Most bands that have endured for three or more decades feel compelled to essentially play a greatest-hits set in their concerts. Be it Aerosmith, the Rolling Stones, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard or Journey, these groups will sprinkle in perhaps three or four new songs into a live set at best.
Rush is the prime exception to that rule, and at no time has that been more apparent than on the group's tour in support of its 2007 studio CD, "Snakes & Arrows."
On the tour, which resumed last month, the band has been playing nine of the 11 songs from "Snakes & Arrows." In a recent phone interview, guitarist Alex Lifeson says two factors allow Rush to showcase so much of the new material live -- the band's satisfaction with "Snakes & Arrows" and the length of the band's set.
"First of all, we felt so strongly about it," Lifeson says of "Snakes & Arrows." "We were very happy with the results of the record. ... In the past, we probably would have done three or four, maybe five, from a new album. But this one, we just couldn't, we wanted to play the whole thing. For us to settle at nine, I thought, was pretty generous. And in doing over three hours, it allows us to get a chunk of the new material in, as well as revisiting older stuff that are maybe fan favorites."
Just as importantly, Lifeson says many Rush fans seem to mirror the band in its desire to live in the present and push forward musically.
"I want to think that Rush fans want to hear that anyway. They want to hear the new stuff," he says. "Sure, 'Tom Sawyer' or 'Spirit of the Radio' are great, but they want to see where the band's going and how we can replicate what we do in the studio, still."
Rush, in fact, is proud enough of "Snakes & Arrows" and the shows the band performed last year on the first half of the tour to have recently released a two-CD set culled from two shows in Rotterdam in the Netherlands called "Snakes & Arrows Live." A DVD shot during those same concerts will be released later this year.
Despite the fact that fans will be able to own the "Snakes & Arrows" CD right as this year's tour starts, Lifeson says the band isn't making major changes to the live set.
"We'll change up the show a little bit," he says. "We've changed some video stuff that we did at intermission when we come back onstage. We're trading out a few songs for a few others -- I think four songs."
The members of Rush - Lifeson, singer/bassist Geddy Lee and drummer Neil Peart - have good reason to be proud of the "Snakes & Arrows" studio CD. It's one of the band's best efforts, and combines fairly concise rockers like "Far Cry" and "Armor and Sword," which feature strong melodies and sharp guitar riffs, with longer, more adventurous tracks such as "Spindrift" and "The Main Monkey Business."
"Snakes & Arrows" provided a heartening high point for a band that had endured its share of heartache and uncertainty in recent years.
Formed in 1974 in Toronto, the band's future was thrown into question when, in 1997, Peart's 19-year-old daughter, Selena, was killed in a one-car accident near Brighton, Ontario. About a year later, his wife, Jackie, succumbed to cancer.
The band put everything on hold, and Peart (who remarried in 2000) hadn't even picked up his drumsticks for nearly four years when, in fall 2000, the group decided to return to the studio and try to resume its career. There was no guarantee that the group would succeed.
"It was the first record back after that four years off," Lifeson said. "We weren't sure how Neil was going to do. He hadn't been playing for a while. We had sort of been pursuing other things - when I say we, I mean Geddy and myself. So there were a lot of things up in the air."
The band, though, found a groove and, in 2002, returned with the CD "Vapor Trails." But with "Snakes & Arrows," Lifeson feels the group hit a new peak.
He credited producer Nick Raskulinecz with helping the group to stay in touch with its musical strengths.
"Nick, you know, made us realize that sometimes we try to get too far away from what we do for the feat of repeating ourselves," Lifeson says, citing the group's active rhythm section and vocal harmonies as two signatures that Raskulinecz sought to keep in check. "He pointed out to us that we have to be careful about the sorts of things we try to run away from. He said there are things about Rush that are so Rush-ian, you know, and you have to continue to incorporate them. They're what makes you special.
"It sort of opened our eyes to what our character is as a band. And that made things a lot more exciting."