Rush for true fans only
Toronto rockers have sold-out Scotiabank begging for more
By Denis Armstrong
Never did I ever think that in 2007, I would see two prog-rocks from the '70s, Genesis and Rush, smoke Scotiabank Place in the same week.
But dreams, both good and bad, do come true to those who wait, and last night the trio from Toronto cranked out a solid three-hour rush of conceptually obtuse but nonetheless hard-driving set that put the progressive in prog-rock.
A sell-out crowd of 10,200 -- by rough count 10,000 guys and about 200 girlfriends -- turned out to see bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart, take one more kick at a few of the old classics as well as tunes from their surprising new Snakes & Arrows album.
You would think that after 35 years together, 18 studio albums that have sold more than 35 million copies, that the band would be running out of ideas or reasons to play.
But at last night's gig, Rush were downright impatient to put on a good show, mixing some ambitious playing and dazzling visual distractions while the boys seemed just like the neighbours next door.
Real Canadian hosers.
As was evident last night, the hard-jamming band still has a lot going for it. For nearly three hours, they cranked out about 25 tunes, long and familiar head-banging instrumentals and power ballads, beginning with Limelight and Digital Man.
And yes, there was three live racks of rotisserie chicken grilling live on-stage beside Peart's drum kit, though I couldn't get close enough to actually smell them.
Fiftysomething frontman Lee was low-key throughout the first half of the show, muttering the odd joke about being 50something. After that, he kept to strong playing and the occasional strut and jig, preferring to let the video inserts, including an intro by Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis as SCTV's original hosers, Bob and Doug McKenzie, keep the fans amused.
For an hour, Rush focussed on jamming out testosterone-testing tunes including Circumstances, Freewill, Between the Wheels and Dreamline, as well as The Main Monkey Business and The Larger Bowl from the new album, showing the band hasn't lost their touch with those incomprehensible, yet strangely compelling lyrics.
For the hardcore fans -- are there any other kind, really? -- last night's gig showed that while the band has perhaps mellowed with age while still looking surprisingly fit, their playing power hasn't diminished. Lifeson and Peart demonstrated outstanding musicianship while Lee showed he is still absolutely the best wailer in the business.
Sun Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5
Originally published in the Ottawa Sun, Ottawa, ON on 09.22.07.
Old masters Rush present a quality show
By Lynn Saxberg
A sold-out crowd of 10,200 got a first-hand taste of a quality rock concert at Scotiabank Place last night, courtesy of Rush, Canada's quintessential power trio.
While the fundamental sound of the band has remained pretty much the same for nearly four decades, it's a timeless brew that defies all trends. Love it or hate it -- and there are few who take the middle ground with this band -- you have to respect an act that has such high standards for performance and production.
Unlike some of the other classic-rock bands that are on the road these days, Rush didn't have to hype their tour as a reunion or a farewell, or pad the bill with hip opening acts.
These guys -- Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart, the same three that it's always been -- released a decent album this year, and in my mind, that's still the best reason for a band to hit the road. The new disc, by the way, is called Snakes and Arrows.
Last night's concert was divided into two sets, a sensible format for an act that has so much material. To the delight of the crowd, the first song was Limelight, one of their biggest hits, from the 1981 album Moving Pictures.
Apart from a slight technical glitch with Lee's vocals, it was a rapturous opening.
Lee experienced a brain glitch a bit later, when he referred to the new album as Snakes and Ladders. He immediately realized his mistake and blamed it on the aging process. "I'm getting so old, I can't even remember it," he joked.
For a band whose members have such remarkable playing ability, it was reassuring to see him slip up. After all, precision, intricacy and power are at the heart of Rush's music, an approach that emanates from drummer Neil Peart, who's also responsible for the lyrics.
On the new album, many of the songs were inspired by Peart's motorcycle travels across North America. Watching him play his massive kit last night, it seemed he was able to achieve a zen-like state that's similar to long-distance riding. Instead of being one with the road, he was one with the music.
Although the long stretches of new material may have been a little tedious for some members of the audience, their patience was ultimately rewarded in the second half with the offering of classic Rush songs such as Subdivisions, Summertime Blues, Spirit of Radio and Tom Sawyer.
Originally published in the Ottawa Citizen, Ottawa, ON on 09.22.07.
Rush stays true to form for hometown crowd
By Alan Niester
Rush at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Wednesday.
It's a scene so oft-repeated that it has become a cliché - veteran rock band, born in the sixties or seventies, with a package of hits to rehash, reforms to revisit past glories in front of a handful of old fans.
But in the case of Rush, the 3 1/2-decade-old trio formed in Willowdale, the "small club" is the Air Canada Centre and others of its ilk, the "handful of fans" typically numbers 15,000 or so at every venue and, as for the "reform" part, well, in 33 years of performing and recording, the band has never really been away (apart from the occasional short hiatus). This classic Canadian power trio has proved to be one of the most durable and consistently popular rock outfits there ever was.
Frankly, I can't even recall how many times I have seen the band over the years, at venues ranging from the old Gasworks club on Yonge Street, to Massey Hall, to Maple Leaf Gardens to the Molson Amphitheatre. Undoubtedly, there were other venues as well. But, honestly, I must say that Wednesday night's performance at the ACC was perhaps the most enjoyable of all.
