Not so long ago, Rush was the Rodney Dangerfield of rock and roll. Industry and media famously gave the Canadian power trio no respect, frequently offering either a blind eye or mocking criticism. The band's challenging progressive rock, however, did receive ample love from an intensely loyal core audience. "We've been very fortunate to have such a supportive fan base," says vocalist and bassist Geddy Lee. "They have enabled us to carry on for so many years, despite largely being ignored by the mainstream."
Another factor in Rush's vindication is persistence. The group released its debut album in 1974. Its nineteenth, "Clockwork Angels," arrived last year. "We've continued to be a working band," says Lee. "That makes whatever success we've gotten over the years feel very good. We feel like we've worked hard to achieve it."
After fifteen years of eligibility, Rush (which plays Tinley Park on June 28) was inducted this spring into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Although many fans cried foul during the long wait, Lee was pragmatic. "It's one of those things that's out of your control," he says.
That doesn't mean Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson, and drummer Neil Peart didn't relish it when it finally happened. "As Neil said in his acceptance speech, we didn't make a big deal of it all those years," says Lee. "But when we got there, it sure felt like a big deal."
Heartfelt responses to the honor were crowned by Lifeson, who managed to give a touching speech while speaking only the words "blah blah blah." Lee and Peart were as surprised as anyone. "I wish he would've warned us," says Lee, laughing. "We could have thought it was planned, as opposed to feeling like maybe he was losing his marbles."
The moment spoke volumes about Rush. The band's renowned musical proficiency and heady subjects have always been balanced by humor approaching slapstick silliness.
During the Time Machine Tour in 2010, Rush performed its defining song, "Tom Sawyer." As the trio dug into the difficult arrangement and sang about steadfast individualism, three chimpanzees mimed the song on a video screen.
"Left to our own devices, our ideas are usually pretty goofy," says Lee, describing Rush's multimedia presentation. "It seemed a shame to not share that goofiness with our fans, who have obviously come to love it."
"I remember when I first saw Jethro Tull, many years ago," says Lee. "They used humor in their show. People have this image of prog rock as being deadly serious. If you can poke fun at yourself while you're doing it, I think it helps."
One move Rush won't make in the name of levity is to don the kimonos they sported onstage during the '70s - not even for a Halloween gig, says Lee. "That's a bridge too far," he says, laughing. "But it was funny at the Hall of Fame show seeing the Foo Fighters dressed like us in our absurdly prophetic robes. After the show, it took Dave Grohl forever to take his outfit off. I think he was getting quite comfy."
On the musical front, however, the "Clockwork Angels" album is a formidable mixture of rigorous rock and Neil Peart's lofty lyrics. Lee says that credibly balancing story and music wasn't easy. "Trying to make a concept album not feel like an outdated thing was foremost in my mind," he says.
"Neil was really hung up on doing a modern version of [Voltaire's] Candide," says Lee, describing an updated, futuristic story about someone raised to believe all is for the best.
As the story concludes, its once-optimistic protagonist surveys a lifetime of loss and misadventure. "As in Candide, the main character is naïve and foolish," says Lee. "But in the end, he realizes what a crazy, fantastic journey his life has been. He's left with the residue of what's important about life."
An Evening With Rush, 7:30 p.m. June 28, First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre, Tinley Park. $31-$157. Visit livenation.com.