Rush Leader Keeps In Touch With The People

By Michael Eck, Albany Times Union, June 1, 1990

You may want to keep your eye out for Neil Peart riding his bicycle around downtown Albany Saturday afternoon.

That is, if you know what he looks like.

Peart, the drummer for Rush, who will appear with special guests Mr. Big at the Knickerbocker Arena on Saturday, makes a point of what he calls "protecting anonymity."

As lyricist for the long-running Canadian power trio, Peart feels it important to keep in touch with people and their everyday lives. Biking around cities he performs in is one way of doing that.

In their earlier days, the trio's lyrics tended towards flights of fantasy. Any message could be laced through a land of necromancers, snow dogs and space wizards.

In the '80s, Peart's words took a decided turn towards more tangible concepts. Intellectuals would still snigger, but his is the stuff that inspires suburban dreams of something better, for the kids of all ages who listen in.

"The backstage life," he says, "is an alienating bubble of non-reality... you have to make the effort... you have to go out and watch people and keep in touch."

Musically, Rush's material, created by Peart, bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson, has always been marked by change.

Over the course of 13 studio albums in 15 years, Rush has moved from simply being a Led Zeppelin clone to one of the most technologically-advanced music-making machines in rock.

Fans of that spirit of adventure have followed them.

"At our concerts, now you see kids who weren't even born when we started playing. You see others who have grown up with us and had to get a babysitter for the night so they could come out and see a Rush show."

Peart feels the group's latest effort, "Presto," recorded after a rare year-long break, is as different as it could possibly be from their earlier work, like the mystical pop of "Fly by Night"or the space opera "2112." Or even from mid-'80s efforts like "Moving Pictures," their biggest-selling album.

"It's changed in every conceivable way," he says. "Those are like your fridge paintings when you were a child - only your mom doesn't keep dragging those out for everyone to see and compare your present work to.

"We're not the kind of band that just trots out the oldies," Peart remarks, while complaining about recent Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney tours.

"We've gone down a lot of different roads since then. The aim of constant change and experimentation is the same, but that's it."

Mr. Big is a modern supergroup spearheaded by Buffalo bass wunderkind Billy Sheehan.

This hard rock quartet also features former Racer X guitarist Paul Gilbert, ex-Robert Plant drummer Pat Torpey, and one-time solo vocalist Eric Martin.

Sheehan led the Buffalo-based hard rock trio Talas for a decade before finding fame as part of David Lee Roth's Eat 'Em and Smile band along with guitarist Steve Vai and drumer Gregg Bissonette.

Rush. With special guest Mr. Big. 8p.m. Saturday. Knickerbocker Arena, South Pearl Street, Albany. Tickets available at all Ticketmaster locations or at the box office: $19.50.