It probably should not have been. Many older songs were performed, but lots of favourites were not. I especially missed Distant Early Warning, for example, because I always loved that video of the missile swooping across the countryside. And among the selection of older songs presented, many were lesser-known cuts, such as Mission, from 1987's Hold Your Fire release, or Circumstances, from 1978's Hemispheres. And virtually the entire Snakes and Ladders album was performed (this being the Snakes and Ladders tour, after all), which frankly does not stand with the band's best works.
But what made this concert so enjoyable was the staging. Rush has always been known for its visuals, and its live performances have always been both an aural and visual treat. But on this tour, the bar has been raised even further. For one thing, the trio of swirling washing machines upstage of singer/bassist Geddy Lee has been replaced by a bank of rotisserie chicken ovens, the kind you see in grocery stores. This is a great improvement. And the simple stage set was backed by three separate high-definition video screens, which displayed either the onstage action or the many imaginative images (welcome back, Bob and Doug McKenzie). Add to this brilliant lighting (including lasers) and tasteful explosive effects, and clearly there never seemed to be an instant when the senses were not being stimulated to their utmost.
It was a typically generous Rush performance at nearly three hours in length, with a brief intermission, but no opening act. They opened with the classic Limelight, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neal Peart looking a tad older, but in fighting trim, and Lee looking typically ageless. This was followed by a pair of somewhat lesser-known numbers (album cuts, if you will), Digital Man and Entre Nous. After a sparkling version of Free Will, during which Lee strained mightily on the high notes, the first Snakes and Ladders cut of the evening was performed, the instrumental Main Monkey Business, which featured a serious of howlingly funny black-and-white monkey clips (you had to be there.) The opening half concluded with Dreamline, during which the ever popular green lasers turned the ACC into a kind of a futuristic war zone.
The second half opened with a quintet of Snakes and Ladders numbers, beginning with the single Far Cry and ending with the slower-tempo The Way The Wind Blows. As payment for these lesser-known newer numbers, the way was then paved for a collection of Rush's finest, from Subdivisions (remember kids, be cool or be cast out!) to The Spirit of Radio to Tom Sawyer and YYZ.
These days, Rush is pretty much the anti-jam band. The version of YYZ you heard in 2007 is basically the version you heard in 2003, and that's the way the fans like it. Thus, the band's prime method of creation and experimentation in this century is in the design of its set lists, choosing numbers that even the most ardent fan is surprised by. But that's good, because it's the only thing on the evening you can really debate. Certainly it's not the performance, which is technically perfect and the one aspect of a Rush performance that is consistent from tour to tour. Basically, this is a band that never, ever seems to have an off night.
Rush plays a second show at the ACC tomorrow night.
Originally published in the The Globe And Mail, Toronto, ON on 09.21.07.
Oh, what a Rush!
Hometown heroes give fans their money's worth with marathon show
By Jane Stevenson
Fans of Canadian prog-rock legends Rush got their money's worth, and them some, as the band arrived on friendly turf last night to kick off the first of two sold-out dates at the Air Canada Centre with a marathon show.
The homecoming gigs of Toronto singer-bassist-keyboardist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart are always special events for their audiences who have, for the most part, remained fiercely loyal for the past 30-plus years.
It helps that Snakes & Arrows, the latest studio effort from Rush released earlier this year, is one of their more vibrant sounding records and was well represented last night by over a half-dozen songs, including the instrumental The Main Monkey Business (nicely complimented by some black-and-white footage of said animals doing everything from using a hula hoop to shaving a human) and The Larger Bowl with an filmed introduction provided by Canadian hosers Bob and Doug McKenzie.
The three accomplished musicians were also thoroughly warmed-up, having been on the road since mid-June when they launched their tour in Atlanta.
"So nice to see you guys in our hometown," Lee said. "We've got a lot of music."
The lengthy evening, which eventually clocked in at well over three hours including a 30-minute intermission, began with a new film that reflected their love for both animation and hammy acting.
And even though the opening guitar chords of the band's classic Limelight heralded a promising set list, for every major hit they played -- Free Will, Subdivisions, a cover of Summertime Blues, The Spirit of Radio and Tom Sawyer, there were patience-testing rarities such as Circumstances.
Now all in their mid-50s, the musicians of Rush don't appear to be resting on their laurels.
Lee, in particular, was an enthusiastic performer, jumping around the stage even if the audience in the stands stayed rooted to its seats until the very end of the night while those on the floor stood for the duration.
Otherwise, Rush's stripped-down stage had great sightlines with the lighting and sound rigs high above the band while a large video screen showed three-way split-screen images.
Bells and whistles included a blue-and-red-lit rig that impressively lowered space-ship-like during Between The Wheels, green laser lights that kicked Dreamline up a notch, exploding fireworks that literally commanded attention for the new song Far Cry, and fire bursts during Witch Hunt.
The group's sense of humour also was on full display.
Having toured in the past with both clothes dryers and vending machines on stage, this time out it's three glass-enclosed rotating chicken roasters with the word "henhouse," on each. (A woman dressed in a white apron, tight jeans and high heels even came out to baste the chickens during The Spirit Of Radio.)
