WORCESTER - You can count on certain things at a Rush concert, like chock-a-block arrangements and a fancy light show. Sometimes, in fact, the ambitious Canadian power trio's cool, busy delivery cruises into a self-indulgent blur. You wish they would have rehearsed a month instead of the craft-crazy six weeks they spent to get their current live set down as a synth 'n' pedal-juggling three-piece, just to loosen up.
But alas, there is also a sense of humor behind those chops, and a shot of spontaneity between the grooves, as Rush keenly demonstrated at the Centrum Thursday night for 12,500 fans.
After a solid but autopilot-minded first half that mixed recent hits ("Time Stand Still," "Show Don't Tell") and old gems ("Free Will", "Red Barchetta"), Rush literally pulled a rabbit out of a hat to bring its two-hour show to a peak. Make that two rabbits. In keeping with the cover of the band's new album "Presto," two inflatable bunnies grew out of tophats on stage, and when they wiggled and rocked tot he warhorse hit "Tom Sawyer," the spoof on arena-rock excess was hilarious.
But musically, apart from playful jamming on "Closer to the Heart" and the finale "In the Mood" (a nod to the band's Toronto bar scene roots), this Rush was honed for serious execution. In addition to playing old instrumental showpieces, "YYZ" and "La Villa Strangiato," Rush also dug out ancient fantasy numbers like "2112" and "Xanadu." The latter's mythological lyrics were a far cry from the preceding "Manhattan Project," with its atom bomb history lesson. But those old songs from Rush's hard art-rock period also gave added punch and dexterity to drummer Neil Peart's clean octopus-like fills, plus a few crying solos by guitarist Alex Lifeson, who often gets lost in the group's orchestration.
But even with the nod back to art-rock, Rush didn't speak to its fans with virtuoso twists alone. New songs "The Pass" and "War Paint," like "Subdivisions," addressed the peer alienation that faces the suburban males who are a share of the band's following. "The mirror always lies," bassist Geddy Lee sang on "War Paint" as a backing film showed a girl and boy in different guises to underline the folly of vanity.
Opener Mr. Big sunk in the folly of vanity, and even monster bassist Billy Sheehan couldn't save face. The title to the song "Addicted to That Rush" was just a funny coincidence. This band lacked Rush's smarts.