Rush digs deep to deliver ultimate geek jam at Blossom
By John Soeder
If -- God forbid -- a bomb had been dropped Thursday night on Blossom Music Center, it would've decimated Northeast Ohio's 40-and-over male population.
Fortunately, the only disaster to report from the Rush concert was a relatively minor one. For several tense moments, singer-bassist-keyboardist Geddy Lee's synthesizer was inaudible during "Subdivisions." He quickly fixed the problem, as thousands of grown men heaved a sigh of relief and resumed nodding their heads to the prog-rock soundtrack of their youth.
The rest of the Canadian trio's three-hour marathon performance went off without a hitch, from the opening strains of "Limelight" to the closing bars of the ultimate geek jam, "YYZ."
This wasn't a show for the casual Rush admirer. The sprightly, squeaky-voiced Lee (sporting an Ohio State University T-shirt), teeth-clenching guitarist Alex Lifeson and no-nonsense drummer Neil Peart eschewed some of their most popular standbys (where, oh where, was "Red Barchetta"?) in favor of lesser-known selections. The more obscure the song, the louder hardcore fans cheered. They went nuts for a pair of relics from the 1970s, "Circumstances" and "A Passage to Bangkok." The band reached deep into the 1980 album "Permanent Waves," too, for "Entre Nous" and "Natural Science."
Lest the proceedings turn into one big nostalgia trip, Rush trotted out no fewer than nine songs from its latest release, "Snakes & Arrows" -- the band's "gazillionth" album, by Lee's count. Tedious instrumentals notwithstanding, a handful of new tunes held their own, including the heavy-metal chantey "The Way the Wind Blows" and the hard-rocking "Far Cry." During the latter number, concertgoers tossed a ball around the pavilion, only to have it confiscated by a quick-thinking security guard before things got way too crazy.
The stage props included three rotisserie ovens, complete with chickens basted by an unidentified guy in an apron. Additional eye candy was provided by video images of hula-hooping chimpanzees and three-dimensional cubes floating above M.C. Escher-like staircases. We also got numerous close-ups of Rush, often shown from the neck down as band members (54 years old, to a man) handled their instruments with virtuosic aplomb.
Cameras even caught Peart cracking a rare smile, although not in the midst of his eight-minute drum solo.
By the time Rush closed its regular set with the killer one-two punch of "The Spirit of Radio" and "Tom Sawyer," the rest of us were beaming, too.
Originally published in The Plain Dealer, Cleveland, OH on 08.31.07.
Skill, humor mix at Rush concert
By Gary Graff
Rush's intricate songs require some serious chops -- but not necessarily a serious demeanor.
The Canadian trio's concert Tuesday night at the DTE Energy Music Theatre was certainly a showcase for flashy musicianship, but the group members also drew plenty of grins over the course of the two-hour and 45-minute (plus intermission) show. Good-humored videos introduced both halves of the concert, while singer-bassist-keyboardist Geddy Lee performed in front of three rotisserie chicken ovens, which a "chef" from the road crew came out to check a couple of times during the evening. Guitarist Alex Lifeson's amp stack, meanwhile, was surrounded by toy dinosaurs.
Canadian comedians Bob and Doug McKenzie (Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas) introduced the new song "The Larger Bowl," while Rush showed a clip of the "South Park" kids trying to play the group's biggest hit, "Tom Sawyer," before launching into the song themselves. And the group's genial onstage demeanor furthered the point that for all their virtuosity, Lee, Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart also know how to have a good time.
But rest assured that they CAN play, and that dexterity combined with a body of intricately composed and arranged songs was what brought a near-capacity crowd out to DTE for Rush's first area stop in three years. And while that was for a 30th anniversary tour, Tuesday's show was "celebrating," in Lee's words, the group's new "Snakes and Arrows" album so was not surprisingly a different kind of affair.
Performing on a stage with plenty of moving parts, three video screens and carefully deployed lasers and pyrotechnics, Rush drew nine of the evening's 27 songs from "Snakes and Arrows" including a five-track blast that began the show's second half. All went down well, and politically-tinged videos accompanied performances of "The Larger Bowl," "Workin' Them Angels" and "The Way the Wind Blows." The sinuously grooving "Far Cry," the album's first single, also showed potential to become a new staple in Rush's canon.
The group didn't scrimp on its old favorites, however. Although Rush has a large enough catalog that it left out practically a show's worth of radio hits, it opened with "Limelight" and closed the main set with a triplet of "Distant Early Warning," "The Spirit of Radio" and "Tom Sawyer." In between the band offered lesser-known treats such as "Circumstances," "Entre Nous," "Dreamline," "Natural Science" and "A Passage to Bangkok," closing the show with its Grammy-nominated instrument "YYZ."
All of that combined for an exhaustive but invigorating night, one on which it proved possible to smile at the same time your draw is dropping in respectful awe of a rare display of exceptional musicality.
Originally published in The Oakland Press, Pontiac, MI on 08.29.07.
Review: Rush at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater
By Kris Knowles
You could tell several things from Rush's show Thursday at Verizon:
- Rush's fans are mostly older men who grew up in the band's heyday in the late 70s/early 80s. At some concerts, it's hard to spot many people over 40. This show was the opposite. Not surprisingly, the band's older classics brought the biggest response.
