Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson remembers one overriding feeling that came with the making of "Moving Pictures," the 1981 album that became the band's most popular release - fun.
"It was a very positive experience," Lifeson recalled in a recent phone interview. "Sometimes records can be quite difficult. (The 1984 album) 'Grace Under Pressure,' for example, was a very hard record to make. It seemed to take forever. Again, we were at Le Studio (in Quebec) and it was very cold. We just really struggled with that one. But 'Moving Pictures' was quite the opposite. We had a lot of fun and we had great direction. We did some writing in the studio. All the sounds came together. There was a great buoyant feeling to the whole experience."
The flashback to "Moving Pictures" is relevant now, nearly 30 years after the album's release for a couple of reasons. First of all, Rush is playing that album, which sold more than 4 million copies and included the hit singles "Tom Sawyer" and "Limelight," in its entirety on its current tour. The band will play Downtown Toledo's Huntington Center on April 13.
There seems to be a parallel between the "Moving Pictures" project and the experience Lifeson and his band mates (singer/bassist Geddy Lee and drummer Neil Peart) have had so far in working on a new studio CD, tentatively called "Clockwork Angels."
"We've got this great feeling of promise for this album and some of the material on it," Lifeson said. "It's going to work out really great."
For now, though, the focus is on the live show, which figures to be a typically epic evening of Rush music for fans. As on recent tours, the band is playing two sets totaling around three hours. But there are some new twists to the show, one of which is playing "Moving Pictures" in its entirety.
The idea was proposed by Peart after seeing Steely Dan on a recent tour.
"He was really impressed with the fact that they were doing different albums night to night," Lifeson said. "That's perhaps a little ambitious for us."
So Rush decided to do just one of its albums on the tour. The band had already settled on doing "The Camera Eye," the longest song on "Moving Pictures" for this tour, so that helped make the decision on which album to perform.
"We thought it would be a nice way to incorporate doing that song, a little more of a special presentation," Lifeson said, "The other stuff from that album, we've been doing for awhile on and off, but it was nice to condense it all into the album and present it that way."
Today, 30 years down the road, Lifeson feels "Moving Pictures" still holds up well.
"I guess it's the wide-eyed nature of the album," he said. "The songs are all quite cinematic lyrically and musically. It's kind of a very up record, sonically it's up. 'Limelight' has that big, bold kind of sound, as does 'Red Barchetta' and it has those typical kind of dynamics that we're known for, (as on) 'Tom Sawyer' of course. I guess it has all those elements that were in the right balance. Yeah, you can try as hard as you want and you can't always do that."
There are other new twists to the live set.
"There are two new songs we're doing ("Caravan" and "BU2B"), plus a bunch of stuff we haven't done in a while, like 'Presto," Lifeson said, mentioning the title track of the band's 1989 CD. "I'm not sure we've ever played 'Presto' live. So yeah, [there are] a couple of treats. 'Time Stand Still' (from the 1987 album "Hold Your Fire") is back after taking a long rest. And the sets are very differently paced from each other, so I think there's quite a different feel between the two sets."
Visually, fans can expect a new video presentation, with plenty of new footage, and a high-definition screen at the back of the stage to put it all in sharp focus. Then there's the light show.
"There's a large what we call spider over the stage that kind of spreads across the stage from above with articulating arms or legs, and it moves around and it's really quite dramatic," Lifeson said. "So there are really lots of great lighting effects. You know, it's a whole presentation with us. It's not just about the music."
The timing for Rush's tour is a bit unusual for the band. Traditionally, the band has only toured after a CD has been released or between album projects. This tour comes in the midst of writing and recording "Clockwork Angels."
"The idea was to get back on the road, tour, and then come right back into continued writing and then recording in tour shape," Lifeson said. "There's nothing that compares to the kind of shape you get into playing wise when you're on tour."
Lifeson said the band has nine songs in various stages of completion for the new CD. At this point, the CD is shaping up to be a musically varied work.
"There is the epic song, 'Clockwork Angels,' which is really taking shape. It's a multiparted piece, very dynamic," the guitarist said. "Then there's some stuff that's very melodic and on the softer side, on acoustic, with a strong melody. So there's great diversity there."
Lifeson, of course, would be happy if the rest of the "Clockwork Angels" project were to go as well as things went in making "Moving Pictures."
The project went well despite the first recording session being done in the dead of one of the colder winters in Quebec. The weather meant arriving at Le Studio was a welcome daily ritual.
"You're undressing 13 layers of clothes you had on, and you just wandered into the control room with a cup of coffee or a cup of tea and listened to what you were doing and it was so great for us," Lifeson said. "We were so happy with the direction and the sound of what we were getting. In that respect, our work was a very positive influence on our day-to-day existence up there, which is what it's all about when you're in a studio, especially in a residential studio. So we always had that to keep us going."