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Trio's virtuosity delivers it hard, easy

'Snakes' sounds call to tap it out on an air drum

By Jason Bracelin

The air drum: It's an invisible, but all-powerful instrument.

When played in unison, it results in grand feats of rhythmic gnarliness, awesome displays of synchronicity and a crapload of high fives.

And when Rush is in town, the masses gather, make-believe drum sticks in hand, to whack at the percussion of the mind's eye with the relish of a hungry toddler raiding the cookie jar.

Seriously, even Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson got in on the action at one point, swatting at an imagined snare during a heated "Entre Nous."

Rush's ceaselessly dexterous catalog lends itself well to this kind of hard rock role-playing, as most of their tunes are wild-eyed flights of fancy to begin with.

They sing of geometry and angels, symmetry and circumstance, and their songs occasionally come with three chins and a beer gut.

In a land of buffets, Rush embodies the all-you-can-eat impulse: The band thrills at attempting to bite off more than it can chew, and in their realm, more is always more.

It's some gloriously indulgent stuff, like eating birthday cake for breakfast, but their catalog is filled with enough metaphysical chin-scratching and class consciousness to make them more than a prog-rock confection for those with a sweet tooth for the 10-minute drum solo, which Rush drummer Neil Peart delivered with aplomb on a rotating kit.

Rush might have started out as a comic book come to life, a sci-fi obsessed power trio that crafted heady Spock rock tempered with Ayn Rand-inspired libertarian musings, but the band members have steadily become a more introspective, reflective bunch, highly attentive to the world around them.

At the MGM Grand on Saturday, the band delved heavily into their latest disc, the searching, disconsolate "Snakes and Arrows," which offers some razor-wire-sharp commentary on matters of conflict and faith.

It's an album that questions destiny, religion and the idea of providence, a searching, tumultuous disc that bristles with uncertainty and thumbs its nose at theological incongruities.

"Now it's come to this," singer/bassist Geddy Lee sang on a hard-charging "The Way the Wind Blows."  "Wide-eyed armies of the faithful, from the Middle East to the Middle West.  Pray, and pass the ammunition."

"Snakes" is one of the band's more visceral efforts, with a palpable sense of frustration and rancor, and the band's two set, better-than-three-hours-long performance followed suit, fueled by a restless, deviant energy.

Vintage classics -- "Digital Man," "A Passage to Bangkok," "The Spirit of Radio" -- received an infusion of torque, and the band rendered Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues" the rock 'n' roll equivalent of a big sweaty flexed biceps.

All three members of the band possess the kind of virtuoso chops that have made them heavyweights of their respective instruments, and it's a kick to watch them run circles around each other without stepping on one another's toes.

During a teeth-rattling "Freewill," Lifeson's solos ricocheted around the arena like gunfire bouncing off of metal sheeting, while Lee plucked out acrobatic bass lines that practically swung from the rafters.

Likewise, the band rendered "Subdivisions" and "Natural Science" a one-two punch of itchy, elaborate arrangements with more peaks and valleys than a mountain range.

Rush's greatest gift is making the progressive palatable -- and populist, even -- rendering instrumental meticulousness and exactitude something that an arena full of stoners, gray-hairs and gray-haired stoners can sing along to.

And they tack on enough fantastical embellishments to their stage show to make it all go down easy -- lots of lasers, fire, stuff blowing up and a wall of rotisserie chickens cooking next to the drum kit.

But on this night, the show was ultimately grounded in the here and now, in global tension and the questionable notion of righteousness.

"No one gets to their heaven without a fight," Lee sang on moody rocker "Armor and Sword," and his message was clear: time to put down those arms, people, and pick up a pair of imaginary drumsticks.

Originally published in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Las Vegas, NV on 07.30.07.

Rush rocks the West Valley amidst tragedy

By Michael Senft

Canadian hard-rock trio Rush made a triumphant return to Cricket Pavilion on July 27, but an outside tragedy ended up overshadowing the show.

Outside the venue, a police officer was shot and killed at a nearby check-cashing business, causing all sorts of nightmares for concertgoers leaving the venue.  All but one exit out of Cricket was closed, snarling traffic in the parking lot.  Additionally police were searching cars at the venue for the shooting suspect.  Most concertgoers waited over two hours to exit.  Thankfully most fans were understanding during the frustrating wait.

During the concert, however, the only indication of any trouble were the police copters circling overhead.  The band gave a passionate three-hour performance, filled with lasers, pyrotechnics and plenty of video, projected on three mammoth high-definition screens behind the stage.

Singer Geddy Lee was in fine form, almost regaining his piercing falsetto from the '70s and drummer Neil Peart delivered his requisite marathon drum solo.  Guitarist Alex Lifeson even got a brief solo spotlight, playing the acoustic guitar instrumental Hope from the band's latest CD, Snakes & Arrows.

The show was also filled with plenty of humor - SCTV faves Bob and Doug MacKenzie (actors Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis) made an appearance onscreen, introducing the new song The Larger Bowl.  And the kids from South Park also helped out, with Cartman messing up the lyrics to Tom Sawyer and displaying his ignorance of Mark Twain's novels.

Surprisingly, the high points of the concert were the songs from Snakes & Arrows like the bluesy The Way the Wind Blows and the instrumental The Main Monkey Business.  The disc is the Rush's strongest in 20 years and the band attacked the songs with gusto, skipping such classics as Closer to the Heart and Roll the Bones to showcase the new disc.  They even brazenly played five new songs in a row to start the second set of the show, and kept the packed house riveted.

Longtime fans also got a treat in hearing many songs that haven't been performed in 20 years, like Circumstances, from the 1978 album Hemispheres, and Digital Man, from 1982's Signals.  And the place erupted when Lifeson hit the opening chords to Passage to Bangkok, a beloved, but rarely performed, ode to marijuana from the 2112 album, during the encore.

It ended the show on an, um, "high" note.

Digital Man
Entre Nous
The Main Monkey Business
The Larger Bowl
Secret Touch
Between the Wheels


Far Cry
Workin' Them Angels
Armor and Sword
The Way the Wind Blows
Natural Science
Witch Hunt
Malignant Narcissism
Drum Solo
Distant Early Warning
The Spirit of Radio
Tom Sawyer

One Little Victory
A Passage to Bangkok

Originally published in The Arizona Republic, Phoenix, AZ on 07.28.07.

After 30 years, Rush still packing arenas with three-hour shows

By Jason Bracelin

Alex Lifeson is an older guy who sounds like a young one, his voice nearly as enthusiastic as his wrists.

The fleet-handed Rush guitarist, known for exercises in carpal-tunnel-syndrome fretwork, is currently ensconced on a tour that sees his band playing for more than three hours a show, which roughly translates into about 1,500 snaking riffs, twice as many sweaty drum fills and lots of sore limbs on a nightly basis.

"Yeah, what's up with that?" Lifeson chuckles at his band's marathon sets.  "What's with all these young bands who play for an hour and 10 minutes, an hour and 20 minutes -- I don't think anybody plays for more than about an hour and 40 minutes.  And they're all young and should be playing for three hours, not like us old farts."

Though Lifeson and his bandmates -- singer/bassist Geddy Lee and drummer/lyricist Neil Peart -- are bona fide rock stars who've been packing arenas for more than 30 years, their lifestyles are more representative of those over-tanned dudes who star in fitness infomercials: These guys don't party until dawn; instead, they're waking up right about then to practice some yoga.

"We all work out with trainers for months before we go out," Lifeson says of the band pre-tour regimen.  "My trainer set up two programs for me, one in the gym and one in my hotel room.  I play golf almost every day because it gets me out of my boring hotel room for five or six hours.  We try to be as athletic as we can to stay in shape, because you really need to -- especially at this point."