- The band members may be getting old, but on this night it certainly didn't detract from their enthusiasm, virtuoso musical skills and especially stamina. They started shortly after 8 p.m. and played until 11:15, with a 20-minute intermission.
- Verizon Amphitheater needs a bigger stage and - this is old news - better video screens. Rush brought an outstanding stage setup with three of their own large video-screens and a variety of great lights. But it was apparent that the height of the Verizon stage was a real limitation, as the band's lighting had to hang so low that some of it got in the way of the video screens. It wasn't a problem for people in the lower-level front seats, but farther up the hill the view was partially blocked.
This show didn't seem to be close to a sell-out. Both sections of reserved seats seemed full, but the lawn area was pretty sparse.
Still, for a band that doesn't get much radio play of its most recent music, it was a solid crowd. Rush still has plenty of drawing power as a sort of Led Zeppelin of a certain generation.
The band inflicted a few too many songs from its new album, but considering that the show was nearly three hours, there was plenty of time for favorites. Songs that really got the crowd moving and brought the biggest responses included "The Spirit of the Radio," "Tom Sawyer," "YYZ," "Witch Hunt," and "Subdivisions."
Another standout was the instrumental "Malignant Narcissism." But a string of other songs from the new album created a lull in the middle of the show. People in the front section mostly stayed standing but with less rocking, and a lot of people in the second tier were sitting. The show felt a little leisurely during that stretch.
The video screens were put to great use, with one or two screens devoted at times to close-ups of guitar or drum handiwork. This was especially valuable during Neil Peart's drum solo, when the viewing angles included views from the front, top, over the shoulders and side, with closeups on the snare and even a bass-drum foot. I can't think of a better use of technology to fully appreciate one of rock's greatest drummers.
The screens were also used for graphics, videos and lighting effects to go with the music, and they showed a video of "Lil Rush" which had the characters of "South Park" performing "Tom Sawyer."
This show continued Rush's tradition of great lighting, including some green lazers from the 1980s. (Why did those go away? It's still cool to watch the beams soar through the sky.)
Sound quality at the sound board was mostly great, sometimes superb. Better than most Rush albums, especially the live ones. It's odd that they can never seem to capture how good they really are live.
Originally published in The Kansas City Star, Kansas City, MO on 08.27.07.
Neil Peart of Rush: The beat of a different drummer
Beloved by fans and revered by fellow musicians, the legendary Peart brings his complex mix of precision and power to DTE on Tuesday
By Brian McCollum
He's known as the Professor.
But that's not all they call Neil Peart. Stick the phrase "Neil Peart is..." in Google, step back and watch the accolades fly. As far as the Web is concerned, the Rush drummer is unreal, the greatest, a legend, the man. He is, some breathlessly proclaim, a rock god.
At his concerts, they stare and study, their arms busy in the air, miming his every move across his colossal kit. He doesn't stare back: Focused, intense, deeply invested, Peart is all business as he steers Rush through its marathon live show.
The enduring phenomenon of Neil Peart is one of rock music's rarely highlighted realities. In a rock world where musical prowess is often discounted, where his peers are often stereotyped with an amiable joke ("What do you call a drummer without a girlfriend?" "Homeless"), Peart is a rare sort indeed: a drummer beloved foremost for his virtuoso chops -- and a personal image directly opposed to rock flash.
As the Canadian band alights at DTE Energy Music Theatre for a Tuesday concert, the 54-year-old drummer, lyricist and author will be in his familiar spot behind bassist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson, once again the magnetic focus for many in the Rush audience.
If you want to start an argument, walk into a room full of rock fans and declare that so-and-so is the best whatever. But the conventional wisdom on Peart -- that he is one of rock history's very best -- is about as close to consensus as it gets. It's a reputation built on a lengthy, rarely flagging career, even as Rush has flown under the mainstream radar since Peart joined in 1974.
The stoic Peart is a drummer's drummer, a player whose high-end work has made him a legend among fellow musicians. He dominated Modern Drummer magazine's annual best-of polls so comprehensively during the 1980s that the publication eventually took him off the ballot and placed him on a special honor roll.
"He perhaps doesn't loom as large in the overall music world, or even in rock," says senior editor Rick Van Horn. "But within the drumming community, his stature is beyond iconic. No one has had this much impact for so long. He's influenced so many people and remained at the pinnacle of popularity for 30 years."
But even for casual listeners who wouldn't know a paradiddle from a pedal, Peart's skills are easy to discern. Muscular but fluid, geometric but colorful, his drumming can be akin to aural fireworks, and remains the perennial attraction even on such well-worn staples as the hit "Tom Sawyer."
Peart fan Bill Plegue of Chesterfield Township recounts the night in 2004 that his wife attended her first Rush show.
"She's a classically trained piano player. She sings Broadway songs. Billy Joel is what she would consider rock 'n' roll," says Plegue, 50. "And she walked out of there amazed -- 'That guy plays so fast, I can't keep up with the beats in my head. How does someone do that?' Whether you like Rush or not, the musicianship alone is worth the price of a ticket."
Charlie Grover, former drummer for the Detroit band Sponge and now with the Paper Street Saints, will be in the front row Tuesday night.
