Legendary canadian prog rock trio Rush returned to the UK last week, and played the gigs of the year. That's just one of many reasons to celebrate their existence...
From Muse's formidable brand of classically informed high octane rock 'n' roll to Opeth's epic instrumentals, the Canadian power trio's decade-spanning defiance of radio friendliness has paved the way for countless other bands to do the same.
"We were always a musician's band," says singer/bassist Geddy Lee, "and playing stuff that was hard to play was our first love. That kept s going for 30 years. Musicians appreciate that."
The short, sharp, chorus-oriented delights of punk and disco were on the rise when Rush released their side-long prog rock concept masterpiece '2112' in 1976. Then as the conservative rock world, threatened by the '80s new romantics, declared synthesizers punishable by death, Rush pioneered synth-rock on the mega-selling 'Grace Under pressure' ('84) and 'Power Windows' ('85).
When rock finally caught up in the 1990s, Rush were already bored with the future, and ploughing new furrows in raw and rootsy rock.
Sure they're doing it on purpose.
"I don't think we've really tried to go against the grain - we're just kind of...beside the grain," laughs Lee. "For instance I remember back in the early '80s when ska music was bringing a lot of ideas to pop music. We tried absorbing and learning a lot from that - we just didn't sound like the other people doing it!"
Critics have long accused Rush's complex compositions of being overstated and pretentious, not forgetting that it took seven years and 11 releases before 'Rolling Stone' even deigned to so much as review a Rush album (1982's 'Signals', two out of five star).
The thing is...Rush clearly don't give a fuck. "The more things change the more they stay the same," Lee laughs. "I turn on the TV and I see all these pop artists, and it really isn't that different from when we started. There's always going to be pop music, and there's always a preponderance of fashion and music combining to make the latest 'thing', the catchiest tune, the freshest face. It all goes back to Elvis."
Rush have survived more musical Year Zeros than you can shake a Flying V at. See, what doesn't kill them only makes them stronger. When the Sex Pistols were storming the UK's stereos with three-minute jingles, Rush were playing 20-minute epics. And when grunge reintroduced the concept of three-chord compositions 15 years later and effectively killed cock-rock, Rush were... playing 20-minute epics. And still filling arenas. And now? Ah, you guessed.
They loved both punk and grunge, mind. "The thing is, a lot of bands were up on the bandwagon with grunge, but there were some real musicians that came out with all that pop, like Soundgarden and Pearl Jam," insists Lee. "They really put a new face on being heavy again, and they were both really serious bands. You can't keep good music down."
Imagine a screaming baby sat in front of a microphone up to four giant speaker stacks. Record it. You might begin to get a sense of what Geddy Lee sounds like at his finest. A banshee? Lee eats them for breakfast.
"I have to be smart and I exercise all the time just to keep my energy up, but I don't blame some of the younger bands for going wild," he says. "The first time you go on the road it's like all of your dreams are coming true, and you never think you're going to be there for very long. We didn't."
Before Rush came along in 1968, rock 'n' roll meant 12-bar blues standards from 50 years before, but Rush changed the rules of the game. Out went predictable song structures, in came groundbreaking technique and revolutionary music that would yield multi-platinum releases such as 1976's '2112 and 1981's chart-busting 'Moving Pictures'. Not overlooking the other 22 releases that comprise one of the most enduring rock 'n' roll acts in history of course. And that's before you even think of the lyrics?
Conventional wisdom holds out that it takes 20 drummers to screw in a lightbulb. That's one to hold it and 19 to run in circles until the room spins. That might be true, but don't' count Rush drummer/songwriter Neil Peart as one of them. The literary foundation of Rush's philosophically-informed and sci-fi-themed lyrics, he brought the works of writers like Ayn Rand and JRR Tolkien to the table with tracks like 'Anthem' and 'Rivendell' on 1975's 'Fly By Night'. And when he tragically lost both his wife and daughter within a 10-month period in 1998, he turned the experience into a best-selling and travelogue entitled 'Ghost Rider; Travels On The Healing Road'.
Last New Year's Eve, guitarist Alex Lifeson attended a party at the ultra-swanky Ritz-Carlton in Naples Florida and decided he wanted to sing a song in the spirit of the festivities. When he refused to leave the stage, and the police were called in. Slightly non-plussed with his decision to spit in one of their faces and push another down a stairwell, they promptly shot him with a stun gun. He was reported as saying, "I was singing Happy New Year. That's all, 'Happy New Year'." Right. [sic: (this is NOT what happened) - webmaster]
Rush have never been afraid of sharing some of the love with up-and-coming underground acts. Over the years those soon-to-be-known bands have included the likes of Primus, Voivod and the almighty Melvins, by whom the band stuck even when The Melvins were being booed off every night on tour. It paid off: the crowd came around.
"There's always guys out there with all these experimental ideas that are doing really original, inventive things," says Lee. "The problem is, we've got these colossal record companies out there that are not very smart or interested in discovering music. If we didn't start out when we did we'd have definitely been in the same boat."
Thirty-six years after their formation, Rush are still filling venues like London's Wembley Arena with mind-bendingly intense three-hour shows, and they're showing no signs of slowing down.
RUSH'S 'FEEDBACK' ALBUM IS OUT NOW ON ATLANTIC RECORDS. 'RUSH IN RIO' IS OUT NOW ON SANCTUARY VISUAL. SEE THEIR OFFICIAL WEBSITE AT WWW.RUSH.COM.
Think this towering power-trio were the first to deviate from rock 'n' roll's typical blues-based course? Then think again, because Rush began experimenting with alternative rhythms and influences years before Rush-loving frontman Matt Bellamy was even born.
Their Roots may be deep in the Swedish death metal scene, but Mikael Akerfeldt and co's penchant for 10-minute epics like 'The Draper Falls' from 2002's 'Blackwater Park' leave no doubt as to where and how the seeds were planted.
THE MARS VOLTA
Sure, Geddy Lee's hair may look distinctively unimpressive next to The Mar's Volta's Cedric Bixler and Omar Rodriguez, but have a listen to 2003's gargantuan 'De-Loussed In The Comatorium'. You'll hear some 12-miunute post-rock fugues that have a lineage aiming straight back to Rush.
They may look like a metal band, but Dream Theater's almost comically technical compositions have set them far apart from the pack ever since their formation in 1987. And - like Rush - while trends may come and go, Dream Theater have won themselves a following to last them a lifetime.
COHEED AND CAMBRIA
Impossibly obtuse sci-fi epics? Concept albums? High-pitched keening audible only to canines? The only way Claudio Sanchez' band could be more like Rush would be if they were actually called Rush.