Rush's 19th album, Counterparts, debuted at No.2 on the Billboard album charts, the band's highest debuting album ever.
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Erwin Center
Tickets: $22.50, $25 and $28.50
PHILADELPHIA - The cover of Rush's latest album, Counterparts, shows things that can't exist alone, such as a nut and bolt.
The CD itself showcases three other things that haven't existed apart for the past 20 years: drummer-lyricist Neal Peart, guitarist Alex Lifeson and bassist-singer Geddy Lee.
Peart attributes the Canadian band's longevity to a combination of Lifeson's spontaneity, Lee's "melodic instinct" and "meticulous passion," and his own "obsessive drive."
"We root each other and we uproot each other," said Peart.
Rush, which visits the Erwin Center Tuesday, has been pushing the envelope of progressive rock since its first self-titled album in 1974, combining sonic power and intricacy with lyrical integrity and intelligence. Lee's bass playing has influenced countless musicians to take the instrument out of its strictly rhythmic role and into a melodic one.
They've done everything from concept albums (2112) to live albums (All The World's A Stage, Exit...Stage Left, A Show of Hands). Their classic, Tom Sawyer, from 1981's Moving Pictures, is still one of the most requested songs on rock radio. Rush has done 18 records, including a double disc anthology in 1990, Chronicles.
The band's 19th effort is pared down, less dependent on technology and more reliant on the natural sound of guitar, bass and percussion. The band brought back Peter Collins, who had done their more heavily produced records, Power Windows (1985) and Hold Your Fire (1987), but this time, they wanted simplicity.
The formula seems to have worked - Counterparts debuted at No. 2 on Billboard's album charts, the band's highest debuting album ever.
Peart is Rush's wordsmith, he is fascinated with the concept of yin (the passive and negative female force) and yang (the active and positive male force). He can use a nature metaphor one minute, a technical one the next.
He's also a disciplined writer who favors restraint as opposed to what he calls "unabashed emotionalism."
"Here's a lovely example: people always think, 'oh, it must be so healthy psychologically to be a drummer because you can just smash things all the time,'" Peart said. "Well, you can't. You have to control yourself. You have to smash them at the right time with the right intensity and a sense of flow...I never feel released when I'm playing drums - I just feel tremendously disciplined."
Counterparts deals with personal issues: the nature of love (The Speed of Love, Cold Fire); ambition (Cut to the Chase); and Carl Jung's concept of the masculine animus and the feminine anima (Animate).
But Peart says it's not conventionally introspective, rather more a combination of personal experience and imagined situations.
"That's really a style of lyricism that I congenially dislike," He said with a laugh. "I'm not really fond of self-revelation in lyrics because I think it's a bit indulgent."
Peart's mind works as deftly as his drum patterns. He speaks of Jung, T.S. Eliot, politics, history, his fascination with Chinese and African culture and his love of cycling in rapid succession.
"These songs grow out of reading and conversations and thinking and driving and collecting phrases," he said.
He keeps a journal while traveling and says he has years worth of material gathered. And he finds certain themes repeating themselves.
"That little gateway between innocence and experience I find I'm always coming back to readdress," he said. "The nature of ambition, for instance, gets examined in some way or another on probably nearly every record."
Rush has been called stuffy and pompous by critics, and they tend to be a band people either love or can't stand. But their seriousness often masks their humor.
On the "Roll the Bones" tour, two huge inflatable rabbits (echoing the cover of their 1989 album, Presto) arose from the sides of the stage and bobbed along in time to Tom Sawyer. And the title of their live album, Exit...Stage Left, was in deference to the cartoon character Snagglepuss.
On Counterparts, there's an instrumental called Leave That Thing Alone, a follow-up to a track on Roll The Bones called Where's My Thing? The origin of the titles came from recording sessions.
"Alex would be working the console and we were doing the demos...he'd be looking for something you know, 'Where's my thing?'" Peart said.
"We all grew goatees, or at least interesting facial hair, during the recording and writing process (of Counterparts)... .When you have a goatee of hair, you tend to play with it all the time, so we were constantly saying to each other, 'Leave That Thing Alone!' " he said.
Peart admits that 20 years of touring have taken their toll, and the band has discussed giving it up.
"I always tend to push for continuing to tour because I think it's so important a part of a vital band," he said. "I think for the risk-taking aspect, for the discipline of playing at a hundred percent night after night, playing live takes you to a level that you would never willing drive yourself to."