And especially when your band tends to favor a chatty instrumental verbosity that manifests in a deep back catalog that's as elaborately crafted as fine jewelry.

Much of modern rock has become polarized between bands that elevate a navel-gazing technical virtuosity far above the merits of basic songcraft, resulting in terse, tuneless exercises in form, and acts that boil everything down into a predictable cycle of simple, radio-friendly choruses.

But Rush has made a long career out of balancing both impulses, crafting ambitious, knotty epics that still have enough tightly-honed hooks to make them staples on classic rock airwaves for years.

The band's latest disc, "Snakes & Arrows," is a storming, visceral effort posited on both immediacy and nuance, buffering climactic, Bic-in-the-air choruses with layers of texture and atmosphere.

It's a vintage and modern sounding record at once, alive with some of Rush's most defining signatures -- a trio of instrumentals, thunderclap, hammer-of-Thor drumming, ambitious thematic breadth -- all sharpened to a point with a hard-edged, contemporary rock crunch abetted by producer Nick Raskulinecz (Stone Sour, Foo Fighters).

"I have to say that working on this record with Nick, it really brought something else out of us," Lifeson says.  "There's something about this record that reminds me of so many parts of us over the years, but the packaging sounds very fresh and modern.  That was really what he was pushing us to recognize, that sometimes we forget about where we come from, we're too caught up in trying to move forward.  I think that's part of the appeal of this new record."

"Snakes" is an album full of dramatic crescendoes and shifting landscapes.  Album opener "Far Cry" sets a suitably restless tone with thick-necked guitar riffs tangling with darting basslines and squirming rhythms.  The band remains perpetually antsy as it detours through moody blues ("The Way the Wind Blues"), mandolin-laced social commentaries ("Workin' Them Angels"), and ringing, Zeppelin-esque anthems equal parts sunshine and malevolence ("Armor and Sword").

Still, the album boasts a warm, organic feel, with songs often benefitting from an acoustic base, which leavens the band's sharp-elbowed aesthetic.

"This time we made a conscious effort to write acoustically," Lifeson says.  "It takes you in a different direction.  The acoustic is such an organic instrument, and it touches you in a different place than an electric guitar would.  I went to see (Pink Floyd's) David Gilmour last summer, I had the great pleasure of meeting him for the first time, and we chatted backstage about writing on acoustic.  He said, 'Yeah, I write everything on acoustic, that's where I'm connected to my heart.'"

Still, "Snakes" is a tempestuous record largely defined by an existential uncertainty.  It's an album directly reflective of the current political climate, with songs of faith and war that make a point out of challenging established belief systems.

"I don't have faith in faith," Lee sings ruefully on the symphonic "Faithless," "I don't believe in belief."

The disc addresses fortune and fate, cryptically at times, trying to find some meaning in uncertainty.

But even though the album directly questions the notion of faith, Lifeson has never sounded like more of a true believer.

"I think there's a lot of things that Neil wanted to address, particularly about religion and its influence on so many aspects of our lives, and I think he really hit the nail on the head on a lot of songs," he says of the lyrical direction on "Snakes."  "It's all about surviving, really, this record, and I think it's actually quite positive in the end.  You just work your way through it, and hope for the best."

Originally published in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Las Vegas, NV on 07.27.07.

Still bangin'

By Saby Reyes-Kulkarni

And the geeks shall inherit the Earth, indeed.  If anyone said that Rush would last 30-plus years in 1975, when robo-tronic drummer Neil Peart joined the Canadian trio (thus transforming it from a derivative bar band into one of the world's most revered prog icons), they were probably high.  But, as it turns out, the band has outlived its detractors who had every reason to think - in fact, to hope - that punk, New Wave, metal, and hip-hop would stamp out prog rock for good.  That aside, the band's unlikely survival gets puzzling when you consider that, if it was arguably out of gas, it was definitely past its creative prime 20 years ago.  But Rush's aggressive performance on the R30 DVD, which captures a concert from its 30th-anniversary tour, is flat-out perplexing.  Apparently, Rush in the new millennium is a fired-up, if not altogether new, animal.  One can accuse the band of delivering the same ol', same ol' in its predictable, stiff technicality, which unfortunately stereotypes the genre in which peers like Yes and Jethro Tull actually grooved with a level of feeling that Rush could never touch.  But the fact that the band puts so much care into picking its set list, not to mention the tear-inducing, life-soundtrack significance and sheer strength of the songs themselves, is what ensures bang for your buck at a Rush concert, and proves that even in 2007, the band has yet to become a dinosaur.

Originally published in the Phoenix New Times, Phoenix, AZ on 07.26.07.

Rush lives up to the hype

The Canadian hard-rock trio blends virtuosity and humor in an immensely satisfying show.

By Steve Fryer

Thirty years later, one finally gets it.

So THIS is what you guys, you Rush fanatics, have been trying to explain all these years to someone who considered them vastly overrated.

Add one more convert.  And send that petition, about including Rush into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, this way immediately.

As the trio that makes up Rush - vocalist/bassist/keyboardist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer extraordinaire Neil Peart - proved Wednesday night at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine, this is a band that can far exceed live what it puts on record.

First, it was a generous show, energetically performed by three guys in their early 50s.  Nearly three hours, including a 15-minute intermission, and 26 songs - many of them exceeding five minutes each.

The lighting and video elements of the show were at the top of what a rock concert can offer, and even as tricky as they were they did not overtake the musical performance.

Lee, Lifeson and Peart lived up to, and at times surpassed, their reputation as the finest musicians working together in an intact touring band.  Lee plucked and slapped away adroitly on the bass and hit all the high notes, or at least hit the ones he adjusted down to a slightly lower range; Lifeson's power chords were thunderous and his leads slinky; and Peart is, indeed, rock's greatest living drummer and worth the price of admission himself.

He did a drum solo that this drum-solo hater found interesting and entertaining.  For the first time since seeing Zep's John Bonham go solo bonzo in San Diego in '77, a drum solo was not viewed as an opportunity to sprint to the bathroom.  Peart closed the solo with a big-band bit, accompanied by some taped swing orchestra music and video clips of the great ones from a long-gone era, including Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich.

Hey, these guys are a lot of fun, too.  Belying their oh-so-serious image, which comes as much from the complicated time changes in the music as the deeply philosophical bent of the lyrics, Rush has a sense of humor - and made a lot of effort to prove it.

The event started with a video that incorporated plenty of snakes and arrows; their latest disc, released this past spring, is called "Snakes and Arrows."  The video turns out to be just a bad dream by Lifeson, who rises from his pillow to talk about it, which awakens his bedmate, Peart.  Lee, seated at a table on a tour bus the three are in, is confronted by himself as kilt-wearing Scotsman Harry Satchel, who says it's time to start the show.

There were three huge broasters on stage behind Lee, with whole chickens on the rotisseries.  Different women came out at different times, during the middle of songs, to check on the birds and baste them.

Those crazy fictional McKenzie brothers, Bob and Doug, portrayed by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas, did a "Great White North" video segment in which they introduced "The Larger Bowl" from "Snakes and Arrows."

And the folks from "South Park" produced a video for this tour, too.  The boys have put together a tribute band, Lil' Rush, and they play "Tom Sawyer," with Cartman singing about Tom Sawyer "floating down a river on a raft with a black guy."  They stop, argue about the lyrics, count off again and, with perfect timing, Big Rush went right into "Tom Sawyer."

"Sawyer" was one of a handful of FM radio hits played Wednesday.  Others: "Freewill," "Spirit of Radio" and a rousing "Subdivisions."

