When Rush visited the Valley in 2004, the band was celebrating 30 years in the music biz, playing rarely heard chestnuts from albums like Fly By Night and Grace Under Pressure, as well as radio hits like The Spirit of Radio and Tom Sawyer.
When the band visits Cricket Wireless Pavilion on July 27, however, Rush will dial back the classics a little bit. With a new album, Snakes & Arrows, which hit stores in May, the Canadian prog-metal trio is proving it is anything but a nostalgia act.
We spoke recently spoke with guitarist Alex Lifeson about the current tour and new album.
How is the tour going so far?
It's going great - we've got one leg under our belt and we're now working our way down through the West. The response has been amazing, we usually do well on our tours, but the attendance is up almost 40 percent and everyone is familiar with the new material.
You seem to be pushing the new album quite a bit on this tour.
Yeah, we typically only do about four new songs a tour, but this time we're doing nine total. This album is such a joy to play and the response has been overwhelming to it. We did the greatest hits nostalgia thing on our 30th Anniversary Tour in 2004, playing all the old stuff that we hadn't done in awhile - we didn't need to do it again.
The new album is your strongest in quite awhile. The songs are almost paradoxical - they are straightforward yet are also densely layered. How do you recreate the music live?
Once we start playing songs live they take on a new identity. It isn't as difficult as I thought it would be though. The layering is missing, but we make up for that in just the sheer power of the whole band live. It doesn't destroy the song if it's missing a vocal harmony here or a guitar overdub there.
You seem to have a much stronger presence on the album - there are acoustic guitars and even mandolin all over the record.
Well, the guitar is the heart and soul of rock and roll. And when we started working on the record and putting it all together with (producer) Nick Raskulinecz, he really understood that and moved the guitars up in the mix.
This is your first album of new material in five years, what was the creative process like?
It was actually pretty fast for us. With this record we started in March 2006. (Bassist) Geddy (Lee) and I just started trading ideas on the acoustic guitar. I'd walk over to his house, we only live five minutes away, and we'd work in the afternoons three days a week. The rest of the time was spent doing all those normal things you do at home.
It was nice, unlike when the whole machine starts up and we go to a studio to write five days a week. We worked in a casual setting in his home studio and got a lot of the musical ideas done before we met with (drummer) Neil (Peart). He brought his lyrical ideas and we got him up to speed on the music. Then we took the summer off.
In September we spent about six weeks polishing everything up, meeting with Nick, before we went into the studio. By the time we went to record we were well rehearsed and had everything worked out. We recorded the entire album in about five weeks before Christmas.
What was it like working with Nick Raskulinecz?
He was just like one of the guys - he was so enthusiastic about the process. He saw something in not just the record, but in who Rush was. In this great push to move forward and break new ground, he made us remember who we were, and where we come from. It was a joyful recording session. We don't want to stop moving forward, our music has always been about progress and we've always tried to stay current. I think we got the best of both worlds.