Meanwhile, the animated boys of South Park, called Li'l Rush in a filmed segment, introduced Tom Sawyer and rows of tiny dinosaurs lined the tops of speakers to the left of Peart's enormous rotating drum kit, which was painted blood red and had the Snakes & Arrows symbol everywhere.
And yes, eventually there was a fierce, sometimes funny, drum solo performed by Peart toward the end of MalNar that simply defied description.
Lee even brought out his digital movie camera at one point and instructed the crowd to scream in unison: "Take off, eh?" while he filmed them. When they co-operated enthusiastically, he responded: "That's beauty, Way to go, eh?"
Rush plays Ottawa tomorrow night before returning for a second Toronto date at the ACC Saturday night.
Originally published in the Toronto Sun, Toronto, ON on 09.20.07.
Rush saves the best for last
By Greg Quill
Though they've never stopped performing and recording in more than 30 years, the three members of Toronto's venerable progressive arena-rock export Rush - now well into their 50s - are burdened in a way that other recently reconstituted 1970s bands are not.
They must reach past earlier benchmarks with each new studio recording - or, as in the case of the recent release, Snakes and Arrows, exhibit an appropriate level of wisdom and grace without alienating their hard-core audience, a curious melange of intellectuals, headbangers and white, middle-class suburbanites - while resisting powerful currents of nostalgia and the weight of formidable list of cult-driven hits.
Rush, who performed the first of two nearly sold-out hometown shows at the Air Canada Centre last night (the second takes place Saturday night), have the added responsibility of carrying off extreme feats of musical dexterity, the spectacular fundamental matter of their particularly complex and erratic sonic architecture, and, like prize fighters battling against the ravages of time, must prove they're still the men they used to be. Their audience gives them no quarter there.
Guitarist Alex Lifeson, bassist Geddy Lee and drummer Neil Peart managed the almost impossible balance between retro urges and forward creative movement last night, though not entirely without losing poise.
In a show that lasted more than two hours, embraced almost 30 distinct pieces, and which was loaded with special effects - abstract graphics and "homemade" films (including a segment with Bob and Doug McKenzie, the icons of 1970s Canadian hoserdom, Rush's prime dominion), lasers, a UFO-themed lightshow, cameras broadcasting the intricacies of Lee's and Lifeson's fingerwork onto three large screens upstage, and even fireworks - somehow the heart and the meaning of Rush's work seemed overwhelmed.
Against other so-called progressive rock survivors, Rush remains a curiosity - well-informed and convincingly concerned about the state of the world, philosophical, humanistic and seriously studious about their art. They constantly challenge themselves with an array of difficult puzzles, absurd chord progressions, melodic non-sequiturs and ever-shifting time signatures, while working in a milieu that more often than not offers little more than smoke and mirrors.
It's hard to say what last night's audience really wanted. Response to the band's new material was solidly polite, but the awe that greeted live material from Fly By Night, Hemispheres, Moving Pictures and other popular albums back in the day, was missing. It wasn't until the last 30 minutes, when several gems of that rare vintage emerged ("Subdivisions," "Natural Science," "The Spirit of Radio"), that the crowd seemed genuinely swept away.
By then, and despite Peart's digitally enhanced solo, which seemed to pay tribute to big band drummers from the 1940s and '50s, the show had never really developed any thematic or dramatic tension. Overtaken by the impressive weight of their musical achievements, Rush seemed content to lay it all out for display, without comment.
Save, perhaps, for the bank of chicken-filled rotisserie ovens looming over Lee upstage.
Originally published in the Toronto Star, Toronto, ON on 09.20.07.
Arena Rock With a Worldview and All the Flash Trimmings
By Jon Pareles
The rock band at Madison Square Garden on Monday night was a trio that got together in the 1970s and has been selling out arena dates on a world tour this year. It has a bass-playing, reedy-voiced lead singer, a briskly virtuosic drummer and a guitarist who spills echoey chords over their riffs. Its songs contemplate the state of the world.
No, it wasn't the Police - it was Rush, the stalwart Canadian band that didn't have to reunite. Without a string of pop hits or much that's even remotely glamorous, Rush has maintained one of rock's biggest cult followings.
Rush has improbable ingredients for popularity. The music is grounded in progressive rock, with odd-meter riffs from Geddy Lee on bass and Neil Peart on drums below the guitarist Alex Lifeson's power chords and pealing arpeggios. Once scorned, progressive rock has started a comeback, notably with the Mars Volta, whose grotesque imagery and manic attack can make elders like Rush sound didactic.
Mr. Lee uses his high, cutting voice to sing philosophical lyrics, calling for heroic honesty in a corrupt and shallow world: cultish conviction to defy scoffers. In a 20-year-old song, "Mission," he sang, "a spirit with a vision is a dream with a mission." Over the years Mr. Peart, the band's lyricist, has grown far less optimistic. Songs from Rush's vigorous current album, "Snakes & Arrows" (Atlantic) denounced fundamentalism ("The Way the Wind Blows") and bemoaned disparities of wealth and fate: "Such a lot of pain on this earth," he sang in "The Larger Bowl."
