, but he also has recorded 15 albums under his own name. Like some other producermusicians, his impact is obvious.
"We have been wanting to work with Rupert Hine since the time of our 'Grace Under Pressure' recording sessions in 1984," Peart said. "Consequently, when our former producer, Peter Collins, was unable to rejoin us on the recording of the new album, it was very fortunate that Rupert had time free. He brought along his regular working partner, Steven Tayler, and they proved to be the perfect production team to help us polish the arrangements on the new material.
"Since we have enough recording experience under our belts to have a pretty good idea of where we want to take a particular piece of music, we don't need to be led through the process. Rupert is an accomplished vocalist and keyboard player and possesses a musical point of view that many producers cannot fathom. In fact, he was particularly helpful with the arranging of vocal harmonies. He can be heard singing on some of them.
"We returned to the process of composing on guitar, bass and drums for the first time in years," Peart continued. "On the past few Rush albums, most of the songs were started while we were sitting around Geddy's keyboard rig and the influence of the keyboard can be heard in some chord progressions. On 'Presto', the songs were more often inspired by a guitar or bass riff, and we went on with that as the basis for our arrangements."