"He's a human metronome, just rock solid. I think he kind of looks at it mathematically, and that's the thing about his playing -- it's so precise," says Grover. "He's not a 4/4 cat. He's the guy whose playing is studied. Neil Peart is the true innovator, the one who pushed drumming to the forefront."
They want to be like Neil
There are faster drummers. More intricate drummers. More powerful drummers.
But there is perhaps no other rock player who brings all three qualities to the kit in such abundance -- and who has reaped such prestige for it.
On the Internet, long a prime gathering spot for Rush's self-professed geek audience, extensive fan tributes sit alongside heady discussions of Peart's lyrics. The video site YouTube teems with homemade homages, amateur drummers filming themselves playing Peart's challenging parts.
Still, you don't hear a lot about Peart outside musicians' circles and Rush audiences. Instrumental chops aren't always the most valued asset in rock, where style and attitude are often the coin of the realm. It's the reason Keith Richards, no virtuoso player, can be heralded as one of rock's guitar greats. Indeed, technical skill can be a rock 'n' roll liability, as evidenced by the long critical disdain for progressive rock. In a sense, the entire punk genre sprung up to scorn the concept of trying too hard.
Top it off with the fact that Rush just might be the biggest rock band that's never been treated like a big rock band: no Rolling Stone covers, no Grammy Awards, no paparazzi chases. The group's mainstream profile has been so low-key, in fact, that Peart's name is commonly mispronounced, even by avid fans. (It's peert, not purt.)
"There's a bit of a club aspect to it, like a secret society," says fan Bobby Standridge of Springfield, Va. "It's one of those things where it's people in the know who derive the greatest pleasures from this band."
Standridge has analyzed Peart as much as anyone: He logged nearly 18 months creating a digitally animated film featuring Peart performing the Rush chestnut "YYZ." It became an Internet sensation in rock circles, ultimately tallying more than 1 million views after its 2005 release. The attention propelled him into a career as a full-time animator, working for ESPN, among others.
With its meticulous scrutiny of his moves at the kit, the clip -- which can be viewed at www.BobbysBrane.com -- symbolizes the Rush drummer's distinct following: When you're into Peart, you're really into Peart. On recent Rush DVDs, viewers are offered the option of viewing footage from multiple angles trained solely on the drummer.
"What I like about Neil's playing, and the way he approaches life, is that he's very deliberate. When he constructs his parts, he'll have a pattern he alludes to and shadows throughout a piece," says Standridge, 40. "He's not busy for busyness' sake. He always seems to play what's appropriate to the song, but within that it's fresh and innovative. And he always has total control of what he's doing."
There are some critics
Peart has his critics, and their complaints are easy to spot amid the dizzying, knotty discussions that fill certain corners of the Web: His technique is showy, indulgent, too cleanly precise for rock 'n' roll. Jazz-savvy listeners say he's overrated at the expense of technically superior players. Much of the criticism is directed at the lyrics he writes for vocalist Geddy Lee, which some read more as high-brow prose than rock poetry.
During the late '70s, Peart's expressed affection for political philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand -- culminating in the "Anthem"-inspired album "2112" -- prompted sniping from rock's left-leaning establishment.
Over time, though, the vitriol has tailed off, much as it has for Rush itself. If only through attrition, the kudos have crowded out the criticism, as new generations of rock fans and critics have grown up with the band. Today, the threesome's status as elder rock statesmen has granted them a kind of collegial respect not always apparent in the past.
Peart, a mysterious personality even in Rush fan circles, became a sympathetic figure in the late '90s when he was struck by a pair of personal tragedies. The deaths of his wife and a daughter, just 10 months apart, became the stepping stone for his well-reviewed 2002 memoir, "Ghost Rider," which chronicled his therapeutic motorcycle journey across North America.
For fans, it was a familiar picture of intense self-determination -- one they'd come to know well from Peart's lyrics.
"The lyrics have been such a big influence on how I look at the world," says Standridge.
"What I take from them is that it's your life, it's in your hands, you make of it what you want... So much of rock 'n' roll is about whining and complaining. Those lyrics say get up and do something about it."
But it's still that drumming -- the sublime skills, the exacting standards, the cool bravado -- where the personal inspiration starts.
Dream Theater's Mike Portnoy, the drummer most commonly pitted against Peart in fan debates about today's best player, says his style has diverged since his teen years as a Rush fanatic. But he knows where credit belongs.
"He was my first real drum hero," says Portnoy, 40. "Neil as a drummer, and Rush as a band, were the blueprints for this band's foundation. Without him I wouldn't be playing the way I play today. There's no doubt about that."
Originally published in the Detroit Free Press, Detroit, MI on 08.27.07.
Rush raises questions about human condition
By David Lindquist
Rush presented the most philosophical rock show of the summer Sunday night at Verizon Wireless Music Center.
It wasn't a concert designed to pacify casual fans, as soul-searching lyrics from drummer Neil Peart guided the program while several hit singles didn't make the 28-song set.
Before a halftime intermission, Peart, vocalist-bass player Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson strung together obscurities and an occasional standard to craft a sonic essay on the human condition.
"Limelight" and "Freewill" were the mainstream standouts, with the former focused on the pitfalls of fame and the latter filled with advice against rituals and superstition.