They mixed in plenty of songs from "Snakes and Arrows" - a total of eight, including a pair of instrumentals such as the fantastic "The Main Monkey Business."  That is a lot of new songs for a classic-rock band.  The Rolling Stones can barely find room for three new ones on any tour since 1989, and if you go see Def Leppard or Heart or someone of similar mid-level popularity, just watch how many people immediately sit down and get on their cell phones or take off for the concessions or restrooms.

But Rush fans are fanatics.  They know even the newest songs and cheer them all equally.  And at how many shows can you look to the right and see a salt-and-pepper-haired guy in his late 40s signing along to all the words of a nonhit like "Digital Man," and look to the left and see a high school kid doing the very same thing?

Hey, guys, hope you have room for one more fan.

Speaking of fans ... a guy wearing an Angels cap spotted ex-Angel Tim Salmon during intermission and approached the recently retired player to ask if he would pose with him for a photo.  The Angels fan asked the man seated behind Salmon to shoot the picture, and the man did so.  The fan thanked the man, not realizing the photographer was Mike Witt, who pitched a perfect game for the Angels in 1984 and won 108 other games for the local club, and that the guy seated next to Witt was another former Angels pitcher, Mark Langston, who combined with Witt on an Angels no-hitter in '90.  Hilarious.

Originally published in the Orange County Register, Santa Ana, CA on 07.26.07.

Review: Hollywood, CA 07.23.07

By Rich Niecieki

Imagine a place where complex instrumentals and drum solos did not send fans on beer runs or bathroom breaks, where mere musical passages were applauded nearly as enthusiastically as the entire songs themselves, where the bass player doubled on keys while the guitarist alternated between acoustic and electric -- in the middle of songs.  A fictional land?  Nay, it truly existed on the laser-lit stages roamed by the Canadian power trio Rush in their prime, and it's territory revisited with the release of their latest album.

Prog-rock pupil Adam Jones of Tool and drum disciple Taylor Hawkins of Foo Fighters were among the many being schooled by the seemingly ageless rock outfit for two sets and an encore at the Bowl Monday night.  "Snakes and Arrows" (Anthem/Atlantic), the group's 11th top 10 disc, continues the unique tradition of weighty lyrics penned by drummer Neil Peart sung even more uniquely by bassist Geddy Lee, whose characteristic timbre and register showed no signs of wear.

What does appear to have changed is the source of propulsion for the new music.  Where once such staples as "Closer to the Heart" and "Red Barchetta" (both curiously omitted from the tour's setlists thus far) were built around Alex Lifeson's ingenious guitar riffs and use of harmonics, the "Snakes and Arrows" material, performed in abundance, seemed driven by Peart's insistent beats first and foremost and with far less structural dynamics.

The band does take a significant risk by starting the second set with five new songs that dealt largely with faith and spirituality; galvanizing numbers like the closers "Spirit of Radio" and "Tom Sawyer," if spread throughout the set, would have made the show more of a crowd-pleaser.

The band revealed that it does, in fact, have a sense of humor with the inclusion of brief video-projected comedy clips from "SCTV's" fictional brothers Bob and Doug McKenzie (played by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas, respectively), the kids from "South Park" and the threesome themselves (as well as the unintentionally funny closeup video shot of Lee's foot playing bass pedals).

But it was only near show's end when the musicians finally showed signs of loosening up, after appearing so proficient and workmanlike all evening, with Lee and Lifeson prowling opposite sides of the Bowl and Peart cracking a smile after a drum fill now and then.

Originally published in Daily Variety, Los Angeles, CA on 07.25.07.

Live Review: Rush in Los Angeles

By Paul Gargano

Why did the chickens cross the road?  Probably to get away from Rush, who slow-roasted 54 fowl in an onstage rotisserie throughout a stellar three-hour set at the Hollywood Bowl Monday night (7/23).

The classic rock-hued and progressively skewed crowd of more than 15,000 fared significantly better than the skewered poultry, as the prog-rock heroes from the Great White North served a two-set smorgasbord spanning their 22-album, 33-year career.

Anchored by nine tracks from "Snakes & Arrows"--the band's 18th studio album was released May 1, debuting at No. 3 on The Billboard 200--the set featured material dating as far back as 1976's breakthrough "2112" and the 1978 masterpiece "Hemispheres," and also included 13 tracks from the '80s.

"Dreamline" may have been the only track from the '90s, but it bridged the trio's expansive body of work just as it bridged the performance, closing the night's more nostalgia-minded first set with a metallic rattle precariously tethered to the bands progressive epicenter.  With lasers slicing through the Hollywood Bowl sky, frontman/bassist/keyboardist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart demonstrated exactly why they've proven such an invaluable inspiration to bands that run the gamut from arthouse heavies Tool and metal goliaths Mastodon, to modern prog-masters Dream Theater and crossover rockers Queensryche.

In fact, as early in the set as "The Main Monkey Business"--the first of three "Snakes & Arrows" instrumentals, with "Malignant Narcissism" and "Hope" later bracketing Peart's drum solo--the subtle fusion of hearty sonics and melodic rapture demonstrated a band that, while in their fourth decade, still hasn't lost a musical step.  And lest the 27-song set run the risk of getting too heady, a crew member in an apron and chef's hat offered some monkey business of his own, coming out to baste the chicken that was cooking behind Lee, in ovens that took the place of speaker cabinets to the right of the drum kit.

It was still daylight when "Limelight" opened the proceedings with a hearty swagger.  The first of four tracks from 1981's epic "Moving Pictures," it demonstrated early the spot-on and meticulous musicianship that would mark the evening.  The vocals weren't as consistent, but there were no atrocities, Lee seeming to pick his battles wisely.  Where he pushed to meet a higher stretch on the opener, he later nailed "Subdivisions" as though it were effortless, wavered a bit on "Freewill," then delivered a vocal performance on "Distant Early Warning" that was as impeccable as the music that carried it more than two-and-a-half hours into the set.

Despite a sound that brilliantly bled from smooth and understated to thunderous and hard-hitting, Peart played with remarkable finesse, barely seeming to break a sweat behind the kit.  He ushered in the climactic last quarter of the show with a seven-minute solo that triggered an industrial-dance, tribal explosion into a swinging jazz and a big band, boogie-woogie finale.  Lifeson followed with a solo run through "Hope" before the band returned for the second set's closing trio of "Distant Early Warning," "The Spirit of Radio" and "Tom Sawyer."

The encore blitzed at a racing pace through "One Little Victory," Lee again spot-on vocally, then dirged the proceedings down with the night's oldest track, "A Passage To Bangkok," before the flash-furious opening of longtime set-closer "YYZ," where the spotlight darted about as bass lines sizzled, keyboards tickled, drums rolled and guitars glazed to wide-eyed wonder.

It proved a night that saw no shortage of highlights.  "Circumstances" blew the first set into the stratosphere, Lee's vocals punching through Lifeson's arena-rock guitar grandeur with Peart providing a slow-building model of power and precision, and fans were still talking about "Natural Science" as they vacated the Bowl at night's end, the understated predecessor to just about every Dream Theater opus marching to a colossal apex of kinetic crunch and rhythmic swagger in the middle of the second set.

For the sake of nit-picking, opening the second set with five tracks from "Snakes & Arrows" may have been a bit overzealous, but when the rest of the night featured no fewer than 18 classic tracks, well, Rush were more than accommodating.

Couple the comprehensive setlist with the truly awe-inspiring performances, and the results proved to be one of the most memorable Rush sets in a long, long time.  Still no word on how that chicken tasted.

