Rush @ MEN Arena
By Nick Thompson
Behind guitarist Alex Lifeson was a row of plastic dinosaurs. There is no apparent reason for this, but it pales into the commonplace compared to the giant glowing rotisserie of chickens, which a chef occasionally comes on stage to baste, behind bassist and singer Geddy Lee. And I'll come to Neil Peart's revolving drum kit later...
Yes, welcome to Rush, back in the UK after a long absence to show that prog isn't dead, nor is it devoid of a sense of humour.
Apart from knowing when your chickens are done, the biggest headache for a band with 33 years behind them is which songs to play. Especially as Rush fans, devoted to the point of obsession, (the Arena is not quite sold out but 90% full and 100% expectant) all have different favourites to cater for.
And, as it turns out, Rush also want to play most of their latest album, Snakes And Arrows. Understandable, given that it is one of their more acclaimed efforts of the last two decades, but potentially disappointing for those expecting the classics.
Rush's elegant and crowd-pleasing solution is to be their own support act, meaning they are on stage for two-and-three-quarter hours in total.
For Act One they mostly plunder their back catalogue, live staples like opener Limelight and Freewill rubbing shoulders with songs from deeper in the vault like Circumstances and Entre Nous as well as two from the new album.
Three large screens act as a backdrop, showing crystal clear live footage and computer generated short films. The live shots serve to illustrate just how accomplished they are as musicians, fingers and sticks a blur on strings and drums. Using foot-triggered samples they not only replicate but heighten the recorded versions of the songs, the only instrument not quite managing this is Geddy Lee's voice, which is muddied in the mix early on.
The light show is also impressive. Between The Wheels is lit with strobes and floods, while Dreamline sees the arena cut through with lasers.
However, strong as Act One is, it proves to be only a warm up. After a lengthy intermission to give the crowd chance to hit the bars, toilets and, most importantly, merch stands, Act Two begins by showcasing their new album, with five songs from it played from the off.
And this part of the set arguably outshines what has gone before, the heavier nature of the new material ideally suited to the live stage. The sound ? especially Lee's vocals ? also seems crisper and clearer, the break apparently having given the tech crew a chance to make some improvements.
Particular highlights are rumbling recent single Far Cry, which packs a hefty punch live, and the majestic Armour And Sword, which sees the band in perfect synch and clearly enjoying themselves. Lifeson in particular, often overlooked in the adoration of Lee and Peart's technical mastery of their instruments, is excellent.
However, it is a return to the classics with the eighties synth of Subdivisions that really gets the crowd going again, eliciting the biggest cheer of the night so far and just going to show that you can't beat an oldie, further proved by scorching renditions of Natural Science and Distant Early Warning.
The screens add a new dimension to the obligatory Peart drum solo, allowing us to see the speed and technique he employs, hands crossing with dizzying pace and precision and power. And then, when you think it can't get any crazier, the whole kit revolves to allow him to play the drums set up behind his stool. He only does this for a couple of minutes and doesn't seem to use those drums at any other time, so presumably they were just there to justify the revolving kit gag. No complaints here.
But it is Spirit Of Radio which brings the house down before fellow Canucks the kids from South Park (as L'il Rush, Cartman in black wig saying "I can sing whatever I want, I'm Geddy Lee") introduce Tom Sawyer to leave the crowd in raptures, an object lesson in building a set to a climax.
Encores of One Little Victory (including eyebrow-singeing pyro effects) and the classics A Passage To Bangkok and YYZ close a beautifully-judged, brilliantly-executed set. (Though some fans will bemoan the lack of Closer To The Heart, Xanadu or 2112.)
It's a happy irony that, in this era obsessed with youth, celebrity and fame, it is a trio of unfashionable veterans who can still show the young 'uns how to put on a rock show.
Originally published in the Manchester Evening News, Manchester, England on 10.15.07.
Rush, Wembley Arena, London
By Jamie Thomson
Prog rock is hip again, apparently, although "hip" is not how you would describe the masses of white, middle-aged men gathered here tonight. But who's to say they aren't? Balding pates and comfort-fit jeans could have become the very pinnacle of fashion and then fallen from favour in the time it took for this concert to run its course, and we would have been none the wiser. Rush play for a very, very long time. This is due in no small part to the fact that the ageing Canadian trio are essentially their own support act. They play two full concert-length sets, with an intermission, presumably to give you the chance to phone relatives and loved ones worried about your extended absence.