While Lee's sky-scraping voice didn't appear to be entirely warmed up at the show's outset, he played an elastic and melodic bass from beginning to end -- often providing a soul to the band's overly dense progressive rock tunes.
Current album "Snakes & Arrows" supplied the centerpiece of the concert's first half via a song titled "The Larger Bowl," which finds Peart as perplexed about humanity as ever.
"Why such different fortunes and fates," Lee sang, "some are blessed and some are cursed."
To illustrate the haves and have-nots, video images contrasted a cruise ship's deck chair and a penitentiary's electric chair, plus a palace and a slum during the performance of "Bowl."
"Entre Nous," from 1980, and "Mission," from 1987, carried more optimistic messages.
"The spaces in between leave room for you and I to grow," Lee sang during "Entre Nous." "Mission," meanwhile, paid tribute to the planet's brightest minds: "A spirit with a vision is a dream with a mission."
After the break, Rush played five consecutive selections from "Snakes and Arrows."
With the musicians more locked in and aggressive than before the break, disbelief about the general state of affairs continued to be the lyrical theme.
"It's a far cry from the world we'd thought we'd inherit," Lee sang during "Far Cry." "It's a far cry from the way we thought we'd share it."
Lifeson squeezed a mandolin solo into the heavy-swinging "Far Cry," and he later extracted an impressive unplugged tone from his electric guitar.
These are two more wrinkles for the ultimate multi-tasking trio. Peart triggers a multitude of sounds from his drum kit, and Lee plays bass, keyboards and some synthesized tones through foot pedals.
"Snakes" selection "Spindrift" proved to be a minor-key masterpiece. The tune wasn't a sing-along for the audience of 9,789, but the questions of its chorus -- "What am I supposed to say? Where are the words to answer you when you talk that way?" -- encapsulated the night's overriding message.
Originally published in The Indianapolis Star, Indianapolis, IN on 08.27.07.
Rush's signature humor, talent pack Smirnoff
By Mike Daniel
A little bit of everything happens at a Rush concert. But nearly nothing happens in excess.
Unless you're a vegan or in PETA. Then you might have an issue with the three rotisserie ovens behind bassist Geddy Lee. Each oven was stuffed with a dozen sizzlin' chickens - Mr. Lee's latest answer to space fillers for the speaker cabinets he eschews in live shows.
Baby boomers dominating the crowd of 15,000 at Smirnoff Music Centre on Saturday night may not have looked broad-minded, but in spirit and action they were.
Air guitarists were everywhere. And just as many air drummers pounded away at the ether, too, thanks to Neal Peart's stately presence. A few tipsy types stumbled around, but no one appeared truly ripped. Some wives rocked out as hard as their hubbies, some crossed arms and wished they were gazing at Grey's Anatomy instead of Geddy's.
One youngster got thrown out of the joint because of a joint (Rush concerts have long been considered acceptable venues by reefer-referred jam-band fanatics). Another fan exhaled the words to nearly every one of the 27 songs Rush performed during its nearly three-hour set.
But most everyone did two things: watch and listen, both intently. Fans of the 39-year-old Canadian prog-rock band are an attentive and chiefly calm sort. Smirnoff's large quota (15K for one band? impressive) of disciples was treated to a set list with surprises and a dialed-in, transcendental sense of musicianship ? especially compared with Rush tours of the last decade.
Mr. Lee's signature alto was ragged during the opener, "Limelight," but he'd recovered by the time "Entre Nous," a piece Rush never played live until this tour, emerged two songs later. Until the second half's closer, the iconic "Tom Sawyer," Mr. Lee had little problem attaining the piercing vocal registers common in earlier Rush anthems such as "The Spirit of Radio" and "Freewill," which were among the evening's high points.
Guitarist Alex Lifeson looked the most like he's in his mid-50s (all members are, in fact, there), but sonically he was the most distant from it. His soloing was impeccable, particularly on "Natural Science" (a stand-in for "The Trees," which wasn't played) and a fiery new instrumental, "The Main Monkey Business," which was one of nine numbers played from Rush's new CD, Snakes & Arrows.
And there's the concert's primary conundrum. Snakes' instrumentals are by far that disc's highlights, and they translated live. The puffy, meandering lyric-addled songs didn't; the band may have been better served by replacing one or two of those with "Fly By Night," "Working Man" or "Xanadu." Also a problem: the pointless use of strobes, which work only with an energetic band playing energetic music (Rush is neither), and lasers.
But neither light source was overused, and Rush smartly kept some stage trickery in the goodie bag until later (the lasers, flamethrowers and a South Park short film). Even with a bloated start to the second half thanks to five straight tunes off Snakes, the show lost little drama and no power.
Originally published in The Dallas Morning News, Dallas, TX on 08.12.07.
Rush gets its concert moxie aura on
By Doug Fox
One has to admire Rush's moxie.
The Canadian trio has been beating the prog-rock drum, so to speak, for more than 30 years, yet steadfastly refuses to be relegated to nostalgia-act status.
A good many bands with back catalogs as deep as Rush, could certainly learn a lesson from the trio by taking the concert road less traveled. That's because many bands of long standing settle for regurgitating the same songs year after year -- mistakenly believing that simply reshuffling the order of a setlist somehow equates to presenting a different show than the last time they passed through town.
