Old Favorites Give Fans The Classic Rush

By Ira Band, Toronto Star, December 19, 1996

Well, the long-awaited Rush concert, rumored to be held in December, actually did take place here last night.

Now, before you Rush fans develop heart failure, please be aware the show did not take place at Maple Leaf Gardens or SkyDome's skybowl, two venues the band could certainly fill.

Instead, the trio appeared at the 900-capacity Phoenix Concert Theatre, an odd choice for a band that has probably been Canada's most consistently popular and successful rock export of the last 20-plus years.

Yet, this wasn't just another Rush show. Rather, it was the 10th installment of the Molson Canadian Rocks Blind Date Tour, a cross-country marketing campaign bringing hundreds of lucky contest winners into relatively intimate contact with bands that typically play in cavernous hockey arenas or baseball stadiums. So far this year, Toronto winners have been in the company of such acts as Metallica and The Sex Pistols.

But what kind of "blind date" can it be when so many in the crowd seem to know who's going to appear?

One of the oddest moments of Rush's performance last night was the general lack of enthusiasm and excitement from the crowd when the Toronto band first stepped onstage. Where was the surprise, the thrill?

"Oh, everyone here knew it was going to be Rush," said one non-plussed patron after the band had finished its second song, the appropriately titled "Big Money."

Oh, really? Aren't these Blind Date shows supposed to be more top-secret than federal budgets? "I think it was just a lucky guess on the part of some people," said one Molson spokesperson, when advised of the highly accurate gossip going on well before the show.

Whatever. If the audience wasn't particularly aroused during the first few songs, a more spirited feeling evolved over the course of the evening.

Credit the band for this turnaround. Often hit and miss in concert, Rush was, for the most part, in fine form for much of the night.

Guitarist Alex Lifeson, drummer Neil Peart and singer/bassist/keyboardist Geddy Lee offered tight, note-perfect deliveries of such songs as "Subdivisions," "Roll The Bones" and "Nobody's Hero," transferring their big, stadium sound surprisingly well to the club venue. Little wonder, since The Phoenix was stacked with more speakers and hi-tech soundboards than are traditionally seen at this club.

Similarly strong was the lighting, which was bright and frequently dramatic. The band put it all to good use on many of the songs showcased from the new album, Test For Echo, including "Driven," "Half The World" and "Virtuality."

As expected, while the crowd provided a polite enough response for the new material, it was older, classic Rush tunes that generated the biggest and brightest spark of the evening. Nine songs into the concert, the trio offered a terrific take on "Closer To The Heart." From there, the show truly took off.