Neil Peart has 22 years' worth of Rush records he could listen to, but he never does.
The drummer and lyricist for the stalwart Toronto rock trio wouldn't dream of kicking back in his living room and spinning 1974's FLY BY NIGHT or 1978's HEMISPHERES. Too indulgent, he says.
So when it came time to carve out a set list for the band's current tour - which brings it to the CoreStates Center tonight - Peart had to pull out his old LPs just to refresh his memory. Some off-the-wall suggestions from Peart and his band mates, bassist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson, made the cut for the three-hour show.
"The three of us were sending faxes back and forth with potential lists," Peart said. "Some were intended to be ridiculous...but even some of those worked out. Somebody else would take it seriously and say, 'Well wait... What if we did this? It could really work.'"
With 16 studio albums - including TEST FOR ECHO (Atlantic), which debuted at No. 5 on Billboard's album chart last month - there was plenty to choose from. Take away Aerosmith, which fractured for several years in the early '80s, and Rush has the longest track record of any original rock lineup around.
Fans hoping to hear something really odd may be out of luck, however. He won't name titles, but som eof the old stuff makes Peart squirm. "Do you want to see your kindergarten paintings hanging on the refrigerator?" he said with a laugh. "That's tough, to know that things you did 23, 24 years ago are still out there in front of people. Of course, it's embarrassing."
With the tour opening on Oct. 19, the famously hard-working Rush ended the longest road break of its career. Since the COUNTERPARTS tour in mid-1994, band members have been involved in side projects (Peart's Buddy Rich tribute, Lifeson's solo disc), babies (Lee's new son), and even musical training (Peart worked with a drum coach for two years).
"I spent the last two years in my basement basically playing for the spiders," said Peart. "And that did me more good musically than two years of touring - or five years of touring - would ever have."
With renewed energy, Rush went roaring into the ECHO sessions last winter. It had already run through its traditional game plan, hunkering down at a house in the Canadian countryside, where Lee and Lifeson forged song structures, and Peart toiled on the words that would fill them. The result is a guitar-heavy album that rocks harder than anything from Rush in the last 10 years.
Peart, 44, plans to record more Buddy Rich tribute material, and finds touring increasingly less appealing artistically. "In your building years, there's nothing better you could do than...play every night on a stage and force yourself to that level. We would feel it, as a band, getting better," he said. "But, of course, once you've achieved that after 20 years, you have it."
That doesn't mean he's complaining about performing in front of 20,000 demanding fans. When you're held up as one of rock's top drummers, the pressure is intense.
"That's a tremendous challenge, to walk up those stairs every night, especially with 20-odd years behind you," Peart said. "You're no longer trying to prove anything to someone who doesn't know you. You're trying to live up to something.
"It's the ultimate ordeal by fire."
IF YOU GO
Rush will perform tonight at 8 at the CoreStates Center, Broad and Pattison Streets. Tickets: $24.50 ($35 seats are sold out). Phone: 215-336-3600.