While the first set was a teaser, a mix of second-tier highlights from their 30-year career, the second set started with an extended run-through of material from their current album, Snakes and Arrows. It's not a bad record, but is unlikely to inspire the kind of stoned devotion that A Farewell to Kings and 2112 receive. However, the audience indulged the band, knowing that the best was still to come - not least the drum solo. This is prog land, after all. A Neil Peart drum solo is akin to the second coming of Christ. And all on a revolving fairground carousel, no less.
Devotees make much of the band's ability to perfectly recreate their albums in a live setting. They have a point. At 54, bassist and singer Geddy Lee's voice was indistinguishable from the crystalline tones that graced albums he made a quarter of a century ago. It was only when he moved away from his keyboard that things went awry, as he hopped and skipped about the stage like a drunk uncle dancing to...well, Rush, actually.
But Rush are funny. Po-faced prog seriousness is so 70s; instead, they intersperse their set with comedy clips on the jumbo screens. Rather than the cliched tower of amps behind him, Lee has three supermarket cabinets of rotisserie chicken (and a chef to baste them - well, you had to be there). They even had a specially comissioned, and genuinely amusing, South Park skit to introduce their last song (encores notwithstanding), the evergreen classic Tom Sawyer.
By this point, Stockholm syndrome had well and truly kicked in, the interminable hours of captivity were swept away, and you could only marvel at how magnificent Rush are when they hit their stride.
Originally published in The Guardian, London, England on 10.12.07.
Rush hour at the Arena
By Nick Thompson
When Rush released their self-titled debut album back in 1974 they could barely have imagined the level of success and longevity their career would achieve.
While the Canadian trio of Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart have rarely, if ever, been fashionable, they engender a fiercely devoted loyalty in their fans. They are also more successful than the casual observer might guess, with worldwide sales in excess of 40 million units.
They are also a musicians' band, all three members regularly appearing on the front cover of magazines as exemplars of excellence in their instruments. And they have influenced a number of the modern era's biggest acts, including Metallica and Smashing Pumpkins.
Indeed, when interviewing callow teen pop-punkers Paramore recently, I assumed singer Hayley Williams was joking when she claimed Rush as one of the band's influences - until she began enthusing in detail about their latest album, Snakes And Arrows.
Having been on a musical tour through heavy rock, prog, experimenting with reggae and New Wave, and their eighties' phase of using synthesizers, sequencing and electronic percussion, Snakes And Arrows - their 18th full-length studio album - continues their journey back to their traditional rock heartland. Their first album in five years, it's also one of their more critically successful offerings in many moons.
The last time I saw them live, back in 1992, giant inflatable rabbits dominated the stage. What they will have this time around is anybody's guess, but the smart money is on at least one drum solo...
Rush play the M.E.N. Arena on Sunday, October 14. £39, £45. Call the Box Office on 0870 060 1768 to book.
Originally published in the Manchester Evening News, Manchester, England on 10.11.07.
Rush, Hallam FM Arena
By David Dunn
With some 15 years between this and their last visit to Sheffield's arena it seems this Canadian rock trio weren't living up to their name when it came to returning to the city in which they played their first ever show outside North America.
A generation on, somehow some of the songs they would have played on that historic trip to Sheffield City Hall just don't appear to have aged, even if we and the band have.
Maybe it is the continuity of virtuoso musicianship, notably from guitarist Alex Lifeson; perhaps it is a committed knack for dodging fads that has preserved a set-list here spanning 30-plus years.
Either way, for a band that once served up notoriously short albums this was a marathon of a show; no support, 7.45pm start, career-defining songs from Tom Sawyer and Subdivisions to Natural Science and closer YYZ.
A hefty helping from first album in five years Snakes & Arrows worked painlessly alongside anticipated classics A Passage To Bangkok, Freewill and Spirit Of Radio, all played with the gusto of a trio that never seems to tire of its calling or each other's company; singer Geddy Lee's defining bass skills equalling the flamboyant drums of Tom Hanks doppelganger Neil Peart (discounting his tryingly indulgent solo).
Advancing years have brought greater humour to Rush - mystery surrounds the chef-attended chicken rotisseries beside the back line - along with video and lighting artistry to match the sophistication of the musicianship.
Through it all Rush remain a one-off, a rare example of ability and inimitable style over fashion with a peerless loyalty to match.
Originally published in The Star, Sheffield, England on 10.08.07.