The paint-by-numbers bible to setlist construction for these bands contains the following commandments:
1. Bring along a popular support band or two to help sell tickets and lighten the length of your set.
2. Open with one of your best-known singles to get the crowd rocking.
3. Play as many hits as you possibly can.
4. Throw in an obligatory one or two songs from your new album to feign currency.
5. Close the concert with the same big hit night after night, year after year, tour after tour.
As the members of Rush showed Monday night in concert at USANA Amphitheatre in West Valley City, they do not subscribe to that line of thinking in any way, shape or form.
First of all, the band's setlist was vastly different than it was on its last visit to Utah -- at the same venue in 2004. For those scoring at home, only nine of 27 songs Monday were repeats from the show three years ago.
OK, Rush did comply with rule 2 above by opening with the rocking "Limelight." But that song actually closed the band's 2004 tour, so Rush still gets credit for flipping things entirely upside down.
Rush -- featuring Geddy Lee on bass and lead vocals, Alex Lifeson on guitar, and Neil Peart on drums -- really raised the stakes, though, by giving major play to its new album, "Snakes & Arrows." The band played nine -- count 'em, nine -- tunes off the current release during a two-hour, 45-minute, support-band free performance. It takes a lot of guts for a band to do that, and in this case the gamble mostly paid off.
Rush actually opened its second set with five new songs in a row -- which seemed to hold the crowd's interest, although one couldn't help but notice a spike in applause after the band followed that quintet up with the old favorite "Subdivisions."
Rush has frequently been referred to as a musician's band -- no doubt a reflection on each individual's relative virtuosity on his instrument. It probably also stems from the fact that none of the three really goes out of their way to play up to the crowd with exaggerated stage maneuvers. The playing tends to speak for itself.
Nowhere was that more evident than with drummer extraordinaire Peart. Those that didn't take the time in stretches to watch Peart pound the skins in seeming effortlessness truly missed out on one of rock's great guilty pleasures.
How often can it be said that an eight-minute drum solo is one of the true highlights of a concert? That was the case Monday and, we suspect, during any Rush show. Especially interesting were the different views afforded by the three big screens at the rear of the stage during Peart's solo -- the combined effect of which practically put the viewer right in Peart's seat behind his massive rotating kit.
Watching Peart during the show, I almost got the impression that he went about his business mostly unaware of the audience. He proved me wrong.
Rush was playing "Between the Wheels" near the end of its first set when Barbi and Zane Deweese of Coalville -- sitting on the 12th row in the center section -- held up a sign that said, "Hey, Chef Ellwood, any extra chop sticks?" (Chef Ellwood references a nickname Peart gave himself in his 2002 book "Ghost Rider.")
After the song ended, the couple noticed that Peart called over his drum technician and handed him the pair of sticks he had been using. Midway through the next song, a security guard showed up in the audience and handed the sticks to the Coalville couple.
"It's a dream come true," Zane Deweese said after the show. "I haven't missed a Rush show in Utah since 1984."
Further driving home the "musician's band" label, Rush played four instrumentals Monday, including the lively "The Main Monkey Business," the Lifeson acoustic solo "Hope" and "Malignant Narcissism" -- which, as Dave Barry would rightly opine were he still writing his national humor column, would make a great name for a rock band. Rush even closed the show with an instrumental -- concert staple "YYZ."
Lest anyone think Rush might exhibit a tendency to take itself too seriously, however, there were several moments of humor Monday to offset the notion. There were four pre-produced video introductions, which all displayed a comedic touch -- the funniest of which was a "South Park" take on Rush's hit "Tom Sawyer." Classic stuff.
Rush showed Monday that an old dog is capable of learning new tricks. I only wish others in the rock and roll kennel would follow suit.
Aug. 6, 2007
2. Digital Man
3. Entre Nous
6. The Main Monkey Business
7. The Larger Bowl
8. Secret Touch
10. Between the Wheels
1. Far Cry
2. Workin' Them Angels
3. Armor and Sword
5. The Way the Wind Blows
7. Natural Science
8. Witch Hunt
9. Malignant Narcissism
10. Neil Peart drum solo
11. Hope (Alex Lifeson acoustic solo)
12. Distant Early Warning
13. The Spirit of Radio
14. Tom Sawyer
1. One Little Victory
2. A Passage to Bangkok
Performance time: 2 hours, 45 minutes
Originally published in The Daily Herald, Provo, UT on 08.10.07.
Early radio airplay won Rush its fans
By Hector Saldaña and Ramiro Burr
Longevity is not a word usually associated with a rock band these days.
But Rush has been recording and touring since the early '70s, and with a lineup - Geddy Lee, bass/vocals; Alex Lifeson, guitar; Neil Peart, drums - that hasn't changed since the second album, "Fly by Night" (1975).
Long a San Antonio favorite, the Canadian trio is coming to town Sunday on a tour in support of its 18th album "Snakes & Arrows."
Its beginnings as a heavy-metal power trio with artistic ambitions met with mixed results. Some considered the group artsy or pretentious. Its 1975 albums "Fly by Night" and "Caress of Steel" were thought to be "too Zeppeliny."
That changed in 1976 with the hard-rock concept album "2112." Later gems included "Permanent Waves," "Moving Pictures," "Signals" and "Roll the Bones." The sound softened, with synths playing a bigger role, but Rush remained a thinking man's rock band.
