Carrying The Torch For Rush

Fans Thrill At The Prospect Of First Halifax Concert Since 1987 By Legendary Band

By Nick Patch, Halifax Chonicle Herald, July 4, 2013

Lately, when I think about the enduring power of Rush, it's not one of the iconic rock trio's classic recordings that comes to mind, or its latest tour de force, Clockwork Angels, or a powerhouse live performance.

Thanks to a recent rewatching on DVD, it's the 1999 Paul Feig/Judd Apatow series Freaks and Geeks that drives home how deeply embedded this band is with its fans, embodied by Jason Segel's adorable burnout Nick Andopolis and his devotion to Rush, especially Neil Peart, whose massive drum kit he tries to replicate in his basement.

Never mind that he can't really play the darn things; for him, Rush is the pinnacle of rock achievement, combining unattainable virtuosity with fantastic lyrical visions, the ultimate escape from the mundane world of school and the threat of army enlistment from his military dad.

We all knew guys like that growing up. And it's thanks to those torchbearers that we can look forward to Rush's first Nova Scotia appearances since 1987, at the Halifax Metro Centre on Friday and Sunday.

"At a certain point, you have to credit their passion for us still existing," says bassist Geddy Lee from his home in Toronto during a break between legs of Rush's Clockwork Angels world tour.

"After all that's happened to us over the years, it's hard to imagine us coming back and enjoying such a bountiful last 10 years if there wasn't this audience throwing all that love at us.

"As you get older, the reasons to not do it start to increase, but when you walk out on stage and see a full house full of people who are just so into what you are doing, it makes you really want to play your best and keep going."

And sometimes those fans grow up to keep the Rush flame going in a bigger way.

Besides Feig and Apatow, there's the Trailer Park Boys, who famously featured the band in one of its best-loved episodes, and the Chicago Blackhawks, who brought their newly acquired Stanley Cup on stage at Rush's Windy City show last week.

Lee also cites actor Nicolas Cage as a superfan who's turned up at shows in Los Angeles ("He wanted to watch from the crowd and he didn't want to be hassled, so he put this long black wig on and just rocked out with everybody else for the whole show.") and Foo Fighters Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins, who inducted Lee, Peart and guitarist Alex Lifeson into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at Los Angeles's Nokia Centre in April.

"Yeah, it's been a wild couple of years," says Lee of Rush's entry into the role of senior rock statesmen.

"I know when we got the Governor General's Award here in Canada, we were very proud of that, and it was such a nice ceremony, spending three days in Ottawa and meeting all the other laureates. It was a lovely pat on the back, and it was great seeing rock and roll being taken seriously in the context of all those other art forms. That was a tremendous honour.

"(The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) is obviously a huge honour as well, something our fans have been championing for so long, and it means so much to them that I feel so relieved for them. I can't say that it's something that we thought about very often, and almost never talked about it, but it certainly does feel good to be inducted. Especially as Canadians, we're very proud to represent our country in the Hall of Fame."

Within days of the April 18 ceremony, Rush was back on the road for the U.S. and European stretch of the tour that landed the trio back in Canada last week and in Halifax on Friday and Sunday.

Rather than the proverbial victory lap - marked also by the recent 5.1 surround sound refurbishment of the landmark 1976 album 2112 - Lee sees these shows as the work of a band going through one of its most productive periods.

He feels Rush is playing with renewed confidence and vigour, with a current record where all the elements of writing and playing came into focus in a way he hasn't experienced since 1981's Moving Pictures or 1985's Power Windows.

Clockwork Angels is certainly the product of a band that knows where its strengths lie, with a complex, full-bodied sound and a far-reaching storyline (which also resulted in a novelization by Kevin J. Anderson).

"When we decided we wanted to do something more ambitious, at first I thought it would just be one 15-minute crazy tune," says Lee of Peart's steampunk flight of fancy.

"As we started to talk about this conceptual idea, it became apparent that it was going to become a bit of a journey, more of a story, and we wondered how we could approach that in a way that feels fresh.

"It was an interesting trip because we got away from making those kinds of records. We continued to make concept records, we just didn't tell anyone. So nobody commented on that; I guess they didn't put two and two together, but it is quite different when we go out there and say, 'Yes, it's a concept record.' You can connect the songs in a more overt way as we express the concept in a visual sense, especially in our live show and so on.

"It was quite a job, making sure that it had the right tone. We wanted it to be progressive, but we didn't want to sound too 'proggy.' We wanted it to rock, but it still has to follow a storyline and have its more contemplative moments. It was really a difficult job to deal with the concept in the right light, but the music came quite easily, quite naturally, and that was a blessing for the record."

Lee says Clockwork Angels also comes across exceptionally well on stage, especially with the incorporation of Hugh Syme's imaginative designs into the visual experience.

As the band hovers around the age of 60 - Peart became a sexagenarian last year, Lee and Lifeson both cross the line later this summer - they want to make sure their marathon performances live up to the material and fans' expectations.

"They require a lot of energy, and it's made my days off a little boring," says Lee, who credits rigorous physical training with boosting his onstage stamina.

"We don't do back-to-back shows anymore; I can't sing for three straight hours two days in a row and hope to last for more than a couple of weeks.

"I spend my days off recovering; I sleep a lot and I don't talk, and if I'm lucky I can sneak out for a nice meal, but for the most part it's like I'm paying some sort of penance. It's a bit of a tease to be in a town you love and yet not have the ability to go out and do it properly. So I have to live for, and love, those three hours I'm on stage, basically. Everything else has to serve that."