In two hours of music Rush touched on the grandiosity of Genesis, on garage psychedelia and even, for a few moments in "Digital Man," the reggae backbeat of the Police. Rush improves as its music grows more elaborate. The trio plays with unrelenting muscle, pounding out the intricacies of its songs, but rarely letting them breathe. Its shorter tunes can get stuck in a continuous churn, but multipart extravaganzas like "Natural Science" hurtled through their contrasts.
The concert was arena rock with all the trimmings. Naturally, the set opened with "Limelight," a song with misgivings about stardom. Later, green lasers fanned out over the band, while overhead lighting rigs moved like U.F.O.'s. Flash pots flamed up in one song, fireworks showered in another. "Tom Sawyer" had a video lead-in with characters from "South Park." And Mr. Peart took a drum solo - that arena-rock essential - on a revolving platform, though it segued into a digital-era fantasia of big-band samples.
Lest anyone think Rush lacks a sense of humor - of a sort - the refrigerator-sized cabinets behind Mr. Lee weren't amplifiers for his bass. They were glass-fronted rotisserie ovens filled with rotating chickens, and every so often a man in a toque came out to baste them. What it meant was something for die-hard Rush fans to ponder.
Originally published in The New York Times, New York, NY on 09.19.07.
Rush takes crowd for a ride
Oldies set up string of new tunes. Band has changed presentation, not formula
By T'Cha Dunlevy
Just 24 hours after Genesis packed the Olympic Stadium, another veteran band with prog rock roots filled the Bell Centre. Rush is a Canadian institution at this point. And so drawing more than 13,000 fans out to a show was business as usual.
But unlike Phil Collins and co., Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart were not on a reunion tour. Aside from a break in the late '90s, the group has been going strong for more than three decades.
Last night, the band played hits from throughout its career, focusing on its early-'80s heyday as well as on its new album, Snakes and Arrows.
Dividing the show into two parts, Rush sated fans with old favourites in the first half. Such songs such as Limelight, Digital Man, Entre Nous, Mission, Secret Touch, and Circumstances were all greeted with enthusiasm, with a couple of new ones (Monkey Business and the politically minded Larger Bowl) thrown in for good measure.
It was all just a setup, however, for the five-song string of new material that opened the second half. Add a couple more before the night was through and you had nine out of 27 songs from the band's latest album - hardly the sign of a group simply reliving past glories.
The crowd came along for the ride, cheering for the second-set opener Far Cry like it was an old favourite. Though it has changed its presentation to suit the times over its career, Rush hasn't changed its formula. The recent songs fit comfortably alongside the old, and fans seemed to delight in hearing them all.
There was little to complain about - Lee's voice sounded fresh; Lifeson was lively on guitar; and Peart had no trouble pounding out polyrhythms on drums. That on its own is half the equation. People love this band for its musical intricacy, the solos, and the elaborate arrangements. All were in evidence last night.
The band wasn't averse to a little assistance, using pyrotechnics and digitally animated big-screen montages to add punch to the proceedings. But it came off more as decoration than diversion.
As patient as the audience was, however, it saved its real excitement for the classics. Subdivisions, the first old song of the second half, was welcomed with a roar. Full of twists and turns, it was celebrated with a standing ovation at the end, prompting Lee to pull out the camcorder.
"Merci. I'm making a movie of you, Montréal. But I need your help. On the count of three, would you say, 'Vive les habitants.'"
And they did; Lee knows his crowd. Natural Science took it up a notch, and Witch Hunt took it home. Toss in an exuberant rendition of the Spirit of Radio, and Tom Sawyer toward concert's end, and you've got 13,000+ happy Rush fans.
At which point questions regarding the band's continued relevance on today's music map become quite moot.
Originally published in The Gazette, Montreal, QC on 09.16.07.
Rush still rocks
The great Canadian band entertains 8,700 fans at the John Labatt Centre
By James Reaney
Rush knew just how to take its time last night at the John Labatt Centre.
Two sets. More than 25 songs. Thousands of Rush riffs to crunch on target before the concert's end.
"We're going to take a wee break -- just a quick heart transplant and we'll be right back," the Canadian rock superstars' bassist and vocalist Geddy Lee told the crowd of 8,700 fans jamming the arena as the first set ended.
These days, Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer/ lyricist Neil Peart are touring to support Snakes & Arrows (Anthem/Universal).
Lifeson just turned 54. Lee and Peart also are in their 50s. They have spent more than 30 years together in the band and sold more than 35 million recordings worldwide.
With fans on the floor standing all night to cheer Rush on, the band opened with Limelight and drilled through Entre Nous, Natural Science, Between the Wheels, Digital Man and many more hits. Snakes & Arrows supplied Far Cry, The Main Monkey Business, Workin' Them Angels and The Way the Wind Blows, a song that threatened to blow on forever.
Among the many Rush-more moments was Peart's mammoth drum solo late in the second set, with the finale and encores still to come.
Having bitched about lousy drum solos, I bow to Peart who showed magnificent command of dynamics and rhythms over his enormous set, including its electronic percussion tools.
It didn't hurt that the big video screens behind Peart carried images of his idol, the late big-band drummer Buddy Rich, while brassy jazz sounds -- from backing tracks? -- were mixing with the drum thunder.
