You know you've been around a long time when you've outlasted a label.
After nearly a quarter-century, the term "progressive rock" sounds flaccid. It catches in your throat. So what do you call Rush, these fortysomething guys with the monstrous chops, whose music occupies the "densely complicated" edge of the rock spectrum?
Alterna...? Forget it. Never mind. Committed? How about cool?
Nah, that couldn't be Rush. But then again...
"It's a generational thing," drummer Neail Peart, songwriter and lyricist for the Canadian trio said recently by phone. "We've been around for 20 years so a log of the bands that are popular now were influenced by us. I've spoken to musicians who have told me that we were the first concert they ever went to. And now all the cynical critics have been forced to accept us because a lot of the musicians in the alternative bands grew up listening to us."
Which must be a redeeming kind of vibe for the trio (Alex Lifeson on guitar, Geddy Lee on bass and vocals and Peart on drums) who have endured years of critical scorn to become one of rock's top concert draws. Not to mention a stated influence on respected rockers like Pearl Jam, Living Colour and Primus, as well as the focus of a legion of intensely loyal fans.
"I remember being on stage and thinking 'Why?'" Peart told the San Francisco Chronicle. "All these people still come back to see us. I guess it's a holistic thing, where the sum is greater than the parts. It must be this larger thing that surrounds us like an aura - the sounds we create together and the integrity and dedication we bring to it."
The group, formed in 1974 in Canada, first forged its style from a heavy dose of Led Zeppelin, Cream and Jimi Hendrix, laced with science-fiction themes (Peart, a reader of authors from Camille Paglia to Carl Jung to Nietzsche, writes the lyrics). After a while words like "pretentious," and "grandstanding" started to crop up in critical discussions of the band, likely because of its love of odd time signatures, motivic arrangements and fusionoid soloing. Peart admits the band did start out on the "technique for technique's sake" trip.
"When we first started we didn't so much write songs as we created musical pieces that allowed us to express our musicianship," he said.
The trio's 1981 disc, Moving Pictures, represented a commercial zenith, drawing from fusion, new wave and African pop. But the years after that weren't pleasant for Peart and the band.
"What dark days those were for real musicians," Peart said. "With all that light metal and stuff. Meanwhile we were trying to hold up the flag for integrity and all those things."
And, he says, there's nothing wrong with being complex. Even though the group's recent album Counterparts is more stripped-down and pop-oriented than some other releases, playing Rush music is still not for the faint of chops.
"You really can't do without technique," Peart said. "It's a pain in the neck, but some people can get over it, and learn to use it as something more than just digital facility. But I have no patience with musicians who say 'well I never practice, I just play what I feel.' Well, if you don't practice, what you play is going to be limited. I can tell the difference between a master playing something simply and someone else playing simply because it's all he knows."
Rush: At the ThunderDome in St. Petersburg. Tonight at 8 p.m. Tickets are $22.50 and $29.50