Never let it be said that Rush doesn't have a sense of humor.
The veteran Canadian art-rockers have often been accused of self-indulgence and musical flatulence. At times during Tuesday's show at the Rosemont Horizon (the first of a two-night stand), those charges rang true.
But the two-hour set was also frequently hilarious - just as Rush intended.
The show opened with a slow-motion cartoon of a giant nut and bolt mating in outer space to the theme music from "2001: A Space Odyssey." (The hardware appears on the cover of the band's 19th album, "Counterparts," a concept work about male/female relations.)
Guitarist Alex Lifeson introduced his bandmates as "Mike Ditka" (bassist-vocalist Geddy Lee) and "Stan Mikita" (drummer Neil Peart), while he claimed to be Bobby Hull. (Oh, those jokers.)
For $34.50, fans also got to see two 50-foot-tall inflatable bunny rabbits, a conga line of tuxedo-wearing roadies, snippets of silent-screen comedies, some nifty virtual reality-style graphics, swirling psychedelic lights, shooting flames and thundering explosions.
And in between, the band played some tunes.
Actually, the music wasn't that much of an afterthought, but longtime Rush fans could tell that there were really two concerts on the same stage.
One show was tailor-made for the Rush fans of the '80s, a group weaned on glitzy MTV videos. Much of the set relied on the overly slick, keyboard-heavy sounds of such rotten albums as "Roll the Bones," "Presto" and "A Show of Hands."
Since this is Rush's weakest music, all of the visual tricks were rolled out during these tunes to keep the crowd from nodding off. (Thankfully, the spectacles were entertaining - the tunes would have been torture without them.)
The other show was composed of older, riff-heavy classics such as "The Trees," "Tom Sawyer," "Limelight" and "Closer to the Heart." These were delivered with no visual nonsense, and they really didn't need any: Peart's polyrythmic drumming was more than enough to marvel at.
There's hope for the future in the fact that the songs from "Counterparts" (including "Stick It Out," "Animate" and "Nobody's Hero") had more in common with prime Rush than the bogus '80s Rush.
But while the group says its new album was inspired by alternative rockers Primus (which opened at the Horizon) and Pearl Jam, both of those bands succeed because they avoid gimmicks and concentrate on passionate playing.
The Horizon show offered plenty to laugh at, but fans came to hear the music, and those who pre-date the mid-'80s left a bit disappointed.
Photo caption: Rush bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee (a.k.a. "Mike Ditka") gets in some playing time Tuesday night at the band's concert at the Rosemont Horizon. Their act was as much sideshow as musical entertainment.