Twenty years, 18 albums and a thousand stages later, the Canadian progressive rock trio Rush continues to blaze its singular musical path. It is one of the few acts of its generation that can truly say its best work is not yet behind them, and bassist/singer Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart brought their "Counterparts" tour to The Arena Monday evening to prove it.
"Counterparts" is a big-budget spectacle, with giant inflatable bunnies appearing from nowhere, flames bursting from various areas of the stage and a concussive explosion punctuating Peart's drum solo. From the opening video sequence of a nut and bolt uniting in outer space, it was evident that the staging was to be among the most impressive of the band's career.
What was also striking is how naturally the threesome has matured musically, with synthesizer and sequencer embellishments combining with its power trio roots seamlessly.
For example, after Lifeson's strumming, 12-string acoustic introduction to "Nobody's Hero," the arrangement swelled into a complex texture produced by Lee's keyboard and bass juxtaposed with Peart's shifting underpinning.
Other selections from "Counterparts," such as "Cold Fire," "Stick It Out" and "Animate," received equally inventive treatment, with "Double Agent," a number even Lee referred to as unusual, coming across as a real standout. Looking back a few pages in its career, the title track to the group's 1991 release, "Roll the Bones," turned out to be a real crowd pleaser. During that number, Lifeson's polished hypnotic phrasing supported one of Lee's best vocal performances of the evening.
One of my favorite moments of the evening occurred during "Closer to the Heart." After a mesmerizing instrumental, Lee confidently ripped into a savage attack on his Fender Jazz bass that highlighted his command of the instrument.
While many acts would prefer not to hire a viable opening act, Rush has always made a point of finding the most striking talents available. Primus was no exception. Still merrily "Sailing the Seas of Cheese," bassist/vocalist Les Claypool's quirky collection of tunes was the perfect complement to the program. With a vocal nasality second to none and a slippery bass technique that is simply flooring, Claypool acquainted the crowd with material from "Pork Soda" and illustrated why the group is one of the most inventive acts to emerge from the San Francisco scene in the last decade.