More Technological Than Human

By Karen Schoemer, New York Times, December 11, 1991

Rush's concert at Madision Square Garden on Friday night was so overwhelming that it was easy to forget there were actually three men onstage. Before Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart even took the stage, a wide-screen projection showed a vaguely Cubist animated cartoon of the three musicians vaulting through the air with their instruments. Throughout the set, the backdrop intermittently displayed diverse and surreal images of drum kits suspended over water, geometric computer graphics, children gazing at space ships and flying bird's-eye views of landscapes.

The music itself was not so much a collection of songs as a nonstop technological force. Mr. Peart, the drummer, seldom played anything as simple as a back beat, instead laying down complex, assaultive patterns with frequent time changes. Mr. Lifeson's speedy, baroque guitar solos added the next layer, with their counterpoint in Mr. Lee's florid, melodic bass lines. But during numbers like "Roll the Bones," the title track from Rush's latest album on Atlantic, most of the music semmed to come from prerecorded backing tapes, anyway. Combine this with a film of a skeleton in Wayfarer sunglasses doing an electronic rap, and the musicians themselves were practically invisible.

The thousands of teen-agers in the audience, most of them male, screamed every lyric and punched their fists in the air. The played air guitar, air keyboards, and air drums. Since Rush's 1974 debut album, continuing with early 1980's albums like "Permanent Waves" and "Moving Pictures," this band has been a kind of rite of passage. With lyrics about such grand philosophic issues as free will, destiny and apocalypse, Rush creates music that is bigger than life, dazzling in its technological feats. The teen-age mind is chaos; Rush is perfect order. It's like a sonic video game.

On Firday night, Mr. Lee, who is also the vocalist, rarely addressed the audience. He didn't move around onstage much, except to give a stiff kick here and there. By the end of the concert and songs like "Tom Sawyer," swirling prisms of laser light surrounded him and Mr. Lifeson, and one wondered whether they were indeed robots or holograms. Then during the encore rendition of "The Spirit of Radio," from "Permanent Waves," Mr. Lee suddenly smiled and clapped Mr. Lifeson on the back. Such a simple gesture came as a tremendous relief; they were human, after all.