Lifeson, who played great guitar all night, followed Peart's solo with the quiet and lovely Hope, an acoustic beauty from Snakes & Arrows.
Lee did just enough skipping and jumping to show his stage life still has legs, while his voice -- if it hasn't exactly mellowed -- seems to have a sweeter sharpness to its trademark screech. "We haven't been here since God knows when. Thanks for coming out and helping us celebrate our zillionth album," Lee said early in the first set.
He took some time in the second set to lead everybody in a "Take off, eh?" cheer, a nod to Rush's role in TV's Great White North.
While hardcore Rush fans could bask in blast after blast of precise, power trio-tooled progressive rock, others -- like this critic -- could enjoy the jokes that lightens the serious, music and Peart words first, last and always, side of Rush.
There were signs Rush was happy to kid itself about the whole age thing. An army of toy dinosaurs could be seen atop Lifeson's bank of amps. Dinosaur rock, anyone?
Lifeson also had a huge flock of what appeared to Barbie dolls at his mic's base.
Lee had a multi-rotisserie operation standing behind him. It was labelled Henhouse and appeared to house some of his sound equipment and a host of rubber chickens. A guy in a chef's hat checked the fowls.
Yes, it was all a true Rush for a great Canadian band and its boomer fans who are in no hurry to stop rocking soon.
Originally published in The London Free Press, London, ON on 09.13.07.
Time doesn't stand still for Rush fans
REVIEW: Geddy Lee & Co. drew 12,000-plus to the Xcel Center and kept them there for three long hours.
By Chris Riemenschneider
There's really no such thing as a casual Rush fan. There are only diehards -- mostly late-30s to mid-50s men who just can't get enough abrupt time-changes, arty video montages, virtuosic guitar solos and air-drumming. You've never seen so much air-drumming.
The 12,000-plus fans on hand Sunday had to be all this and more to enjoy the Canadian trio's show at Xcel Energy Center.
Drawing an impressively large audience despite its long fade from the mainstream, the band tested its crowd's devotion even more by performing a whopping 27-song set that clocked in at close to three hours, not counting intermission. No wonder there wasn't an opening band.
The marathon effort was made even more challenging by a set list that left out many of Rush's best-known radio hits, including "Closer to the Heart,"Fly By Night" and "Time Stand Still."
To the credit of frontman Geddy Lee and his original bandmates Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart, they never lost the crowd. There was certainly no danger of this early on, as they opened with the fan favorite "Limelight" and soon tore through one of the stormy 1982 tunes, "Digital Man."
As with most albums in Rush's nearly four-decade-long career, its latest CD, "Snakes & Arrows," is laden with social commentary and libertarian themes.
Things got a little highfalutin' in the first half of the show, when big-screen images of impoverished children and caged monkeys rolled along to "The Larger Bowl" and "The Main Monkey Business."
The band fared better when it stuck to its mega-hi-fi light show in old psychedelic songs such as "Between the Wheels" and "Circumstances." No kidding, this tour's ginormous lighting rig must have cost as much as the Hubble space telescope, and probably churned out better imagery.
Lee & Co. wisely lightened up the concert's mood here and there, starting with a video that showed Lifeson and Peart frighteningly waking up in bed together. Three giant ovens full of rotisserie chickens inexplicably stood in onstage for Lee's bass amps throughout the show. Occasionally, a roadie dressed as a chef came out and basted the birds. Oh, those kooky Canucks.
The best bit of comedy came at the end of the second half, when the cartoon characters of "South Park" appeared onscreen to debate the lyrics of "Tom Sawyer." Once the song began, though, there was no fooling around. The concert got as serious as the benediction at a church service, and -- save for Peart's insanely elaborate drum solo -- the crowd was at its most devout then.
As with any benediction, "Sawyer" at least signaled to the non-zealots in attendance that the show was finally winding down.
Originally published in the Star Tribune, Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN on 09.10.07.
Oldies, goodies and more: Rush doesn't disappoint
CONCERT REVIEW | In latest tour, band keeps its fans happy
By Jeff Elbel
With a catalog spanning 19 studio albums, devoted Rush fans weren't guaranteed to hear their personal favorites when the veteran Canadian power trio brought its "Snakes and Arrows" tour to First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre in Tinley Park on Saturday.
No worries. The band took care to hit popular peaks like "Tom Sawyer" in a generous list of 28 songs, but also treated diehards to rarities like the elegant "Entre Nous" from 1980's "Permanent Waves."
The reggae-inflected "Digital Man" was another surprise addition, driven by Geddy Lee's nimble and aggressive bass playing. Guitarist Alex Lifeson's solo matched icy New Wave tonality with loose and expressive Jimmy Page-styled licks.
The band leaned more heavily upon its new album than in past tours, pulling nine tracks from the melodic "Snakes and Arrows." Hard-hitting single "Far Cry" traveled the path exposed by Lifeson's dynamite riffs in "Secret Touch."