Rush, SECC, Glasgow Review #2
By Fiona Shepherd
RUSH are a revelation on many levels. The Canadian power prog trio may be perceived as one-hit wonders - with Spirit of Radio - on the singles chart, but they are veterans of legions of albums of overblown pomp and ceremony, collected and treasured by rock fans of a certain age and geeky persuasion.
Despite blithely body swerving anything that could be considered musically contemporary, their schizophrenic sound and powerful visual presentation is now echoed, more 30 years after their inception, by a host of hip progressive rock bands including Muse and Tool.
Adhering to a "more is more" philosophy, they are a band for whom no song is complete unless it sounds like at least three completely unrelated tracks stuck together. The results are insane, but also useful for staving off any potential boredom caused by their noodling approach to instrumentation. Not a fan of their slick Eighties power pop sound? Then just wait for a moment and it will mutate into a demented King Crimson-style interlude. Even the drum solo was a masterclass in derangement.
While they are surely sincere about making unfashionable tangential rock, the trio don't actually appear to take themselves at all seriously, and there was a lovely vein of rather obtuse humour threaded throughout this mighty two-hour-plus show. One of their parodic filmed excerpts suggested that Neil Peart might actually sleep with his drum sticks, while another accorded them the high honour of a South Park skit. Meanwhile, down at stage level, their amps were adorned with a mini Jurassic Park collection and a trio of ovens filled with rotisserie chickens were checked by a chef at random junctures for no good reason other than their and our amusement.
Although many bands tour at arena level, there are few who can fill the space - both musically and visually - as consummately as Rush. Their many embellishments are fun, but they would still be a blast without them.
Originally published in The Scotsman, Edinburgh, Scotland on 10.05.07.
Rush, SECC, Glasgow Review #1
By Stuart Morrison
For most bands, a body of work spanning three decades and 18 albums poses a dilemma. Do they try to keep everyone happy by just playing the hits, or do they try to satisfy themselves artistically? For Rush, the mission was to attempt both.
The first night of the European leg of the trio's Snakes and Arrows tour featured, as promised, nine songs from their new album in a show which, including a 20-minute break, lasted nearly three hours. With the epics that characterised their early work missing, Geddy Lee's announcement that they would play "gazillions" of songs was not far off the mark.
After a video introduction, featuring Lee as grumpy Scotsman Harry Satchel, they launched into Limelight. The production was superb, as usual, with lasers, floating lighting pods, flames, dragons and rotisserie chicken ovens. Part one featured a mix of older songs, such as Entre Nous and the magnificent Freewill with only two new tracks, The Larger Bowl and the instrumental The Main Monkey Business.
However, the pace of the set dipped after the break, with five new tracks played back-to-back. The songs themselves sounded excellent, in particular Far Cry and Working Them Angels. But the attention of the crowd wandered and it was only when Lifeson played the introduction to Spirit of Radio and Cartman, from South Park, counted in Tom Sawyer that the show took off again.
Peart's drum onslaught featured a sampled Buddy Rich Orchestra, the almost-epic Natural Science was given a rare outing and they finished with the instrumental YYZ, backed by a bouncing, delirious, throng. The hall cleared to the strains of Harry Satchel playing Limelight on the bagpipes. Mission accomplished.
Originally published in The Herald, Glasgow, Scotland on 10.04.07.
After 27 years, we're ready for Rush hour
By David Whetstone
Like most rock fans, Led Zeppelin nut Alex Lifeson is still buzzing about his favourite band's much-hyped reunion.
"I queued for hours to see those guys in Toronto," said the guitarist and founder member of Rush.
"It was August 30, 1969, and the Mighty Monday rock night. The three of us who were in the band at the time got about three rows from the front and during the gig Jimmy [Page] smiled at me. I was just a normal guy from the suburbs trying to learn every Led Zep note and the great Jimmy Page had smiled at me. It was a life changing moment.
"I got to meet him and Robert Plant for the first time in 1998 ? again in Toronto. They are such great guys and this reunion can go anywhere they want it to go. But I guess Robert is four or five years older than me and touring takes its toll. It's a tough decision that they have to take."
Lifeson knows just how tough. It was Rush's punishing programme, constantly criss-crossing the USA and Canada, which persuaded the meticulous three-piece to shun Europe for so many years.
Not since 1980, and the Permanent Waves tour, has Newcastle borne witness to a Rush concert and it is little wonder the excitement of fans is fast reaching fever pitch ahead of Friday's Metro Radio Arena show.