Set 1:
Video Intro
"Digital Man"
"Entre Nous"
"The Main Monkey Business"
"The Larger Bowl"
"Secret Touch"
"Between the Wheels"

Set 2:
Video Intro
"Far Cry"
"Workin' Them Angels"
"Armor and Sword"
"The Way the Wind Blows"
"Natural Science"
"Witch Hunt"
"Malignant Narcissism"
Drum Solo
"Distant Early Warning"
"The Spirit of Radio"
"Tom Sawyer"

"One Little Victory"
"A Passage to Bangkok"

Originally published in Live Daily, Los Angeles, CA on 07.24.07.

Local concert showed why Rush remains relevant

By Greg Jayne

More than a quarter-century removed from its artistic and commercial peak, it would be easy for Rush to decline into Spinal Tap territory.

You know, things such as residing in the where-are-they-now file or being listed below the puppet show on the marquee.

Instead, as exemplified by Saturday's concert at The Amphitheater at Clark County, the Canadian power trio remains vibrant and enormously popular.

Consider this: Rush drew a crowd of 11,376 fans to Saturday's show, the largest audience for a concert at the amphitheater so far this year, and a significant percentage of those fans worshipfully stood throughout the two-hour, 42-minute performance.  For a progressive rock band that hasn't recorded a radio staple since the 1981 album "Moving Pictures," this defies the conventional wisdom of the recording industry.

Then again, Rush has always been about defying convention.

How many bands can boast of having the same lineup since 1974?  How many bands can carry a concert with a three-piece lineup?  How many bands can carve out long careers without the benefit of the stereotypical front man?

Those are the factors that have forged an unusually strong bond between Rush and its fans, a populace that embraces the fact that these guys are different, and they are unapologetic about it.

The key, as it has been for more than 30 years, is the musicianship.  With Geddy Lee regarded as one of the best bass players in rock, and Neil Peart considered one of the premier drummers, Rush has routinely relied upon intricate time changes and a sophisticated rhythm section to carve out its niche.

The result, as it played out Saturday, was two-fold.

One was the unique situation of having audience members jamming on their air bass.  Air guitar?  Air drums?  How passé.  Rush is one of the few groups that has you playing air bass.

The second result was a stirring drum solo by Peart.  While drum solos often sink bands into Spinal Tap territory, Peart's managed to be inventive and listenable.

The band even had the tough-in-cheek presence to call the song that included the solo, "Malignant Narcissism."

None of this, by the way, means that guitarist Alex Lifeson should be ignored.  It's rare for a guitarist to be the least-heralded member of a group, but that says more about the expertise of Lee and Peart than it does about any shortcomings in Lifeson's playing.

All of that, perhaps, is the key to Rush's success.

There's a sense that you know what you're getting, and you're getting just what you came to see.  You're getting musical virtuosity, intricate interplay, Lee's screachy-yet-immediately-identifiable vocals, and songs based on fantasy or science fiction with a hint of pretentiousness.

You're also getting a handful of rock-radio staples, such as "Limelight," "Tom Sawyer," and "The Spirit of Radio," each of them played note-for-note exactly as you've heard them thousands of times.

Sure, there was a long set of songs from the latest Rush album, "Snakes and Arrows."  This is understandable and not worthy of criticism, yet it made the absence of their classic "Closer to the Heart" all the more noticeable.

While Rush has built a foundation of success largely on predictability, there are some moments of inventiveness.  Most noticeable - aside from the quirky humor of having dozens of rotisserie chickens cooking on stage - was the effective use of video screens providing close-ups of the musicians.

When you have some of the finest artists in rock on the stage, it can be fascinating to view them in their medium.

For Rush, that medium has remained largely unchanged, the result of an uncompromising dedication to who they are and what they do.

To quote the lyrics Peart penned for "The Spirit of Radio":
"One likes to believe in the freedom of music;
"But glittering prizes and endless compromises shatter the illusion of integrity."

Let's see Spinal Tap write something like that.

Originally published in The Columbian, Vancouver, WA on 07.24.07.

Rush rolls out new songs on tour

By Michael Senft

When Rush visited the Valley in 2004, the band was celebrating 30 years in the music biz, playing rarely heard chestnuts from albums like Fly By Night and Grace Under Pressure, as well as radio hits like The Spirit of Radio and Tom Sawyer.

When the band visits Cricket Wireless Pavilion on July 27, however, Rush will dial back the classics a little bit.  With a new album, Snakes & Arrows, which hit stores in May, the Canadian prog-metal trio is proving it is anything but a nostalgia act.

We spoke recently spoke with guitarist Alex Lifeson about the current tour and new album.

Question: How is the tour going so far?

Answer: It's going great - we've got one leg under our belt and we're now working our way down through the West.  The response has been amazing, we usually do well on our tours, but the attendance is up almost 40 percent and everyone is familiar with the new material.

Q: You seem to be pushing the new album quite a bit on this tour.

A: Yeah, we typically only do about four new songs a tour, but this time we're doing nine total.  This album is such a joy to play and the response has been overwhelming to it.  We did the greatest hits nostalgia thing on our 30th Anniversary Tour in 2004, playing all the old stuff that we hadn't done in awhile - we didn't need to do it again.

Q: The new album is your strongest in quite awhile.  The songs are almost paradoxical - they are straightforward yet are also densely layered.  How do you recreate the music live?

A: Once we start playing songs live they take on a new identity.  It isn't as difficult as I thought it would be though.  The layering is missing, but we make up for that in just the sheer power of the whole band live.  It doesn't destroy the song if it's missing a vocal harmony here or a guitar overdub there.

Q: You seem to have a much stronger presence on the album - there are acoustic guitars and even mandolin all over the record.

A: Well, the guitar is the heart and soul of rock and roll.  And when we started working on the record and putting it all together with (producer) Nick Raskulinecz, he really understood that and moved the guitars up in the mix.

Q: This is your first album of new material in five years, what was the creative process like?

A: It was actually pretty fast for us.  With this record we started in March 2006.  (Bassist) Geddy (Lee) and I just started trading ideas on the acoustic guitar.  I'd walk over to his house, we only live five minutes away, and we'd work in the afternoons three days a week.  The rest of the time was spent doing all those normal things you do at home.

It was nice, unlike when the whole machine starts up and we go to a studio to write five days a week.  We worked in a casual setting in his home studio and got a lot of the musical ideas done before we met with (drummer) Neil (Peart).  He brought his lyrical ideas and we got him up to speed on the music.  Then we took the summer off.

In September we spent about six weeks polishing everything up, meeting with Nick, before we went into the studio.  By the time we went to record we were well rehearsed and had everything worked out.  We recorded the entire album in about five weeks before Christmas.

Q: What was it like working with Nick Raskulinecz?

A: He was just like one of the guys - he was so enthusiastic about the process.  He saw something in not just the record, but in who Rush was.  In this great push to move forward and break new ground, he made us remember who we were, and where we come from.  It was a joyful recording session.  We don't want to stop moving forward, our music has always been about progress and we've always tried to stay current.  I think we got the best of both worlds.

Originally published in The Arizona Republic, Phoenix, AZ on 07.24.07.

REVIEW: A disappointingly delightful evening with Rush

By Travis Hay

It was out with the old and in with the new Friday when venerable Canadian rock trio Rush performed a marathon three-hour concert at White River Amphitheatre that was as equally disappointing as it was delighting.

Delighting because the musicianship, something that is never of poor quality with Rush, was spectacular.  Disappointing because too much material from the band's latest album "Snakes And Arrows," made its way into a set list that should have included more rarities and fan favorites.