Conceptual material from Rush's 1970s heyday was bypassed in favor of comparatively compact B-sides such as "Circumstances" from "Hemispheres" and "A Passage to Bangkok" from "2112." Drummer Neil Peart's current lyrics replace those albums' theatrical sensibilities with an observational perspective, though his criticisms of holy war and blind faith trace heritage back to "Freewill." During "The Way the Wind Blows," Peart criticized "wide-eyed armies of the faithful" and "speeches of mass deception." Combined with the eerie description of mob mentality in "Witch Hunt," Rush's new material continues a humanist undercurrent of pleas for tolerance and sensibility.
The band flexed its muscles with several instrumental numbers. Lifeson's delicate acoustic "Hope" proved as intoxicating as his angular riffs during "YYZ" were invigorating. Peart's drum solo mixed dizzying technique and industrial crunch. Concluding with a nod to legendary jazz bandleader Buddy Rich, Peart's workout elicited one of the night's most raucous ovations.
Critics who have lambasted the band for perceived self-importance would have marveled at its good-natured clowning. In a self-mocking gesture, Lifeson's amplifiers were festooned with dozens of plastic dinosaurs. Having replaced traditional stage gear with cutting-edge digital amplifiers and in-ear monitors, Lee filled the space vacated by his own speaker cabinets with three rotisserie ovens packed with roasting chickens.
Originally published in the Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago, IL on 09.10.07.
Concert review: Rush rock Tinley Park
By Steve Metsch
The last two times Rush rolled into town, it was all about the band's history as a greatest hits setlist kept the faithful delighted.
On Saturday night, at the First Midwest Bank Amphiteatre in Tinley Park, the band skipped some bigger hits to make room for a slew of songs from the new album, "Snakes & Arrows."
The few fans who don't have it, will probably soon buy the CD. Songs like "Workin' Them Angels," "Spindrift" and "Armor and Sword" - with the haunting refrain "no one gets to their heaven without a fight" - fit in nicely with Rush classics.
At most concerts, new songs are the signal to make a beer run. Not when Rush plays. The near-capacity crowd even stayed put when the second set opened with five straight new songs.
You don't remain a musical force for three decades unless you do things right. And Rush certainly does thanks to the guitars of Alex Lifeson, the bass, keyboard and vocals of Geddy Lee, and, of course, the drumming of Neil Peart, who lives up to his reputation as one of the best drummers around.
All night, Peart maniacally assaulted his drum set while Lee and Lifeson dazzled on guitar. In the second set, following a half-hour intermission, Peart wowed everyone with a 10-minute drum solo. That seldom-seen relic from the '70s was thrilling, with three large video screens providing an up-close peek at his amazing skills.
Although new was Saturday's theme, the band opened with the radio-friendly oldie "Limelight" after an amusing video starring the trio that followed a taped orchestral version of the "Overture" and "The Temples of Syrinx" from their hit 1976 album, "2112."
The first new song, the instrumental, "The Main Monkey Business," showcased each musician, and hinted at the band's funny bone.
Three large rotisserie machines were on stage behind Lee, cooking about 50 chickens. Why? Beats me. A roadie wearing a chef's hat twice strolled onstage to baste the chickens. This is the same band that once had concert T-shirts tumbling in dryers all night before tossing them to fans. At least they didn't toss the hot chickens - perhaps intended for the needy or a post-show feast? - to the crowd.
It's oddly refreshing to know they don't take themselves too seriously. Hence the video of the SCTV's McKenzie Brothers introducing "The Greater Bowl," and the boys from South Park, billed as "Lil' Rush," previewing a rockin' "Tom Sawyer."
Other concert regulars like "Free Will," "Dreamline" and "Entre Nous" were on the playlist along with surprises like "Circumstances," from the 1978 album "Hemispheres," and the still relevant social commentary of "Subdivisions," with Lee and Lifeson trading solos.
The band appeared to be in high spirits all night, even playing a cover of "Summertime Blues." Lifeson and Peart didnt' talk, but Lee was chatty, thanking fans for the devotion, and even filming them for a "movie to show in my Canadian home."
It wouldn't be a Rush show without "The Spirit of Radio," with Lee's screeching "salesmen" line. Yes, he can still hit the high notes.
A three-song encore included "One Little Victory," "A Passage to Bangkok," and the spirited instrumental "XYZ."
This old-timer, who first saw the band in 1980, would've traded some new songs for "Working Man", "Closer to the Heart" and maybe "Roll the Bones." But, all in all, it was a very satisfying night in Tinley Park.
Originally published in The Daily Southtown, Tinley Park, IL on 09.10.07.
A very back-to-the-future Rush delivery
By Ross Raihala
Say what you will about Rush - they're shrill, they're pretentious, they're bludgeoning. Indeed, if you haven't got anything nice to say about Rush, come sit next to me.
But when you consider that most of the band's hard-rock peers of the '70s have long since burned out, broken up or subsist almost entirely on warm nostalgia, it gets much tougher to dismiss Rush.
In front of more than 12,000 extremely reverent fans - because, face it, no one accidentally sees a Rush concert in 2007 - the Canadian trio performed a complex, lively concert Sunday night at the Xcel Energy Center. And while obvious hits like "The Spirit of Radio" and "Tom Sawyer" popped up near the end, the set list very pointedly did not rely on the past for its momentum.