"We've felt a great deal of guilt over the years for not coming over to the UK sooner and more often," confessed Lifeson. "But we used to do these long tours of North America and we'd be exhausted and in no shape to do the same show anywhere else.
"We didn't want to come over here for the sake of it and then put ourselves in a position where we couldn't perform at the highest level. In addition, it's only in the last decade that the UK has boasted the kind of arenas we need to put on a proper Rush show. The big venues are our bread and butter and that's where we're at home. These days we can do our full three-hour show with the best possible production at home and abroad."
Central to the Snakes and Arrows show is a clutch of tunes from the band's new album of the same name.
Charting at number three in America's Billboard Top 100 earlier this year, a traditionally powerful Rush record manages moments of modernity capable of challenging the myriad pretenders of the past two decades. "We managed to strike a good balance with Snakes and Arrows," agreed Lifeson. "It's got a lot of how we were and how we have always been in it. But it does feel to us as though it's quite forward-thinking and contemporary. We wrote everything on an acoustic guitar, which was a real treat, and it was a very casual process for the first few weeks.
"I'd go over to see Geddy (Lee, Rush vocalist) ? he just lives five minutes away from me ? and we'd work for five or six hours a day. We were more productive doing that than going into a studio five hours a day, six days a week. We took some time off and started again last September and I think we got done three weeks ahead of schedule.?
Such efficiency is hardly surprising. With a new wave of popularity washing over their own meaty brand of progressive rock, Rush have no time to waste. And Tyneside will be treated to a trio at the top of their profession.
Rush play Newcastle's Metro Radio Arena tomorrow. The tour edition of Snakes and Arrows (Atlantic Records) is out now.
Originally published in the Journal Live, Newcastle, England on 10.04.07.
Round-the-world Rush are a band in a hurry
...but they've always got time for Glasgow, finds Stuart Morrison
By Stuart Morrison
Alex Lifeson is full of apologies when The Herald's slot in his packed schedule eventually comes round. "I've got a huge list of people to call and they're all taking longer than their 10 minutes," he explains.
It's understandable - there's a lot to get through. The guitarist is one-third of Canadian legends Rush, who have just flown in from Canada to start the European leg of their world tour at Glasgow's SECC tonight, promoting their latest album, Snakes and Arrows. Despite the jetlag and the end-to-end interviews, Lifeson is in jovial mood.
"We're enjoying the tour," he says. "We're playing really well and the response has been great so far. The set includes nine new songs, which is more than we have ever included. That shows just how much we like the album."
Snakes and Arrows does sound like a band enjoying themselves again. Perhaps, I suggest, the album's producer, Nick Raskulinecz, renowned for his work with the Foo Fighters, pushed them hard. "Yes, he really wanted to do this record," agrees Lifeson. "We were the first band he ever saw, when he was 11 years old, and while we were anxious to move forward and be seen to be progressing, he made us step back a little and embrace our past. It sounds like a classic Rush record, but the music is very much where we want to go."
There's a scene in the documentary contained on the "tour edition" of the album in which the young producer congratulates exhausted drummer Neil Peart on the blistering take he has just completed only to suggest that he goes back and does it differently. "Yeah, but that's why we hire producers," laughs Lifeson.
"We've been doing this for the longest time and we know what we can do. Nick loved the music and gave us a different perspective on it."
Lifeson is keen to avoid the "nostalgia tour" tag. "The Police and bands like that are doing their greatest-hits thing now and we really covered that three years ago on our R30 tour. We want to move forward and we'll be touring this album until next summer, when I think we'll have done 110 shows."
Glasgow holds a special place in Rush history, with the "Glasgow Apollo Choir" credited on the track Closer to the Heart on their 1981 live album, Exit Stage Left. "The Glasgow crowd have always been special," says Lifeson. "When they started singing along, it really choked us up."
The rejuvenation of the city impressed the band when they last appeared three years ago. "The difference from our first visit, in 1977, was amazing," Lifeson says. "The transformation from a grey, industrial city to the modern, vibrant place it is now was striking."
In 1981, Lifeson performed a gruesome version of I Belong to Glasgow, which further endeared him to the crowd and made Neil Peart crack up. "That's not easy to do," he says with another laugh, "but you've got to try!"
Rush play the SECC, Glasgow, tonight.
Originally published in The Herald, Glasgow, Scotland on 10.03.07.