Rush is far from the only group giving the 1997 summer concert season a distinct 1970s rock accent. But unlike contemporaries such as Styx, Supertramp or Boston -- all of which are back in action after personnel changes or temporary breakups -- Rush is one of the few bands of the era to have stayed intact and continuously recorded and toured.
This fact is not lost on drummer Neil Peart.
"When we got together, did we ever think about 20 years down the line? No way," he said emphatically. "In fact, on our first tour we collected souvenirs and so on, thinking it might be the last. You dare not take anything for granted. I think another contribution to our longevity is that we've never taken ourselves for granted, and we've never taken our career for granted or our fans or anything. It's always been a fresh battle every time."
The latest challenge for Rush was their recent CD, "Test For Echo," the 16th studio record for the Canadian trio, which also includes bassist/singer Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson.
The new CD follows an 18-month hiatus -- the longest break the band has ever taken from recording and touring. In that time Peart worked on a tribute album to drummer Buddy Rich, Lifeson made a solo record (as "Victor") and Lee became a father of a baby girl.
And when the trio reconvened in October 1995 to begin work on a new CD at Chalet Studio near Toronto, some subtle changes had occurred to alter the way they worked together.
Within Rush, Lee and Lifeson write the music, while Peart handles the lyrics. But for "Test For Echo," Lifeson, fresh from the Victor project, arrived ready to make a greater impact than ever before.
"I think this time it was harder for them (Lee and Lifeson) to find a new balance because Alex was coming back with a new level of confidence and involvement and wanted to assert that," Peart said. "They had to find a new dynamic between them than they'd had in the past. So it is more difficult."
Things apparently didn't always go smoothly.
"Any time there's a truly collaborative piece of work where you have to create on the spot in the same room together, I think that's a difficult situation," Peart said. "So I kind of empathize with what they have to go through with that, but it certainly works, and it's fortunate that they've been friends so long that they can weather nearly any kind of a difficult patch."
The finished product suggests that Lee, Lifeson and Peart found a workable balance. "Test For Echo" retains the complex, progressive rock sound established with well-known songs like "Tom Sawyer" or "The Spirit Of Radio," but it does have its shades of difference -- particularly in scaling back keyboards to emphasize more of a guitars/bass/drums sound.
"On this record, I was certainly very focused on drum set playing, but at the same time, I never closed the door on electronics," Peart said. "I had my samplers and all the pads and stuff sitting there if they were required. But the songs as they came about simply didn't require that. So very often just the songs themselves dictate which way to go."