Split into two sections with an encore, the show boasted a whopping nine of the 13 songs found on the new "Snakes and Arrows," Rush's 18th studio album. Just try to find any arena-level performer who, more than three decades into a career, could pull off such a move - and have the fans following every last moment.
Just in case, the band pulled out the pyro for second-set opener "Far Cry," although it was hardly necessary. A host of other fresh tracks followed including the dynamic "Spindrift," a terrifically spirited rocker that is just the sort of song that's ideal for people who think they hate Rush. (Curiously enough, it was the album's second single and it didn't chart on rock radio.)
Perhaps because they were instrumentals - i.e., stripped of bassist Geddy Lee's often shrieking vocals - two more of the new songs proved to be highlights: "The Main Monkey Business" and "Malignant Narcissism." The latter served as an extended intro for Neil Peart's famous drum solo, which had the heavily male crowd screaming like the little girls used to for 'N Sync.
Throughout the evening - which also included "Circumstances," a song Rush hasn't played live in nearly 30 years - the three 50-something guys truly appeared to be having an honestly good time, even if they mostly stuck to their corners of the stage. Lee bounced around with a certain ageless verve, and guitarist Alex Lifeson played effortlessly and expertly, even on the songs where he alternated between his main guitar and another mounted onto a mic stand in front of him.
For those who might accuse Rush of having no sense of humor, they played a "South Park" clip with Cartman leading Lil' Rush to open "Tom Sawyer." And to compensate for Lifeson's mighty lineup of amplifier stacks, Lee stood in front of a row of similarly sized rotisserie-style ovens with various stagehands tending to the chickens inside throughout the show.
Originally published in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, St. Paul, MN on 09.10.07.
Rush still roars with rugged appeal
By Dave Tianen
Like Ultimate Fighting and chewing tobacco, Rush is a guy thing. But it's a very big guy thing.
The crowd Thursday night at the Marcus Amphitheater was probably 80% male, but it was also almost big enough to fill the 23,000-seat house. For guys about 35 to 55, Rush seems to be a Boys Club that never goes away.
The odd thing is that Rush has almost none of the usual macho attributes that mark rock 'n' roll male bonding.
This is a band that's almost utterly devoid of aggression or sexual swagger. Indeed, frontman Geddy Lee is a sharp-featured, physically slight fellow with a high thin voice. He appears to be neither a lady-killer nor even a reliable ally in a bar fight.
No matter, the charismatic heart of Rush is clearly drummer Neil Peart. He may not sing or even speak on stage, but Peart is clearly the man, the lyricist and virtuoso heart of the band.
Rush opened with "Limelight." Despite very simple staging, the concert had an array of five large projection screens, and during "Limelight," three of the five screens were focused on Peart. There were times during the show when Peart was filmed from three or four different angles.
Even in his 50s, with close-cut hair beneath a skullcap, Peart radiates thumping masculinity. He is also the musical embodiment of the male conviction that size matters. Peart packs the largest drum kit in captivity, sitting barricaded behind a virtual wall of drums on all sides.
His mandatory drum solo came midway in the band's second set. To be honest, I tend to find marathon drum solos more exhausting than exhilarating.
That said, this was better than most, partly because Peart added what looked like an electronic xylophone and a horn track to add melody.
Part of what makes Rush so resonant with guys must be the sense of the epic that marks its music. The songs tend to be longish, dense affairs written around grand themes. Rush does not work in the My-Baby-Done-Left-Me school of rock.
"The Larger Bowl" is about the gulf between rich and poor. "The Way the Wind Blows" laments the power of religious zealotry in both the Middle East and the American heartland. "Armor and Sword" is about the struggle for redemption within each human life.
Those are all songs from the new "Snakes and Arrows" album, but near the end of the first set, Rush went back to '78 to play "Circumstances."
The striking thing about that song was how easily it fit alongside the stuff written nearly 30 years later. Rush obviously found its sound as a power trio early on and has stayed the course ever since.
One of the downsides of the music is that it's fairly humorless.
Wisely, the band sidestepped that problem by using video to inject some levity. "Tom Sawyer" opened with the kids from "South Park" arguing over the lyrics, the McKenzie Brothers introduced "Larger Bowl," and the instrumental "The Main Monkey Business" was illustrated with vintage video of performing chimps.
Originally published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Milwaukee, WI on 09.07.07.
Rush's engine still running strong
By Curtis Schieber
The Rush concert last night in the Germain Amphitheater recalled a friend's story about the Canadian band's hit 1976 album "2112": Out for a ride with a 16 year-old friend, the two were in an accident. The passenger's knee rammed into the eight-track player, lodging Rush's album in the unit for the lifetime of the car. If it runs still, it'll be playing "2112."
Thirty years later, the power trio is still touring, using heavy-metal power chords and pile-driving beats to drive lead singer and bassist Geddy Lee's often-shrill vocals.
If the years have mellowed the singer's tone quality a bit the band's appeal as smart, hard-rocking instrumental virtuosos hasn't changed a bit.
While performances of favorites such as "Spirit Of Radio" and "Tom Sawyer" brought down the comfortably-filled house last night, the many selections from the new "Snakes And Arrows" were not only welcomed but fit the back catalogue like a glove.