With dozens of gold and platinum albums and sold-out or near capacity tours, one would think Rush would have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Not yet - though the band is in the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, alongside Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen and The Band.
But after three decades, the band still matters; here are some reasons why:
The S.A. connection
Unlike other markets, Rush broke big in San Antonio right from its debut album, "Rush," in 1974, recalled KZEP-FM's Tom "T-Bone" Scheppke.
"(The late) Joe Anthony and Lou Roney were the DJs at KMAC/KISS that really played the group heavily," he said. "They played all the cuts on the first album, but the big tracks were 'Working Man,' 'Finding My Way,' and 'In the Mood.'"
Dave Risher, owner of Hogwild Records, says Rush as always been a popular seller.
"I can still remember when they advertised their first concert here, at Randy's Rodeo. Through the years, I would say '2112' is their classic album, sort of like their 'White Album' and 'Sgt. Pepper' album. That one plus the first two live albums, 'All the World's a Stage' and 'Exit ... Stage Left' have been big sellers through the years."
After making its San Antonio debut Oct. 28, 1975 at Randy's, Rush got its first headlining gig June 7, 1976, at Municipal Auditorium with Styx opening and Thin Lizzy second-billed.
Jack Orbin, whose Stone City Attractions brought Rush to San Antonio 18 times from 1976 to 1996, called it the hardest-working blue collar band (with a taste for fine wines, he noted) that he ever promoted. He recalled that the band even played during an ice storm in Dallas in 1977 for fewer than 200 brave souls who showed up for their first appearance in that town.
Orbin recalled that when they came to San Antonio, they hung out at Mr. Pizza, which was run by Anthony.
The band's most recent visit was a Verizon show in June 2004 on its 30th anniversary tour.
They made '2112,' OK?
Although the title track was 20 minutes long, "2112" became Rush's commercial breakthrough, with complex tunes and lyrics about a future where technology ruled. The multipart title song, based on the writing of Ayn Rand, featured the radio staple "2112 Overture/The Temples of Syrinx," while the flip side had the rockers "Something for Nothing" and "A Passage to Bangkok" (which the band reportedly is playing on the current tour). It was a must-have album for S.A. rock fans in the '70s.
"2112" also gave Rush fans that naked man and star logo, seen in other album artwork and other places.
Like Pink Floyd, Rush was known for its early use of props, film and video. Old-school San Antonio fans may recall when a giant pink brain hovered inside HemisFair Arena during a concert March 3, 1979, in support of "Hemispheres." Balcony tickets went for $8 back in the day. That's a large beer in today's world.
Sense of humor
What other band do you know that has used the Three Stooges' theme song as part of its concerts? On previous tours, they've brought up clothes dryers as stage as props. For this tour, it's reportedly rotisserie chicken ovens.
Then there's "Take Off," the musical skit by SCTV's Bob and Doug Mackenzie with Geddy Lee singing like a banshee. And the fan site Power Windows reports that "Tom Sawyer" is preceded by a "South Park" video on the current tour.
Guitar Player magazine compiled its "Top Ten Rush Riffs of All Time" and named "The Spirit of Radio" from the "Permanent Waves" CD as No. 1 because "this airtight shift in meter suggests more of a mystical connection between band members than even their headiest lyrics might imply."
Guitar Player digs Lifeson, but Modern Drummer worships "The Professor," Peart, who has released a two-DVD analysis of one of his drum solos.
In recent years, Rush has been ignored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Superfan Suzanne Bonney has organized the Rush Hall of Fame Campaign Petition online. So far she has collected 27,000 signatures. On the Web site, Bonney notes out that "with 22 consecutive gold records, they are fourth behind the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Kiss in all-time gold record acquisitions."
Will it take until 2112 to see Rush in the hall?
San Antonio resident Danny Sanchez, 38, has seen Rush 14 times.
"They're a thinking man's band," he said. "Most of their songs are not about getting a girl or losing a girl. They're about life, faith, death, politics, war and some literary references. That band may grow old, but they never get old."
"All the World's a Stage" was the first album an 8-year-old Danny bought. "It's like your first girlfriend. It's still my favorite (Rush) live album (of four)."
So, does that mean he knows the lyrics to every Rush song?
"Well, pretty much once the downbeat goes down, everything comes back (to me)."
Originally published in the San Antonio Express-News, San Antonio, TX on 08.09.07.
Rush gives fans their money's worth
By Dan Nailen
No one can ever accuse Rush of not giving fans their money's worth.
Monday at Usana, the Canadian trio delivered a monster-sized set every bit as grand in scope and musically adventurous as the band's 30-year back catalog, playing nearly 30 songs in two sets spread across three hours.
The show included everything a long-time Rush fan has come to expect. Geddy Lee provided entrancing bass lines and that love it-or-hate it howl. Neil Peart brought his propulsive rhythms, deadpan demeanor and unnecessary-but-entertaining drum solo. And guitarist Alex Lifeson spent the evening with a grin permanently attached to his face, clearly pleased to be playing for a near-full amphitheater and with one of rock's best rhythm sections.
Rush opened the show, the sun still bright enough to wash out the lights and video images on stage, with a somewhat plodding "Limelight." The trio was up to speed soon enough, though, with Lee's hyperkinetic bass and Lifeson's reggae-tinged guitar tone leading the way on "Digital Man."
