"When we started out, we were just kids playing the kind of music that we liked," says bassist/singer Geddy Lee. "It was kind of progressive rock, it was kind of heavy metal, but it didn't really fit into any easy description, and by virtue of that it was not of the taste du jour for most mainstream rock periodicals, and I think that's what made us outsiders. We were not groovy-looking, we were not the pop taste of the moment. We were suburban kids made good."
No fucking kidding! Rush, who play the Comcast Center (what used to be the Tweeter Center, and before that Great Woods) on Sunday, are one of rock's most quietly enduring success stories: 40 years later, the Canadian trio's rabid fan base and enduring legacy continue to frustrate those who'd like to pretend that '70s prog never existed. (And who but Rush would do something like follow up last year's Snakes & Arrows with this year's Snakes & Arrows Live?) Of course, Geddy thinks that the whole "prog is a four-letter word" stigma is all smoke and mirrors. "Look at a band like Radiohead: they are a big-themed band, and they're kind of the leader in the current prog-rock parade, in my opinion. They are probably loved by a lot of people who don't like ?prog rock,' because they have an image that makes them acceptable, a grooviness that supersedes their music. And I think that's part and parcel with acceptance of certain bands: if they have a groovy buzz, then it almost makes what they are doing musically acceptable by association. I think it's a lot about a time and a place, more than the actual music that they're playing."
This assessment makes sense from a member of a band who, with their virtuoso chops, raised the bar stultifyingly high in terms of actual music being played. "We're just concerned with playing well - even after 400 years of touring, we still discuss, you know, how we sucked last night, or how can we make that one song better, or with that song that we've played for 35 years, how the chorus could be played better. In some ways we're overly focused on playing well, it's the part that makes us feel best about what we do."
Rush - Lee, drummer Neal Peart, and guitarist Alex Lifeson - are an oddity in a rock biz founded on oddities. Never having fit into any formal categorizations, even among hard-rock and progressive-rock bands, they forged ahead long enough to have created their own niche. Part of that niche was addressing their surroundings honestly - while the rest of the '70s rock parade was coming to your town and partying down, Rush were penning meditative masterpieces about the suburban condition, like 1982's "Subdivisions."
"That song, to me, described what me and my friends could relate to," says Lee. "Growing up in the suburbs, feeling this disconnect with urban life - and I guess it's because so much of North American life was constructed that way, during the period we were growing up and afterward. As we toured around, especially in America, we saw how life kind of ran away from the downtown areas into the suburbs, so I imagine the disconnect was something that rang true with a lot of people."
The thematic arc of their music is not unlike the painful transition from adolescence to adulthood. In the beginning, there is pure aggression; then there's the world of fantasy and illusion; then, eventually, the real world and its issues start to break down the wall of fantasy. Next thing you know, you're an adult. "You don't feel like a citizen when you're in a young rock band, it's all about the rock experience - and if you have the good fortune to still be writing songs 30 years later when you're an adult, the things you think about and the things that affect you obviously show up in the music and the lyrics. It's a unique opportunity to still be writing all these years later, and I think unlike a lot of bands who are kind of trading on their past, we're trying hard not to."
That means we shouldn't be holding our collective breath for Rush to revisit prog's salad days and write more side-long 20-minute epics à la "2112" and "The Necromancer." "You know, we got really bored with that [writing long pieces] - it's a limitation to take 30 minutes and dedicate it to one idea, you know, divide that up into six different ideas, six different musical adventures. I won't say it hasn't crossed our mind, but we don't want to do it as a premeditated construct, as a thing to do because people expect us to do it."
In that sense, Rush as an entity is more than a rock band, almost a democratic ideal: three members working together to make music that is the melodramatic opposite of the usual rock-and-roll recipe of rebellion and hostility. "It's nice - we don't always agree, but we are able to, for some reason, be ridiculously considerate of each other. I don't know, maybe it's because our moms brought us up to be nice boys. It's the reason we've been able to keep it together, to be, you know, the last working democracy."
RUSH | Comcast Center, 885 South Main St, Mansfield | June 15 at 6:30 pm | $28-$110