This month hard-core Rush fans received the news they've wanted to hear for more than a decade: The Canadian rock trio has been nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The band has been eligible for enshrinement since 1999, 25 years after the release of its self-titled debut album.
"I'm really happy for the Rush fans who feel that it is really important, and I hope we're inducted for their sake," guitarist Alex Lifeson said by phone from a tour stop in Philadelphia. The band plays Saturday in Newark. "Personally it never really mattered to me, but at the same time it's nice to be nominated."
Lifeson said induction into the Rock Hall in Cleveland would not compare to the band's having received one of the prestigious Governor General's Performing Arts Awards for Lifetime Artistic Achievement in March, the highest honor bestowed on artists by the Canadian government.
"The acknowledgement we got from the Canadian government, and by extension Canadians, is very dear to us," Lifeson said. "The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is more a popularity contest."
Rush, rounded out by singer-bassist Geddy Lee and drummer Neil Peart, is on the road supporting its 19th studio album, "Clockwork Angels."
Set in the science-fiction world of steampunk, where steam is the predominant energy source and alchemy is omnipresent, "Clockwork Angels" follows the adventures of a young man who leaves a stifling, small village ruled by a rigid watchmaker and alchemist-priests to pursue his dreams in the big city.
"It's such a universal idea, everyone's always looking for a better life," Lifeson said. "At the same time, at the end of the day, the protagonist has to step back and see how good his life is."
The band is playing nearly all of "Clockwork Angels" on tour. For the first time, Rush is also bringing a string ensemble on the road to re-create the outside musicians' performance on the album.
"It's six violinists and two cellists. They are fabulous players, and I love sharing the stage with them," Lifeson said. In addition to playing on "Clockwork Angels" songs, Lifeson said, "we're also going to bring back some old material that had strings on it and maybe look at some other songs that would lend themselves well to a string arrangement."
Rush has continually evolved throughout its career. The band started playing Led Zeppelin- and Cream-inspired blues rock and expanded its boundaries to a unique brand of progressive rock in the '70s. The '80s saw Rush embrace keyboards, and the band returned to a stripped-down sound in the '90s. Over the past 12 years the band has combined many of these elements.
The constants have been the band's creativity, musical complexity and Peart's clever, deep and philosophical lyrics, as demonstrated in hits like "Tom Sawyer," "Subdivisions" and "Closer to the Heart" and back catalog gems such as "Hemispheres," "Natural Science" and "Witch Hunt."
While the band has a giant wellspring to choose from, Lifeson is proud of the fact that Rush is playing most of "Clockwork Angels" live.
"I couldn't imagine playing the same hits night after night," he said. "We could never be a nostalgia band."