A memorable "Freewill" led to the first new song of the night, "The Main Monkey Business" from Rush's latest album, "Snakes & Arrows."
"The Main Monkey Business" and its follow-up, "The Larger Bowl," both met with cheers nearly as loud as the older cuts that followed like "Circumstances" and "Between the Wheels."
After a brief intermission, and the arrival of complete darkness, Rush's stage show was able to take full effect. Three video screens above the band relayed images of animated videos for nearly every song.
They also projected close-ups of the musicians working their respective instruments, a much-appreciated feature for the folks high on the hill. The overhead shot looking down on Peart during his drum solo was particularly inventive.
Between the videos, smoke and lasers erupting from the stage, it would be easy for many bands to disappear into the background of their own shows.
Not so Monday, thanks to a second set dominated by new music from "Snakes & Arrows." The album is a solid set of hard-rock with touches of prog-rock, blues and reggae, like most of Rush's music, and the fans were unusually receptive to their heroes' new work.
Rush opened the second set with five new songs in a row, including "Far Cry," "Workin' Them Angels" and "The Way the Wind Blows" before stepping back into the '80s for "Subdivisions." By the end of the show, nine of "Snakes & Arrow's" 13 songs had made their way into the set.
By the time Rush hit its final push at show's end, hardly anyone had left even as the show hit the three-hour mark. "Distant Early Warning," "The Spirit of Radio" and classic-rock staple "Tom Sawyer" closed the second set, and the band followed with a brief encore before sending thousands of fans on their merry, exhausted way.
Where: Usana Amphitheatre, West Valley City
The Bottom Line: The classic-rock trio overwhelmed a near-packed Usana with its musical dexterity and more than three hours of memorable hard-rock.
Originally published in The Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City, UT on 08.07.07.
'Old guys' deliver a real Rush
By Pat Reavy
Geddy Lee made several quips Monday night that he and his Rush bandmates were old. True, the Canadian power trio has been making music and touring for over 30 years. But even today they bring a youthful energy, musicanship and polished showmanship to the stage that many of today's "younger" bands can't match.
Monday night was no exception as Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart were in top form, performing 28 songs during nearly three hours of music before a packed USANA crowd. The band appeared to be in good spirits (even the normally stone-faced Peart was seen cracking a smile) right from the show-opening guitar riff of "Limelight."
For bands like Rush whose career spans three decades, it's hard to narrow down a set list. For this tour, the band concentrated on a heavy dose of its new album, "Snakes and Arrows," as well as a healthy selection of songs from the late '70s to late '80s era. Lee's voice was in exceptionally good form, and he seemed extra enthusiastic as he hopped around the stage while singing rarely played gems such as "Entre Nous," "Mission" and "Witch Hunt." Those songs blended nicely with crowd favorites such as "Subdivisions," "Freewill" and "Dreamline."
Some of the new songs off "Snakes and Arrows" sounded better live than on the album, such as "The Way The Wind Blows" and "The Larger Bowl." Lee, Lifeson and Peart were a tight unit all night, showing off their masterful playing skills on the instrumental "The Main Monkey Business." Peart, "The Professor," added some new elements to his infamous show-stopping drum solo. And the air drummers in the audience waved their arms in unison during "Natural Science" and "Tom Sawyer," the song every aspiring rock drummer tries to play when they first buy a kit.
As is the standard with Rush shows, the lighting, lasers, pyrotechnics and large digital screens in the rear of the stage complemented the music, making for a full assault on both the ears and eyes. Unfortunately, the west-facing USANA stage doesn't get dark until after 9 p.m.
Rush also showed that despite its deep lyrics, it also has a sense of humor. Lee was flanked on stage not by a stack of speakers but rotisserie chicken ovens. And an absolutely hilarious South Park clip led into "Tom Sawyer."
The crowd went ecstatic as the band finished its main set with some of its most popular songs, including "Distant Early Warning" and "The Spirit of Radio."
The encore was filled with the more recent "One Little Victory," followed by "A Passage to Bangkok" and the classic instrumental "YYZ."
Not bad for a bunch of old guys.
Originally published in the Deseret Morning News, Salt Lake City, UT on 08.07.07.
Snakes & Arrows Sales & Chart News
Week 1: Snakes & Arrows sold 93,438 copies in the United States its first week of release to debut at number 3 on The Billboard 200 chart, number 1 on Billboard's Top Rock Albums chart, number 2 on the Top Internet Albums chart, and number 5 on the Top Digital Albums chart. In Canada, Snakes & Arrows debuted at number 3 on the Soundscan Top 200 Album Chart and was officially certified gold with 50,000 units sold. Snakes & Arrows debuted at number 4 in Finland, number 6 in Sweden and at number 13 in both Norway and the UK.
Week 2: Snakes & Arrows dropped to number 20 on The Billboard 200 chart, to number 4 on the Top Rock Albums chart, to number 6 on the Top Internet Albums chart and dropped out of the top 10 on the Top Digital Albums chart with sales of 26,780.
Week 3: Snakes & Arrows dropped to number 35 on The Billboard 200 chart, to number 9 on the Top Rock Albums chart, and out of the top 10 on the Top Internet Albums chart with sales of 17,294.
