AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION. It can make or break a show, and tonight the fabulous crowd made Mr Big bigger and Rush into an overpowering aural cataclysm.
At 7.30pm sharp, Mr Big ease onstage to a healthy round of applause and jump into a seven-song set of bluesy rock and roll. The tunes are catchy and well played ( of course! ), but I have to admit that I preferred them in the more intimate setting of a small club I'd seen the band in a couple of months ago. It's da blooze, after all, so it can't really knock over a stadium rock crowd.
The crowd's enthusiasm and the bands energy, do win out though, and "Merciless", "Take a Walk", and "Big Love" are three heavy hitters. Vocalist Eric Martin is a showman as well as a soulful singer, getting down on his knees to praise the virtues of Texan women, then harassing his bandmates during their instrumental sections.
Then it's a fun ride to show closer "Addicted to that Rush" , and the band increase their efforts, culminating in Eric Martin's query: "Are you Addicted to RUSH?" The song is momentarily drowned by screams and yowls. Ask a stupid question....
There are a lot of Rush fans in South Texas, and it looks like every one of them got a seat for this show. How else can you explain the tremendous roar that goes that goes up when the lights go black, the vibration that rolls up your spine as 13,000 people rise to their feet, the applause that crackles like prairie fire from balcony to stage-edge?
The opening video is an oldie with a new twist; tonight the cartoon people are queueing to see "Attack of the killer Rabbits". The musicians onscreen hit their stage just as the opening bars of "Force Ten" burst from the expertly wielded instruments of the now visible Lifeson, Peart and Lee. The song streams through multicoloured cones of light, and we're all entranced like deer on the highway - well, deer who yell and play air guitar and jump up and down!
The band are in shades of black, white, grey, and silver ( Peart's drumkit, that ), but the crowd are bathed in a rainbow for much of the show. Being able to see each other and knowing that Rush see us inspires even higher levels of hyperactivity. The perfectly clear and strong notes ( especially those from Geddy's throat ) answer us and encourage us to still more. Let me tell ya, I'm not going over the top here; These are easily the most exciting concert moments I've experienced in years.
Its the old songs that get the best response, and Rush run through several of them; "Freewill" , "Time Stands Still" and "Red Barchetta" are the biggest adrenalin pumpers. How can the music be so hot, while the band are so cool?
"Superconductor" and "Show don't tell", off the new album, don't meet with as big a welcome, but then they're not old friends yet. Just wait a couple of years. In the meantime the new video backup ( cartoon magicians and computerised weirdness emerging from a top hat ) keeps up properly impressed.
After Geddy shows his best on the classic "Closer to the heart" , it's time for a surprise - the seldom heard "Xanadu". It leads into "YYZ" and Neil Peart's kilt spins around in preparation for what will be another lesson in When You Certainly May Solo, In Fact, When You Had Better! The sound is nearly African in parts, orchestral in others. Special effects and synthesized jazzy outbursts keep us cheering, though Peart never stops to indulge himself in our praise.
Back to full band efforts, and a portion of their stage show obviously affected by their excellent sense of humor. From each side of the stage, two giant rabbits emerge from magicians' hats. They remain static through "War paint" and the "The Mission" but can't resist "Tom Sawyer" -they begin to shake and shimmy and wave their long white ears. Utter silliness and perfect one-upmanship of the Rolling Stones' inflatable bimbos. Even Geddy's laughing as he strolls across the stage, grabbing the sides of Alex's mouth in an attempt to make him smile too.
It's not over till It's over, and Rush give us our money's worth on the encore, hopping through "Big money", "2112"'s rocketing "Overture" with a segue into "La Villa Strangiato" and "In the mood" under dark blue lights and lasers gone mad. Even Alex infected by the general joyousness, shows us some dance moves, under Geddy's direction.
We're screaming, they're smiling, and it's for the same reason; "You guys have been great" Geddy yells.
Right back atcha, gentlemen.