Alex Lifeson: R40 Tour Could Be Last Big Hurrah

By Jane Stevenson, Niagara Falls Review, June 12, 2015

Rush fans, be warned.

Their current 40th anniversary tour - the aptly named R40 Live road trip, which kicked off in early May, could be the last of its kind.

"This tour is the first tour where we're really looking at it that way," guitarist Alex Lifeson, 60, told Postmedia Network down the line from his Toronto home in a recent interview.

"This (recent) time off was revealing. We all really enjoyed it. And I think in view of the amount of physical work it takes, particularly for (62-year-old drummer) Neil (Peart), it's a very athletic endeavour for three or four months, so I think we're all starting to feel a little sorer. So we'll see how it goes. It wouldn't surprise me if we sort of slow down and look at this tour as maybe the last major tour."

No one's calling this Rush's farewell tour but the group is considering doing multiple night residencies in bigger markets after the R40 Live trek.

"I don't see us breaking up or hanging it up, but certainly this kind of touring has become much more difficult," said Lifeson. "So maybe in the future we'd look at more special event kind of things. We've always talked about doing say five days at Radio City, five days at Massey Hall, those sorts of runs instead of five, six, seven months."

One thing is sure, Rush audiences will be getting what they paid for.

The Toronto prog-rock outfit have been rehearsing since the end of March in Peart's adopted hometown of L.A. and Lifeson says all that pre-playing just keeps their chops up live.

"It's a lot tougher at 61 than it was at 21," he said. "And we're all feeling the aches and pains of our advancing years. I have had arthritis for a long time and it's just a little more in the forefront, in terms of my hands. And you know Neil's had this chronic tendonitis in his arm and his shoulders are starting to feel it, you know he plays so hard, so it only stands to reason that you need to warm up, you need to get in shape. We all go to the gym, four or five times a week. It's not just sitting around and eating chips and smoking pot. I mean that's fine but to prep for a tour, it's a really serious endeavour."

Lifeson formed the band in 1968, with Lee (a school friend) replacing Jeff Jones before the group's second performance, and Peart replacing original drummer John Rutsey in 1974.

When asked if it feels like he's put in four plus decades with the group, the guitarist says it depends on the day you ask him.

"Sometimes it feels like no time goes by and then other times, it feels like a century," he said. "It's such an unusual place to be. It was never something we ever expected or ever really dreamed about. When we were 21, the longevity of most bands was between five and eight years. And that's kind of what we were counting on. We had already been together for six years and thought another five or six years would be awesome. Make some records, that's great. So to be sitting here at (almost) 61 and be doing interviews for a tour that's basically sold out; it's just unbelievable to us.

"Tickets sales have been crazy," continued Lifeson. "I mean shows have been selling out in not days but in minutes and I think our fans are sensing that this may be one of the last if not the last major tour. So everybody's scrambling to be a part of it. Toronto's completely sold out - both shows. Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, they all went in no time."

Of those shows, of course, the ACC gigs - which are being filmed with concertgoers encouraged to wear their band T-shirts, bring signs and "outside voices" - resonate the most for the band.

"It always is (special)," said Lifeson. "I go to the ACC to watch hockey games and events and to be standing on stage looking up at everything around the building from a different perspective is really, really cool. And we have such a history here. I always think of the (now defunct Toronto club) Gasworks and all those clubs we played and the high schools, it all connects into one long story that began 46 years ago."

When you've been around as long as Rush has, it can be mindboggling to put together a set list for your 40th anniversary tour.

"We're pulling out songs that we haven't played for a long time and we're not necessarily keen on playing but we understand that they're very popular songs with our audience so we're going to make the effort to put them together and try to mix up the set night to night, " said guitarist Alex Lifeson.

"So we're playing a lot of stuff and covering a lot of ground."