The concert lacked the oomph and excitement the R30 tour, which came to White River in 2004 and celebrated the band's 30th anniversary with a hit-laden set.  Songs such as "Red Barchetta," "Bastille Day" and "Working Man," one of the progressive-rock band's staples, were replaced by the many, nine in all, new songs from an album by a band that is about 15 years past its prime.

The night was broken into two halves, a one hour set that included "Freewill" and "The Larger Bowl," among others before Rush left the stage for a 20 minute intermission.  The first half was filled with the same visual flair as the second part of the show.  Plenty of smoke, lasers, pyro and fancy lighting to accompany three large video screens, making the concert a full audio-visual experience.

The second half kicked off with "Far Cry," one of the best songs from the new record, featuring dynamic drumming (Then again, does drummer Neal Peart know any other way to hit the skins?) and soaring guitar parts courtesy Alex Lifeson.  Then, not one, not two, but four other new tracks followed, killing any momentum Rush may have gained after the first half of its show.  It's understandable the band wants to showcase its news songs, but the concert greatly suffered with the barrage of songs many in the crowd may have never heard.

One would think a band like Rush that has been around the block a few times would want to cater to its passionate fanbase's desire to hear the hits.

But when Rush did break into its vault of classics including "Tom Sawyer," "Spirit of the Radio," "A Passage to Bangkok," "Subdivsions," and the tremendous show-closing "YYZ," they were on fire.  The near capacity crowd reveled in the disappointingly delightful combination of classics and mediocre new songs.

Originally published in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Seattle, WA on 07.22.07.

Convincing Rush of tunes

Adoring fans bob along with icons

By Tara Merrin

If Rush is an acquired taste, three hours and 10 minutes of Rush should be long enough to gain a strong liking for it.

It should be, but, sadly, it's not.

Now, to be fair, I am not a fan of Rush's music.  In fact, my idea of torture is being locked in a room as Tom Sawyer plays over and over and over.  And, while I felt I could go into last night's marathon at the Saddledome with an open mind (jacked full of "pre-emptive strike" headache meds mind you), 34 years of loathing can not simply be erased.

Thankfully, my husband, unbeknownst to me, is a Rush devotee, so with him along for the ride, assuring my review was not completely bias, I prepared, and hoped, to be proven wrong.

It started out looking as though that's exactly what would happen.

After the houselights dimmed and an eruption of light and noise filled the arena, Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart appeared, ripping through a breathless bundle of songs including Limelight, Digital Man, Entre Nous and Mission.

The 27-song set list, which focused heavily on the band's music from the early '80s and the new disc, Snakes & Arrows, was received well by the 11,500 bobbing heads in the room, with each track bringing about another wave of screams and head-bangs.

These Rush enthusiasts clearly respect the band's instrumental expertise.

They roared noticeably louder for Peart's drum solo and Lee and Lifeson's guitar work during the first half of the show, signalling their adoration for the Canadian icons.

These impressive breaks from the lyrics also proved to be the highlight for myself, as they supplied a rest from the nails-on-a-chalkboard sounds of Lee's distinctive voice, which remains as strong and piercing as ever.

Other peaks last night included many videos, which opened both halves of the concert and supplied humour throughout.  The standouts were clips of SCTV's Bob and Doug McKenzie, looking much older, as they introduced The Larger Bowl and a witty South Park sketch, which opened Tom Sawyer.

On a side note, one has to admire a band that brings three rotisserie chicken ovens as its stage dressing and starts the show with a video of dream, within a dream, within a dream.  No one likes people who take themselves too seriously, after all.

Between the funny bits and the insane musical interludes, the three hours flew by, my eardrums not bleeding, yet my allergy to Lee's high-pitched nasal voice still very much alive.

But while I did not gain a new love of Rush, the thousands of fans chanting the band's name at the end of the night (as well as my better-half, who threatened to leave me if I gave them a poor review) assured me, or rather convinced me, they rocked.

Originally published in The Calgary Sun, Calgary, AB on 07.19.07.

Granddaddies of Canadian metal rock pull out big guns

By Heath McCoy

Rush performed Wednesday at Pengrowth Saddledome. Attendance 12,000.

Rush rarely gets the credit it deserves for challenging its audience.

These granddaddies of Canadian metal have enough bona fide classic rock staples to their name that they could easily bang out 20 of their most beloved tunes every night and leave any audience of Rush-heads goofy with glee.  Bassist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart could do that in their sleep.

But Wednesday night at the Saddledome the Toronto band chose a far more difficult route.

The instantly identifiable hits were there, sporadically.  The trio kicked off the show with one of their biggest, with the elastic-riffed muscle of Limelight.  And Freewill was a knockout punch.  Rush are worshiped by many, and thought of as the ultimate math-rock nerd band by others, for their instrumental virtuosity, but this was a super power on the latter tune when the three rockers launched simultaneously into a technically stunning musical journey.  Meanwhile, on the chorus, singer Lee's helium-filled rock pipes packed plenty of power.

But the band also cherry-picked a handful of obscurities from their catalogue that only the hardcores would recognize.  Digital Man, Mission, the epic (and somewhat endless) suite Natural Science, if you didn't know Rush like the back of your hand you might have been discovering these for the first time.  Lee said it best: "Thanks for coming out tonight and helping us celebrate our 4,000th album."

Indeed.  They've been around for a long time and for their biggest fans the rarities were a treat, but some of the more casual types were left grumbling, wishing for their favourites.  Still, a few of the old gems were winners any way you slice it, as in the catchy Circumstances, off 1978's Hemispheres.

Rush also played a major portion of their latest album, Snakes & Arrows, which is a snooze, unfortunately, lacking the bombast of the band's finest work.  That album's instrumental, The Main Monkey Business has nothing on YYZ (performed later in the evening).  But they sold the newer songs with a bit of absurd gimmickry, such as the appearance of Bob and Doug McKenzie on the big screen.  Then there were the three ovens behind Lee, that appeared to be full of roasting chickens.  Huh?

The thing about challenging your audience and yourself is, since you're not going for the guaranteed score, you might just stumble, and at times on Wednesday, Rush did.  Some of the new tunes just didn't fly.

But by the latter part of the second set, following Peart's truly awe-inspiring drum solo, which is a highlight of the show, Rush had pulled out the big guns.  At press time, they were barreling through a killer version of Tom Sawyer, and an encore that was to include one of their forgotten greats, A Passage To Bangkok, was certain to wrap up the night on a high note.

Originally published in the Calgary Herald, Calgary, AB on 07.19.07.

Mixing Old And New, Rush Enraptures Rabid Fans

By Stephen Busemeyer

Somewhere along the way, Rush ceased to be a rock band and became, for its fans, a religion.

It's ironic, especially since Rush is touring in support of "Snakes & Arrows," an album whose main theme is a relatively sophisticated deconstruction of faith.

The Rush cult was out in full force at Mohegan Sun Arena Monday night, where the Canadian trio played a three-hour show that was as much about showcasing the new material as it was about thanking the band's graying, bespectacled fans with old tunes and in-jokes that only longtime disciples would get.

Starting with the thunderclap guitar riff of "Limelight," Rush delved into the dustier corners of its archives, including "Entre Nous" and three others from the 1979 album "Permanent Waves," "Circumstances" from 1978's "Hemispheres" and "A Passage to Bangkok" from 1976's "2112."

"Bangkok" was one of the band's early hits and remains a fan favorite.  During Rush's 2004 tour, they teased the crowd with a snippet of the tune in a medley, and video introduction to those concerts noted that "They never play 'Bangkok.'"  This time they did, and the faithful and devoted crowd was delighted.