Like the band's larger songbook they ranged from the merely technically impressive to songs with a little more heart and soul, a quality Rush has sometimes struggled to find.
Something of a song cycle, the new album concerns itself with suffering, corruption and inequality and the human folly that keeps them alive.
New and old material alike made its point best last night when the group was in the audience's face with barnstorming rock-and-roll.
"Natural Science" smoked, creating an instrumental fever that overshadowed Lee's vocal; "Freewill" scored with a sprung rhythm reminiscent of King Crimson and a buoyant delivery from Lee, who looked like a gnarled but healthy rock star version of Sean Penn.
Rush inhabits a strange space, somewhere between Led Zeppelin and Crimson, that sometimes leaves the band's music sounding flat and mechanical. This happened last night during vocals that over-reached with Lee's penchant for arty and socially-conscious lyrics.
The videos ran the gamut from the many that were sophomoric to a few that were arresting. Then again, other songs such as the new "The Large Bowl" were quite moving in their criticism of materialism and inequality.
The group was never less than impressive with its musical technique. Alex Lifeson played guitar god as effortlessly as he found gold with his stand-mounted acoustic guitar. If he sometimes played too many notes, he balanced that elsewhere with simple raw power. Lee did the same with bass.
Neil Peart made plain why his stage position is front and center. He's a drummer's drummer as well as one who can hook every listener. This may have been the rare concert wherein air-drummers in the audience outnumbered air-guitarists.
It was interesting though, that amongst a mini-metropolis of drums and related gadgets, he seemed most intent in his extended solo during a swing segment that suggested Gene Krupa and a much smaller kit.
The most consistent moments last night came during the instrumentals, when power and improvisation were sometimes balanced with sensitivity and soul.
Originally published in The Columbus Dispatch, Columbus, OH on 09.03.07.
Rush of memories expected from rock veterans
By Aaron Beck
By now, rock fans have made up their minds about Rush -- the Canadian power trio responsible for the classic-rock radio staples Closer to the Heart, Fly by Night, Subdivisions, Tom Sawyer and Working Man.
The philosophical lyrics, the meticulously produced hard-rock compositions, the witchy vocals -- the recipe fires them up or leaves them as cold as a Toronto winter.
For anyone still on the fence, here is a look at the band set to play the next-to-last concert of the season tonight at Germain Amphitheater:
- The band (since 1974): The trio consists of 54-year-olds Geddy Lee (bass and vocals); Alex Lifeson (guitar and keyboards), who founded Rush in 1968; and Neil Peart (drums).
- The voice, the words, the drums, the many time signatures: Lee contributes a womanly, otherworldly tone suited to the adventurous sci-fi fables of Peart, who in the mid- to late '70s inspired many weekend-warrior musicians to own kits with way too many drums.
At concerts, fans count on a drum solo-and-a-half from Peart.
- The blueprints: The groove of rock-blues, the Moogs and mellotrons of psychedelia, the story-minded approach of the '70s progressive-rock era, the writings of Ayn Rand and Ursula K. Le Guin, the wind chimes of the new-age recording studio, the chops of jazz musicians -- all have figured in the approach of one of the most- ambitious pop bands.
- The calling card: Tom Sawyer, from the 1981 album Moving Pictures, represents the essential Rush song.
A basic tenet of rock 'n' roll -- rebellion against the status quo -- is philosophized with brainy combinations of words:
"No, his mind is not for rent / To any God or government / Always hopeful yet discontent / He knows changes aren't permanent / But change is."
- The testimony: At the time of a Dispatch interview in 2000, Primus vocalist, lyricist and bass player Les Claypool had recently spoken with Rush guitarist Lifeson: "I told him I'd just bought Hemispheres and Moving Pictures for about the fifth time in my life. . . . (The) Hemispheres (tour) was my first concert ever. I'm totally getting back into them. I feel like I'm going through puberty all over again."
- The songs from far, far away: Before the 1974 arrival of Peart -- who began writing album-length thoughts about dreams; earth, wind and fire; and the Temples of Syrinx -- Rush employed a drummer named John Rutsey.
These days, during its three-hour, multimedia-enhanced shows, the trio occasionally plays a selection from the early years.
Something in 4/4 time such as In the Mood -- "Hey, baby, it's a quarter to eight / I feel I'm in the mood" -- always sounds weirder to the Rush-trained ear than does any of the typically cerebral songs.
- The Rush version of Hot Rod Lincoln: The rock 'n' roll love affair with fast, authority-defying motoring didn't stop with Rush, although, in 1981, a proper, gentlemanly stamp was put on auto-eroticism -- as in Red Barchetta:
"Well-weathered leather / Hot metal and oil / The scented country air / Sunlight on chrome / The blur of the landscape / Every nerve aware."
- The new music: Snakes & Arrows, the 18th studio album, harks back to the delicate yet deeply intricate music of Hold Your Fire (1987).
None of the tracks initially jumps from the digital grooves -- one of the hallmarks of Rush.
While the band has its hook-laden tunes, it remains an album-making renegade in the instant-gratification age of the one-song download.
Originally published in The Columbus Dispatch, Columbus, OH on 09.02.07.