Week 4: Snakes & Arrows dropped to number 51 on The Billboard 200 chart and out of the top 10 on the Top Rock Albums chart with sales of 12,639.
Week 5: Snakes & Arrows dropped to number 61 on The Billboard 200 chart with sales of 9,619.
Week 6: Snakes & Arrows dropped to number 77 on The Billboard 200 chart with sales of 8,831.
Week 7: Snakes & Arrows dropped to number 78 on The Billboard 200 chart with sales of 10,677.
Week 8: Snakes & Arrows dropped to number 93 on The Billboard 200 chart with sales of 8,086.
Week 9: Boosted by the release of the MVI edition, Snakes & Arrows rose to number 55 on The Billboard 200 chart and moved back into the top 10 on the Top Internet Albums chart with sales of 13,419.
Week 10: Snakes & Arrows dropped to number 58 on The Billboard 200 chart and jumped to number 1 on the Top Internet Albums chart with sales of 12,642.
Week 11: Snakes & Arrows dropped to number 131 on The Billboard 200 chart with sales of 5,518.
Week 12: Snakes & Arrows dropped to number 154 on The Billboard 200 chart with sales of 4,837.
Week 13: Snakes & Arrows dropped to number 165 on The Billboard 200 chart with sales of 4,478.
Total units sold - 228,453
Rush classics, big drum solos and Peart-Fu at Shoreline
By Jim Harrington
Geddy Lee's T-shirt had only one line of text, but it spoke volumes about the band Rush. The T-shirt, which had a picture of a motorcyclist on it, read simply, "Don't ever stop doing wheelies."
That's Rush in a nutshell. Throughout its lengthy career, which stretches all the way back to the late '60s, the Canadian rock band has kept right on gunning the engine, doing fancy tricks and riding along its own highly individual course.
This week, that road has taken the power trio into Northern California for three shows. Rush performed Wednesday at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View and will take the stage on Friday at Sleep Train Pavilion in Concord and Saturday at Sleep Train Amphitheatre in the Sacramento area.
During the Mountain View gig, the band members -- vocalist-bassist-keyboardist Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer-extraordinaire Neil Peart -- delighted their faithful following with a two-set, nearly three-hour performance that drew strongly from their latest CD, this year's "Snakes and Arrows."
Most of Rush's contemporaries have long since joined the "greatest hits" trail, which means that they have succumbed to the reality that the majority of fans are only interested in hearing the old stuff. Rush listeners, however, are a different breed than what one commonly finds at a classic-rock show.
These folks are maniacal in their enthusiasm for the band, boasting the kind of passion that one normally sees from costumed Trekkies at a sci-fi convention. They have yet to come to grips with the fact that Rush ranks as a "classic" rock act, instead choosing to see the band as utterly contemporary. The upside of that, at least for the musicians, is that the fans are at least as open to listening to new stuff as they are to hearing greatest-hits material.
The trio began with the latter as it kicked off the show with "Limelight," a key track from Rush's most-popular CD, 1981's quadruple-platinum "Moving Pictures." Although there were only three onstage, the music sounded as full and powerful as if it was coming from a full symphony orchestra.
That's no easy trick for a trio -- as fans witnessed during the Police's lackluster, discombobulated show in Oakland back in June. There is very little room for error in a rock trio setting and the players all have to be on the same page for the music to work. It never really worked for the Police, but the music gelled convincingly from start to finish for Lee, Peart and Lifeson.
There was an uncanny synergy to the three players' movements, not unlike what one commonly sees in the jazz world, as they continued on to build prog-rock castles out of "Digital Man" (from 1982's "Signals"), "Mission" (1987's "Hold Your Fire") and "Freewill" (1980's "Permanent Waves").
The band sounded as strong as ever live, as if not a day had passed since the release of 1981's great concert album "Exit...Stage Left," and it was hard for this critic to focus on just one player for any length of time. Lifeson provided numerous head-turning guitar leads, while Lee knocked out rhythms that laid claim to his greatness as a bassist. And then, of course, there was Peart.
While this writer was having a hard time picking which player to follow, the majority of the crowd seemed to have no such trouble. They were locked on the dizzying motions of the hard-swinging Peart, who many consider to be the king of the drum throne, and practicing their own air-drum swings. The more fervent of these air-drummers were so into it that they looked like they were practicing some new, yet unnamed, form of martial arts. We'll call it Peart-Fu.
With all the big drum solos and wildly impressive instrumental sessions going on, it was easy to forget that Rush is a band with a sense of humor.
They would remind us near the end of the show when the stage lights went dim and a special video lit up. The video featured Comedy Central's "South Park" crew as the rocking "Lil' Rush." The cartoon characters launched into a version of "Tom Sawyer" and sounded pretty good, until Cartman -- dressed up like Lee -- started singing lines that referenced Mark Twain's other famous character, Huckleberry Finn.
"I'm Geddy Lee," Carman said, unrepentant as always. "I will sing whatever lyrics I want."
The real Geddy Lee -- the one wearing the t-shirt that read "Don't ever stop doing wheelies" -- would surely appreciate Cartman's desire to ride his own path.
Originally published in the Contra Costa Times, Walnut Creek, CA on 08.02.07.