A sophomoric giddiness peppered the show.  Film clips introduced some songs, and the video snippets included one from Bob and Doug Mackenzie and a bit from "South Park."  And instead of a wall of amps or some other rock-god accoutrement behind bassist and vocalist Geddy Lee, there was a trio of rotisseries, and a guy in a chef's hat came out once to baste the chickens and bow solemnly upon completion.  Oh, the hilarity.

The silliness of a Rush show is an almost necessary counterbalance to the seriousness of the music, both in theme and complexity.  Lee also plays the keyboards, and with the dizzying time signatures and over-caffeinated pace set by drummer Neil Peart's rhythmic avalanche, you have a musical workout few bands could attempt.

The high point of the show came in the second set, as synchronized pyrotechnics burst about the stage and Alex Lifeson's guitar roared the beginning to "Witch Hunt."  The song decries the wide-eyed zeal of religious ferment, and in today's political landscape, it was a poignant choice.

But as the fans pumped their fists and chanted the lyrics: "Silent and stern in the sweltering night, The mob moves like demons possessed," the message was clear: Blind adherence to anything, even a rock band, is madness.

Originally published in the Hartford Courant, Hartford, CT on 07.11.07.

It's Rush hour again

The band hits Mohegan Sun

By Phil Roura

Rush has never been in a hurry.

In the 33 years since the release of their self-titled debut, the band has released 25 studio and live albums at a pace that has been as steady as the march of time.

But it's been five years since the Canadian rockers last studio release, "Vapor Trails."  So the anticipation for "Snakes & Arrows" has been understandably high.  Whether it is worth the wait depends on whether you consider Rush avant-rock gods or digital dorks.  But the CD did debut at No. 3 - and there aren't many bands who've been around as long as they have who can claim that feat.  Or claim that they've remained relevant.

"It took a while," concedes vocalist-bassist-keyboardist Geddy Lee.  "We wanted to do a couple of different things musically and present a fresher, more original approach.  We wrote a lot of acoustic and bass and tried to make sure we were not seduced by techno.  The aim was to produce intelligent melodies and songs that were strong and meaningful, and I think we did."

Now on a 62-city tour that will take them as far as Helsinki, Rush - which also includes drummer-lyricist Neil Peart and guitarist Alex Lifeson - stops at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut tomorrow night to play in the Arena.  Tonight the band is at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, N.J.  They've also just signed to play Madison Square Garden on Sept. 17.

A lot more mature than in the screechy, early days of "Caress of Steel," Rush is more contemplative in "Snakes & Arrows" than at any time in their history.

"We wanted to reflect a lot on the issues of the day," says Lee.  "How our lives are reflected by extreme religious behavior - both near and far away.  The point Neil is trying to make in his lyrics is that it is not just the world of Islam.  Any extreme religious behavior is bad, whether it be Middle East or the Middle West.  You walk through airports and see what everyday folks have to deal with."

Why does Rush feel it has to comment on the religious inclinations of the world?

"Because that is the world we face," says Lee.  "This album is more topical.  The world has changed a lot in a very short period of time.  There's been a lot of conversation, a lot of books written recently about religion - of how God plays in people's lives."

So Rush has become more spiritual?  "I dunno.  We have always dealt with the world in our own way.  One common theme has always been the circumstances that luck - or lack of it - plays in your life."

Don't believe that Lee has suddenly been struck by a lightning bolt and gotten religion.  "I'm a cultural Jew," he says with a laugh.  "I love my Jewish sense of humor, but I'm not a practitioner."

The CD, however, is loaded with spiritual sensibilities.

Unlike albums in which bands wait until the middle before unveiling their signature track, "Snakes & Arrows" opens with the top single, "Far Cry," which Lee admits "is our most dynamic song."

Although it starts out decrying "the world we thought we'd inherit," the song is "full of indomitable optimism," Lee insists.  "It is about the idealism we have for the world.  It's about what we have been given to deal with - and that's okay."

Similarly, "The Way the Wind Blows" philosophizes on how nature shapes our psyches.

To these ears, "Armor and Sword" - with its reference to snakes and arrows - paints a bleaker picture of the world than the optimism Lee says they sought in the CD.  But in the final analysis, it is what the audience comes away with that is important to the group.

"I want them to smile and enjoy [the music]," he says, when asked what he hopes his Mohegan Sun gathering realizes from the concert.  "We want them to get as much of a visual sensation as an aural sensation out of it, and we will also try to make them laugh.  They should leave feeling they had a great musical experience."

After a pause, Geddy Lee adds, "Look, I have two children, aged 27 and 13.  I want them to be proud that I was a musician and made some decent music.  That is what I hope my legacy will be."

Originally published in The New York Daily News, New York, NY on 07.09.07.

Still rockin'

Male groupies, marriage, popularity - oh yeah, it's Rush

By Ed Condran

Yes, Rush are still together.  Yes, they're still putting out music (right now they are touring behind their 18th disc, "Snakes and Arrows").  And yes, they are still implausibly popular.  Guitarist Alex Lifeson explains the attraction.

Years ago a friend asked me if the guys from Rush had girlfriends.  Why haven't you written songs about girls?
[Laughs]We probably have written about two love songs.  One might have been "The Manhattan Project."[Laughs]

You obviously knew about girls.  You were a father at 17.
Yes, and a grandfather at 50.  It runs in the family.  In high school, my wife and I missed the same health class.

How could you have been married with all of the groupie temptation?
There wasn't a lot of temptation on the Rush tour bus for us.  Fortunately, our audience is 99% male, which made things a lot easier than it could have been.

You're approaching 40 years in the business.  How much longer can Rush exist?
Hopefully, a long time.  We got into this at a young age and fortunately it worked out well for us.  This band means so much to us and apparently to a lot of our fans as well.  I hope we can keep going for years  We still have a lot left in us.

You also score respect from your peers.  Members of Metallica, Tool and Smashing Pumpkins, among others, have given props to Rush.
That's a nice bonus.  What means the most is what our fans think of us but it's great to hear that those from great bands like what we do.

Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Tweeter Center
1 Harbor Blvd., Camden
$35, $45 and $90

Originally published in Metro, Philadelphia, PA on 07.06.07.

Review: Geddy Lee takes Rush album to Jones Beach

By Rafer Guzmán

Rush's concert featured everything you'd expect from a progressive rock band of 1970s vintage: a laser light show, fireballs, prodigious riffage, sci-fi keyboards.  It would have been an exercise in nostalgia but for one thing: Rush just released a new album, "Snakes & Arrows" (Atlantic), and it debuted at an impressive No. 3 on the Billboard charts.

It didn't sell a ton of copies - few albums do anymore - but it proved a point: People, especially older white guys, still like rock.  In fact, they're desperate for it, given the mix of hip-hop, R&B and TV show pop that dominates the Top 40.  There simply aren't many bands today that can inspire the average dude to break out his air-guitar - or, in Rush's case, his air-drums.

So Rush's three-hour, 27-song set became one big guys' night, with all the fist-pumping music, goofy humor and stoned philosophizing that have made the band an enduring favorite.  There were in-jokes galore, including video appearances from the "South Park" kids and Rush's fellow Canadians, the fictional Bob and Doug McKenzie.  And the stage featured the usual inexplicable appliances, this time three "Henhouse" brand rotisserie ovens filled with glistening chickens.  (At one point, a fellow in a chef's hat spent a few minutes basting them.)

Now in their early 50s, Rush's three famously gifted musicians - drummer Neil Peart, guitarist Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee on vocals, bass and keyboards - still know how to build a symphony's worth of sound.  They're also surprisingly spry: Lee and Lifeson often criss-crossed the stage and occasionally faced off.  And Peart, perhaps rock's best-respected drummer, delivered his solo on a rotating kit, switching between rock, jazz and industrial styles during the new instrumental track "Malignant Narcissism."

