Geddy Up: Rush bassist/vocalist turns nostalgic as band celebrates 30th anniversary

By Spencer Patterson, Las Vegas Sun, July 16, 2004

The three men of Rush might be the best of chums today, but Geddy Lee never guessed the trio might stick together for three decades.

"You wouldn't have thought so at first," Lee, bassist and vocalist for the popular Canadian power trio, said in a recent phone interview. "You know, you're young and you're not as well-spoken and you don't communicate as easily as you can when you're older.

"There's nothing like a bit of age to give you better perspective on things and a wider vocabulary in order to put things to people without stepping on toes."

To the delight of their worldwide legion of diehard fans, Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart managed to overcome the friction that may have existed between them years ago.

"We're considerate of each other's feelings, and nobody's ever felt right in bulldozing our personal desires ahead of the three of us," Lee said. "The whole thing of through thick and thin ... you find out what kind of people you are after 30 years of working together."

Rush brings this summer's massive 30th anniversary tour to the MGM Grand Garden Arena at 8 p.m. Saturday. The tour kicked off May 28 in Nashville, Tenn., and wraps up Oct. 1 in the Netherlands.

On their quirky 1997 single "Stereo," indie-rock band Pavement asked the immortal questions: "What about the voice of Geddy Lee? / How did it get so high? / I wonder if he speaks like an ordinary guy?"

Last Friday, Lee did just that. Famous for his high-pitched singing voice, the 50-year-old spoke in mellow tones during a phone interview from a car en route to Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, Calif.

He repeatedly thanked Rush's fans, who continue to pack arenas to see a band best known to outsiders for late-'70s and early-'80s FM hits "The Spirit of Radio," "Closer to the Heart" and "Tom Sawyer."

Last year's "Rush in Rio" DVD provides ample evidence of Rush's remarkable crowd support, as the rabid Brazilian audience sings in unison not only with Lee's vocals, but also to complex instrumental passages.

"It's quite amazing to be onstage and to feel all that coming at us," Lee said. "So we feel obligated to send it right back at 'em."

With 17 studio albums to their credit, the members of Rush work hard to satisfy fans when designing their live set lists. With one important caveat, that is.

"You try to cover your bases as best you can, but also play the songs that you feel you can play the best," he said.

"I know that people always request us to play (1981's) 'The Camera Eye,' and every tour we think about that. But we just don't dig playing that song, and if you don't dig playing it, you're not gonna play it well. It has nothing to do with whether it's a good song or not. If you're not getting off on it, you're not gonna do a good job with it on a nightly basis."

As always, Rush's latest set list spans the band's many eras, touching on the sci-fi/fantasy early years ("By-Tor and the Snow Dog," "2112"), its synthesized '80s run ("Subdivisions," "Red Sector A") and more critically acclaimed recent work ("Resist," "Earthshine").

"We do all our research and homework," Lee said. "Sometimes Alex and I just sit down together and go thumbs up, thumbs down. It's always a nostalgic journey."

In addition to their concert standards, the trio reached for a few relative obscurities, such as "Between the Wheels," a cut from 1984's "Grace Under Pressure."

Lee said that number has quickly turned into one of his favorites to perform.

"I love playing 'Between the Wheels,' which we haven't played since the very first tour after we wrote it," he said. "It just sounds great live. It's a real surprise of this tour."

Saturday's show should also include material from Rush's latest studio endeavor, the eight-track "Feedback" EP, released last month.

The disc breaks with Rush tradition by focusing on cover tunes by such bands as the Who, Buffalo Springfield and the Yardbirds. Lee said Rush hasn't performed cover songs since its earliest shows in the mid-1970s.

"We liked the idea of doing something that would be fun and force us to look back," Lee said. "They're songs that we tried to play in early bands or songs that we just admired and couldn't quite get the knack of. They're a lot easier to play now (laughs)."

Lee also explained that instead of marking Rush's 30th anniversary with a pricey box set, the trio opted for something that wouldn't take a big chunk out of fans' wallets.

"We wanted to do something we could price specially and make it more like a gift, like a birthday present in a way, rather than do one of these big expensive box sets that becomes an onerous thing on our fans," Lee said.

"We wanted to do something that was fresh and fun, and that wouldn't be a big stretch for someone to check out."

After finishing their North American dates in their native Toronto on Aug. 22, Rush is scheduled to head overseas for shows in the United Kingdom and mainland Europe.

Those plans could be threatened by Lifeson's scheduled Sept. 13 Florida court appearance on charges of battery and resisting arrest, stemming from a New Year's Eve incident in North Naples.

Lifeson was arrested, along with his son, Justin, after a reported drunken brawl with Collier County sheriff's deputies at the Ritz-Carlton hotel.

The otherwise forthcoming Lee was mum on the subject, declining comment.

Lee did offer a bit of news about a possible next album, which he said the band would begin working on in 2005 or 2006.

That comes as good news for Rush fans after the band's recent five-year hiatus, when the trio considered calling it quits permanently following the death of Peart's wife and daughter in separate tragedies.

Less than 12 months after Peart's 19-year-old daughter, Selena, died in a car accident, the drummer's wife, Jackie, succumbed to cancer.

Rush returned with a new album, "Vapor Trails," and a subsequent tour in 2002.

"There was a point where I think we all believed it was over," Lee said. "And when you get another chance, especially after such a difficult time, I think it prioritizes you very quickly. We don't take anything for granted anymore."

And three decades in, the revitalized Rush isn't even contemplating a possible end of the line.

"You can't talk about the end. It's like talking about when your marriage is going to end," Lee said. "You just let it be and what will be will be. You just work at making it as good as you can make it." We don't take anything for granted anymore."