The influential metal band Rush has resumed touring after taking several years off. Surprisingly, the Canadian trio has kept a measure of optimism in its hard-charging rock in the face of personal tragedies.
Drummer Neil Peart experienced the 1998 death of his wife to cancer. That happened one year after Peart and his late wife lost their only daughter in a car wreck.
Peart married again in 2000. Soon after, the band began preparing new material that became the fresh new album, "Vapor Trails," which has earned some of the best reviews for Rush in more than a decade.
Singer Geddy Lee says when Rush returned to performing, the band members held a new appreciation for their careers. And being older, they were more confident and stable.
"After the difficulties of the last couple of years, it was time for some spirit to return. And we were able to capture it on tape," says Lee, whose band performs at the MGM Grand Garden arena Saturday.
One new song, "Peaceable Kingdom," addresses another tragedy, Sept. 11: "All this time we're talking and sharing our rational view; a billion other voices are spreading other news."
Lee, 49, says Sept. 11 "seemed strangely in sync with what we were singing about, the need to regain your spirit and move forward."
He's not sure if the band would have ended up hopeful had Peart not married again. But maybe moving on was meant to be. All three Rush players are optimists, Lee says.
"When you remain a band for more than 30 years, there's got to be some optimism there. Pessimists don't hang around for that long, in that kind of circumstance," he says.
Rush has also stuck around for 34 years partly because it never delved into a destructive lifestyle. Rush was never known for tossing furniture off of hotel balconies. Lee explains why, politely, with a chuckle.
"We're just nice Canadian boys," he says. "We're just quieter."
Lee, who also plays bass and keyboards, says he has partied hard, and so have Peart and guitarist Alex Lifeson. But they limited partying to their days off, far away from studios and tours.
"It doesn't matter how many people are out there; if you don't feel well, and you don't play well, you feel like (a loser). That's the fear that keeps most musicians in check, I think."
Their professionalism and hopefulness show on "Vapor Trails." Its music delves into dark thoughts but comes out wishful and aspiring.
One moment, Lee sings, "Are you under the illusion the path is winding your way?" The next, it's, "There is never love without pain."
Rush continues to influenced many divergent bands: Metallica, Tool, Primus, and other metal and alternative bands.
"Vertical Horizon and Godsmack were both at one of our shows, both huge fans. Honestly, I don't know their music very well. But bands like Tool and Primus, I like their music quite a lot, and they don't really sound like Rush to me. But they seem to have an adventurous spirit, which is not out of sync with where we're at," Lee says.
He thinks it's weird that while the band was influencing a generation of rockers, it was getting picked on by certain critics of the 1970s and 1980s.
"We've always had our share of good criticism, but our bad criticism gets more press," Lee says. "It's nice now that people aren't slamming us so much."
Lee has been baffled by those critics who went after Rush as if Rush did something to personally offend them.
"They make a point of trying to get you back. It's kind of goofy. I don't know. I think it has more to do with their problems than with what I do," he says.
Lee is pleased with the good critical and fan response to the new tour's three-hour shows. The band mixes new songs into a set list of Rush archetypes such as "The Spirit of Radio" and "Tom Sawyer." But Lee thinks he knows why people are connecting to Rush again.
"When we play those songs -- even though some of them are quite old -- they don't feel that old. They just feel like we're playing them new. So there's a lot of spirit in the performance, and the audience is feeding off of that."
In concert, Lee still gets nervous at the start of every tour. The jitters usually don't settle until he's played once or twice on the road. That's kind of like the anxiety baseball players feel, Lee says.
Musicians and athletes "share the same itinerate lifestyles, and we both have high-pressure gigs," he says.
Lee is such a baseball enthusiast, he has friends on the field. One of them, Bryn Smith, had been in the pros for 12 years when Smith got the nod to start the first-ever Colorado Rockies home game in 1993 and, nervous, he asked the singer for advice.
"He called me and said, 'There are gonna be 80,000 people in the stands. How do I deal with that?' I felt so ill-equipped. I said, 'Don't think about it. Just throw strikes, Smitty.' I know he was so disappointed I didn't give him some magic formula for dealing with the nervousness and the crowd. 'Sorry, buddy. Look at the glove. Throw the ball,'" Lee says.