Rush played a total of nine new songs, including the singles "Far Cry" and "Spindrift."  This wasn't the band's best material: It lacks the Zeppelin-esque heft of earlier tracks such as "A Passage to Bangkok" or the pop sensibility of '80s-era favorites like "Tom Sawyer."  Still, the new songs dissolved perfectly into the old, creating a fan-pleasing brew of solos, rhythmic shifts and bursts of Arthurian fanfare.

If there's any bone to pick with Rush, it's the portentous lyrics, written chiefly by Peart and sung in Lee's preternatural falsetto.  They're no easier to take seriously now ("We can only bow to the here and now in our elemental war," from the new song "The Way the Wind Blows") than they were then ("Science, like nature, must also be tamed with a view towards its preservation," from 1980's "Natural Science").  It must be tough to rock out in service of such mouthfuls; it's a credit to the band that it can.

The show ended with the instrumental "YYZ," a high-energy workout with a hard-rock undercurrent and jazzy, fast-jab solos.  Lee's keyboards kicked in, the lasers came on, and nearly every guy in the place went nuts.

RUSH.  The progressive rock legends keep moving, if not progressing.  Monday night at Nikon at Jones Beach Theater, Wantagh.

Originally published in Newsday, Melville, NY on 07.05.07.

Rush slowly but surely returns to form

By Eric R. Danton

Rush albums were tough going for a while there.

The virtuosic Canadian trio descended into grungy churning after 1993's "Counterparts" - when the band released albums at all: Rush took a break between 1996 and 2002 while drummer Neil Peart recovered from the deaths in short succession of his teenage daughter and wife.

The band has been active since its re-emergence, releasing "Vapor Trails" in 2002 and an excellent and extensive live album, "Rush in Rio," in 2003.  The group has spent more time on the road, too, including a tour that stops Monday at Mohegan Sun.

Yet it's taken until now for Rush to regain its footing in the studio.  "Snakes & Arrows," the band's latest, is something of a return to form, with actual band dynamics instead of full-throttle flailings that, though technically adept, allowed little room for nuance.

There's still plenty of big juicy riffage on "Snakes & Arrows," but the band seems less interested in pummeling listeners into submission than luring them in with more varied displays of dazzling instrumental skill that run from loud to soft and back.  Peart, the band's lyricist since he joined Rush after its 1974 debut, turns in some of his most thoughtful musings in years as he deconstructs religious faith, and the misdeeds committed in its name, with the steady hand of a practiced skeptic.

"Now it's come to this," bassist Geddy Lee sings on "The Way the Wind Blows."  "Wide-eyed armies of the faithful/From the Middle East to the Middle West/Pray, and pass the ammunition."

Peart opens the song with a steady martial tattoo on the drums, then guitarist Alex Lifeson digs into a bluesy solo that resolves into a roiling riff.

Lee and Lifeson are in charge of putting Peart's lyrics to music, and aim for texture this time around.  Acoustic guitar underpins the snarling electrics on "Far Cry" and "Bravest Face," and Lifeson plays a rootsy acoustic raga on the unaccompanied instrumental "Hope."

Lee plays a crazed grunting bass line on the instrumental workout "Malignant Narcissism" (named for a line from the satirical movie "Team America: World Police"), and holds down the low end of "Faithless" with a repeating descending bass line.

There are no musical hooks here as bold as those on vintage Rush tunes such as "Spirit of Radio" or "Tom Sawyer," but this is a different record by what, 25 years later, is certainly a different band.  It's clear, though, that Rush still has plenty to say.

Rush performs Monday at Mohegan Sun Arena. Tickets for the 8 p.m. show are $85 and $65.

Originally published in the Hartford Courant, Hartford, CT on 07.05.07.

Rush's power rock still soars

By Jeff Miers

Toss Monty Python, John Dos Passos and the "Fragile"- era lineup of Yes into a blender.  Mix vigorously.

Add a dollop of synth-pop, some '60s power-trio rumblings and a few cups of technical virtuosity.  You've just created Rush, the smartest and most doggedly determined-to-progress band in heavy rock.  Humorous, literate and given to instrumental dexterity, the band is truly like no other.

For nearly 35 years, the Canadian trio - bassist/vocalist/ keyboardist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer/lyricist Neil Peart - has been putting the "progress" in progressive rock, moving rather rapidly from the ambitious, if slightly Zeppelin- derivative nature of its earliest work, into the genrebending grandiosity of late '70s platters like "Hemispheres" and "A Farewell To Kings," through the smart idiomatic hybrids of its mid-period, beginning with "Permanent Waves," and proceeding into the prog-pop of "Power Windows" and "Hold Your Fire" - through all of this, Rush has remained a band apart.  It doesn't so much buck musical trends as ignore them.  This has meant an always apparent freshness in songwriting, recording and performance. It has also meant that the musical establishment has no idea where to "put" the band.

Rush fans, however, have never had such a problem, and on a soggy Fourth of July evening, thousands of them opened their hearts to the group's singular sound and stunning audiovisual presentation across the span of a twin-set, three-hour show at the Darien Lake Performing Arts Center.  Much of the evening circled around material from the band's latest effort, "Snakes & Arrows," which ranks among Rush's finest studio records.  A sprawling set of tunes, the record at once encapsulates the band's musical history and shows a way forward - which is inspiring, when you consider how many musical peaks the three have already scaled.  In fact, the evening's second set kicked off with five straight from "Snakes & Arrows," and this 20 minutes made plain just what it is that separates Rush from so many bands of its era - the new material didn't just sit comfortably next to the many "classics" sprinkled throughout the set, it often eclipsed those classics.

After an amusing film introduction, the group kicked off the evening with "Limelight," the most incisive lyric yet penned concerning the often alienating nature of fame, and the just as often artificial relationships it can instigate.

Lifeson wasted no time nailing the lyrical guitar solo that so gracefully sets up the song's emotional apex.  This would not be the last time on Wednesday that he'd claim the spotlight with his idiosyncratically beautiful solos.  Two surprises for the Rush faithful quickly followed, in the rarely played "Digital Man," a stirring blend of rock power, new wave eclecticism and muscular reggae, and "Entre Nous," a pathos-drenched plea for acceptance that again featured some stellar chordal work from the perennially underrated Lifeson.

"The Main Monkey Business," a brain-frying instrumental from "Snakes & Arrows," was given a gutsy workout, the Lee-Peart rhythm section charting a daring course, atop which Lifeson layered his textural guitar figures.  "The Larger Bowl," another new tune, showed the trio's ability to write hookheavy pop-laced songs, even if they are pop of a unique variety.

"Circumstances," a bodyslamming "Hemispheres" track, turned some heads in the audience - I believe the tune has not been played live since the late '70s.  (Lifeson was great here - again!)  Set 2 hit a midpoint crescendo with "The Way the Wind Blows," one of Peart's finest lyrics - one that deals evenhandedly with the often destructive impulse toward religious faith in man - and an indelible Lee melody on which to hang that lyric.  The blood lust of the ignorant, angry mob that inspired "Witch Hunt" 25 years ago still exists, so this rarely played tune hit a raw nerve.  That it was impeccably performed didn't hurt.

Getting into Rush is a rite of passage for any budding rock musician, so it was not surprising to see plenty of teens and 20-somethings in attendance.  The music they heard Wednesday evening should have captured their imaginations.  It is redolent of a time when musical ambition, passion and a commitment to excellence were not anomalous in rock.

