...but they've always got time for Glasgow, finds Stuart Morrison
Alex Lifeson is full of apologies when The Herald's slot in his packed schedule eventually comes round. "I've got a huge list of people to call and they're all taking longer than their 10 minutes," he explains.
It's understandable - there's a lot to get through. The guitarist is one-third of Canadian legends Rush, who have just flown in from Canada to start the European leg of their world tour at Glasgow's SECC tonight, promoting their latest album, Snakes and Arrows. Despite the jetlag and the end-to-end interviews, Lifeson is in jovial mood.
"We're enjoying the tour," he says. "We're playing really well and the response has been great so far. The set includes nine new songs, which is more than we have ever included. That shows just how much we like the album."
Snakes and Arrows does sound like a band enjoying themselves again. Perhaps, I suggest, the album's producer, Nick Raskulinecz, renowned for his work with the Foo Fighters, pushed them hard. "Yes, he really wanted to do this record," agrees Lifeson. "We were the first band he ever saw, when he was 11 years old, and while we were anxious to move forward and be seen to be progressing, he made us step back a little and embrace our past. It sounds like a classic Rush record, but the music is very much where we want to go."
There's a scene in the documentary contained on the "tour edition" of the album in which the young producer congratulates exhausted drummer Neil Peart on the blistering take he has just completed only to suggest that he goes back and does it differently. "Yeah, but that's why we hire producers," laughs Lifeson.
"We've been doing this for the longest time and we know what we can do. Nick loved the music and gave us a different perspective on it."
Lifeson is keen to avoid the "nostalgia tour" tag. "The Police and bands like that are doing their greatest-hits thing now and we really covered that three years ago on our R30 tour. We want to move forward and we'll be touring this album until next summer, when I think we'll have done 110 shows."
Glasgow holds a special place in Rush history, with the "Glasgow Apollo Choir" credited on the track Closer to the Heart on their 1981 live album, Exit Stage Left. "The Glasgow crowd have always been special," says Lifeson. "When they started singing along, it really choked us up."
The rejuvenation of the city impressed the band when they last appeared three years ago. "The difference from our first visit, in 1977, was amazing," Lifeson says. "The transformation from a grey, industrial city to the modern, vibrant place it is now was striking."
In 1981, Lifeson performed a gruesome version of I Belong to Glasgow, which further endeared him to the crowd and made Neil Peart crack up. "That's not easy to do," he says with another laugh, "but you've got to try!"
Rush play the SECC, Glasgow, tonight.