Rush return to Newcastle for the first time in 27 years this week. Simon Rushworth quizzed Canadian prog rocker Alex Lifeson ahead of Friday?s guilt trip.
LIKE most rock fans, Led Zeppelin nut Alex Lifeson is still buzzing about his favourite band's much-hyped reunion.
"I queued for hours to see those guys in Toronto," said the guitarist and founder member of Rush.
"It was August 30, 1969, and the Mighty Monday rock night. The three of us who were in the band at the time got about three rows from the front and during the gig Jimmy [Page] smiled at me. I was just a normal guy from the suburbs trying to learn every Led Zep note and the great Jimmy Page had smiled at me. It was a life changing moment.
"I got to meet him and Robert Plant for the first time in 1998 ? again in Toronto. They are such great guys and this reunion can go anywhere they want it to go. But I guess Robert is four or five years older than me and touring takes its toll. It's a tough decision that they have to take."
Lifeson knows just how tough. It was Rush's punishing programme, constantly criss-crossing the USA and Canada, which persuaded the meticulous three-piece to shun Europe for so many years.
Not since 1980, and the Permanent Waves tour, has Newcastle borne witness to a Rush concert and it is little wonder the excitement of fans is fast reaching fever pitch ahead of Friday's Metro Radio Arena show.
"We've felt a great deal of guilt over the years for not coming over to the UK sooner and more often," confessed Lifeson. "But we used to do these long tours of North America and we'd be exhausted and in no shape to do the same show anywhere else.
"We didn't want to come over here for the sake of it and then put ourselves in a position where we couldn't perform at the highest level. In addition, it's only in the last decade that the UK has boasted the kind of arenas we need to put on a proper Rush show. The big venues are our bread and butter and that's where we're at home. These days we can do our full three-hour show with the best possible production at home and abroad."
Central to the Snakes and Arrows show is a clutch of tunes from the band's new album of the same name.
Charting at number three in America's Billboard Top 100 earlier this year, a traditionally powerful Rush record manages moments of modernity capable of challenging the myriad pretenders of the past two decades. "We managed to strike a good balance with Snakes and Arrows," agreed Lifeson. "It's got a lot of how we were and how we have always been in it. But it does feel to us as though it's quite forward-thinking and contemporary. We wrote everything on an acoustic guitar, which was a real treat, and it was a very casual process for the first few weeks.
"I'd go over to see Geddy (Lee, Rush vocalist) ? he just lives five minutes away from me ? and we'd work for five or six hours a day. We were more productive doing that than going into a studio five hours a day, six days a week. We took some time off and started again last September and I think we got done three weeks ahead of schedule."
Such efficiency is hardly surprising. With a new wave of popularity washing over their own meaty brand of progressive rock, Rush have no time to waste. And Tyneside will be treated to a trio at the top of their profession.
Rush play Newcastle's Metro Radio Arena tomorrow. The tour edition of Snakes and Arrows (Atlantic Records) is out now.