The ferocity with which the music was performed insisted that such a time is still now.

Concert Review


Wednesday night at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center.

Originally published in the Buffalo News, Buffalo, NY on 07.05.07.

Rush at SPAC

By Jeff Miers

The first concerts I attended as a kid were at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, and later on, during college, I spent my summers working there.  It seemed only fitting that I'd catch my first Rush show on the band's "Snakes & Arrows" tour -- which will stop at the Darien Lake Performing Arts Cente July 4th -- back at SPAC.

If you've never been there, you should consider the trip - the venue is one of the most beautiful in the state, and is situated in a state park in the quaint (but hopping, during the summer months) village of Saratoga Springs.

On Saturday, though, SPAC was transformed into a Rush convention, as what appeared to be a full house turned out to catch the band's 3-hour, twin-set performance.  Rush fans run the gamut in age -- many teens, some folks who could be grandparents, and just about every age bracket in between, were in full evidence.

If you're at all on the fence considering Wednesday's Darien Lake show, hop off it -- of the dozens of times I've seen the band, this was the finest.  I won't be a set-list spoiler, but this was a killer one - heavy on the brilliant new "Snakes & Arrows" album, and stuffed full of rarely-performed nuggetts from the band's illustrious past.  "Entre Nous," "Digital Man" and "Natural Science" were highlights, but it was ALL great.

Rush takes the stage at 8 p.m. at the Darien Lake PAC on Wednesday.  Check for remaining tickets.

Originally published in the Buffalo News, Buffalo, NY on 07.02.07.

Modern-Day Warriors

Rush rocks old and new on Montage Mountain

By Matt Smith

When it comes to Canadian rock heroes Rush, there's no middle ground: You either worship at the Toronto trio's singular sonic altar, or run screaming at the first sound of Geddy Lee's piercing voice (although to be fair, that's mellowed with age).

Sure, it owns a handful of early 1980s radio hits ("Tom Sawyer," "Limelight," and "The Spirit of Radio" being the most notable), but for all its recording and touring success, Rush is primarily a cult band - albeit one popular enough to draw 8,500 people to Montage Mountain last Friday night for a progressive rock worship service.

The three-hour, two-set show included a handful of hits, including the aforementioned warhorses, but this time around bassist/vocalist Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson, and drummer Neil Peart had two things on their mind: Playing a large swath of songs (nine) from Rush's latest CD, Snakes & Arrows, and mining their back catalog for rarely (if ever) played nuggets.

Rather than a momentum-stopping indulgence, as with most veteran bands, the new material is actually a highlight for a Rush fans.  Middle-aged diehards sang right along, as did the trio of pre-teen boys in the row behind me, who seemed to know the words to the Snakes & Arrows selections even better than their older counterparts.  And, in fact, the second set opened with five straight S&A tracks, the highlights coming with the pounding first single, "Far Cry," the driving "Workin' Them Angels," and the sonic swirl of "Spindrift."

And those rarities came early and often.  Following the "Limelight" show starter, Rush went right into the funky "Digital Man," from 1982's Signals, the tender "Entre Nous," a never-before-performed cut from 1980's Permanent Waves, and the elegant "Mission," which sounded a bit meatier live than it does on the jazz fusion-y 1987 album Hold Your Fire.  Other tunes pulled out of the vaults included the 1978 rocker "Circumstances," tuned down a notch from the version on the Hemispheres album, and the ominous "Witch Hunt," a lesser-known selection from the multi-platinum 1981 smash Moving Pictures.

Messrs. Lee, Lifeson, and Peart - all "musicians' musicians" - were on their game.  Lee's voice held up well, and he juggled bass, keyboards, and triggering pedals with seeming ease.  Lifeson's dexterous playing shone on the first-set-closing "Dreamline" (the only representation of Rush's 1990s output) and the 12-string guitar instrumental "Hope."  The businesslike Peart delivered his usual jaw-dropping drum solo, albeit a slightly shorter, seemingly reworked one, which concluded with a play-along to the Big Band song "Cotton Tail."

But it wasn't all business for Rush.  The band showed its distinctly Canadian sense of humor with a series of video clips, including self-starring shorts tied in with the Snakes & Arrows theme, a "hey, hoser" McKenzie Brothers introduction to "The Larger Bowl," and a "Lil' Rush" tribute from the South Park kids prior to "Tom Sawyer."  And that's not mentioning the giant chicken rotisseries on stage, a running gag all night.

As the evening came to a close, Lee and Lifeson tossed T-shirts into the crowd, and then Rush brought the show home with the fire-breathing 2002 track "One Little Victory" and the 1976 ode to high times "A Passage to Bangkok."  The acrobatic instrumental 1981 instrumental "YYZ" was the final encore, and the (mostly male) crowd ate it up, pumping fists along to the trio's lightning-fast instrumental interplay.

When you've got fans like that, who needs a middle ground?

Originally published in Electric City, Scranton, PA on 07.01.07.

Rush wows SPAC crowd

By Mike Curtin

Nearly four decades into its platinum-filled run, Canadian rockers Rush delighted its loyal following with a bountiful concert Saturday at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.

The trio drew an estimated audience of 12,000, most on the cusp of 40 years old with a few younger Rushies in attendance, many sporting well-worn t-shirts proclaiming their presence at past shows.

For an ensemble who first arrived on the international music scene in the 1970s, its sound is rooted in the music of a decade before, and the decade following.  At heart a power trio versed in bruising blues-rock of Cream, Cactus and the Jimi Hendrix Experience - a style it showcased on its ferocious cover of Eddie Cochan's (by way of Blue Cheer) "Summertime Blues" - it also drew from the Police in its use of suspended chording, open arrangements and jazz-tinged atmospherics.

Bassist Geddy Lee's trademark yowl gave the band a distinctive sound free of obvious derivation.

Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart possess a remarkable symmetry.  No one is greater than the other in this organization where the bassist is the frontman, the drummer is a principal songwriter and the guitarist is, well ... just the guitarist, providing one shimmering pure fill after another.

Unlike Deep Purple, Fleetwood Mac, and countless other acts who shed members like a snake sheds its skin, it's unlikely that Rush could, or would, continue should one member leave.

As in past years the group provided more bang for the buck on its "Snakes & Arrows" tour.

Hi-def screens provided crisp images for those seated further back in the amphitheater and on the lawn.  There was no shortage of innovative video, like the spatial surrealism of M.C. Escher, which accompanied "Circumstances".

A pre-recorded cameo by comedians, and fellow Canadians, Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas - aka "Bob and Doug McKenzie" - served as the introduction to "The Larger Bowl."

The band again displayed its knack for multi-tasking.  At its 2002 SPAC show it performed in front of a bank of industrial dryers.  This year the trio took advantage of its two sets to cook a little post-show dinner with three large chicken rotisseries turning constantly and a chef to baste the birds.  It was an effect that kitchen gadget entrepreneur Ron Ponpei would've adored.

Signature classics like "Freewill," "Subdivisions," "Tom Sawyer" and "The Spirit of Radio" were interspersed with newer selections, like the blistering instrumental "The Main Monkey Business," and lesser known album tracks that tested the memories of all but the most fanatical acolytes.

There were few idle moments as the trio constructed intricate passages and packed the them tighter than a Size 10 body in a Size 2 pair of spandex.

For the less initiated, this sonic flurry was more extraneous than enlightening, despite the obvious virtuosity displayed by all.  Concepts like restraint and silence have little meaning in the Rush lexicon.

But 12,000 Rush fans can't be wrong and I suspect few left unsatisfied from a show that stretched nearly three hours.

Originally published in The Post-Star, Glens Falls, NY on 07.01.07.