Backed by spinning fowl, Rush takes fans on a ride
Rush's fog, lights and seemingly seizure-inducing lasers are concert essentials. But what about those chickens?
About 100 chickens spun in huge rotisserie cookers behind vocalist Geddy Lee's keyboard. The only explanation was a short video clip that showed guitarist Alex Lifeson playing a policeman who shook a drumstick at a kilt-wearing Lee.
The prog-rock group played to a capacity crowd Saturday night at the Ford Center. Oklahoma City was a stop on their intercontinental tour promoting their new album, "Snakes & Arrows."
Lee's high-pitched, authoritative voice grabbed the fans and took them on an epic experimental musical joyride. The Canadian trio's vocalist got the crowd's motors running with "Red Barchetta," and drummer Neil Peart continued the good vibrations with the skin-pounding ear-candy, "Mission."
"Limelight" and the instrumentally ambitious "Workin' Them Angels" were other crowd favorites at the concert.
Introduced with humorous, incorrect lyrics by the boys from the TV show "South Park," "Tom Sawyer" was the final song before the encore.
It's been more than a decade since Rush has performed in Oklahoma City, but if Lee's appreciation of the crowd was an indication, they'll rush right back.
The show was a full-sensory experience topped with fireworks, fire balls shooting up and a fairly lengthy encore. It was an amazing concert. You might say it was finger-lickin' good. Just like those chickens.
Originally published in The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City, OK on 04.28.08.
Concert Review: Rush
Snakes & Arrows show charms
First, you have to understand several things about the long-lived Canadian band Rush: they write brainy, knotty songs full of time-signature changes and "deep" lyrics; they have instrumental chops that impress lesser mortals and inspire many other musicians; they stage extravagant stage shows of lasers, lights, explosive pots and triple projection screens; and they have a very dada-like sense of humor. In short, they are one of the Americas most popular cult bands and are beloved by engineering, professional and blue-collar nerds everywhere. They also refuse to believe that after 30 years together that they have nothing new musically to offer - hence the predominance of songs from their latest album Snakes & Arrows.
Rush also has a huge back catalog of gold and platinum albums that most fans want to hear a fair sampling from. What helped make this concert so great was that it offered nothing but 2 1/2 hours of prime Rush with no opening band. The amazingly cool weather at the Superpages.com amphitheater was also an added bonus to the fans at the show.
Kicking off with "Limelight" from their Moving Pictures album proved to be a smart decision as the crowd immediately jumped to their feet and pretty much stayed that way for the duration of the night. They then went into the Police-like "Digital Man" from their early 80s career. One of the earlier highlights of the night was an excellent rendition of the 1987 song "Mission." Permanent Waves yielded "Freewill" and got the crowd around me to do a sing-along with it's life affirming lyrics. Snakes & Arrows was also represented by an instrumental called "The Main Monkey Business." This was the first of five instrumentals - if you count the amazing drum solo by percussionist extraordinaire Neil Peart and Alex Lifeson's 12-string acoustic guitar solo performance piece called "Hope".
The crowd pleasing, sci-fi car song "Red Barchetta" was followed by one of the more bizarre (but still great) songs in Rush's oeuvre called "The Trees" from 1978's Hemispheres album. A story about a dispute in the forest between the smaller maples and the larger oaks that oppress them by stealing all the sunlight - it sounds crazy, but it's a parable about relationships between different cultural groups. The performed two more songs and went to intermission.
Before coming back on stage, the projection screens had a brief comedic film (the second of the evening) which featured bassist Geddy Lee as a Scottish truck driver who keeps saying "What's that smell?" while on a quest to find delicious fried chicken. He picks up a trio of Barbie dolls and is stopped at a police barricade where a buck toothed policeman keeps asking, "Where are you going?" Meanwhile the Barbie dolls see a miniature Neil Peart doll on a drum kit and immediately leave the Scotsman for this handsome man. The Scotsman finally finds a place where a Swiss man tempts him a delicious fried chicken leg and yodels to his daughter "Heidi" to bring the traveler a bucket. The girl lifts a cleaver and brings it down and then turns around to reveal her identity as Jerry Stiller (George Castanza's father) and yells back "Quit calling me Heidi!" This coupled with the three large rotisserie chicken ovens behind the bassist instead of the normal wall of amplifiers seems to indicate that either Geddy Lee loves the "universal tasting food" or that they are just plain surreal! They also had the cartoon boys from South Park introduce "Tom Sawyer" as Lil' Rush and Bob & Doug McKenzie from The Great White North introduce "A Bigger Bowl."
The second set kicked off with five straight songs from Snakes & Arrows. The video projected behind the band during "Workin' Them Angels" had primarily black-and-white photos of heroic, hard working people that had angel wings on their shoulders. One of the larger bits of applause of the evening was when the screens showed 2 soldiers in the sunset with their angel wings. After that quintet of new songs, "Subdivisions" from 1982's Signals album got an enormous response from the crowd. Musically, the next trio of songs may have been the best of the evening: "Natural Science," "Witch Hunt" and the instrumental "Malignant Narcissism." Peart's drum solo used 2 sets of rotating drums (acoustic and electronic) with all manner of cowbells, wood blocks and electronic percussion pads and ended with a tribute to Swing drumming greats like Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich.
"The Spirit of the Radio" and the first two movements of the 2112 Suite upped the crowd's energy level even more - which I did not think was possible given all that preceded it. The official set was completed with the still classic "Tom Sawyer." After a very brief break, Rush came back out to perform their encore. When they played "A Passage to Bangkok" Lee had switched back to his old Rickenbacker bass (all the 70s progressive rock bassists used them) instead of his Fender Jazz Bass and Lifeson used his Gibson ES-355 hollow body instead of the slew of Les Paul guitars he had been playing all evening. They completed the evening with their best-known instrumental "YYZ" from the Moving Pictures album. The fans left the venue feeling very satisfied with the level of showmanship and musicality of the performance. A band that can continue to perform at this level and produce quality new music after more than 30 years is to be commended and worth watching!
Originally published by PegasusNews.com, Dallas, TX on 04.26.08.
Mountain haven inspires Rush to reach new peak
If the music of Rush's most recent album feels lofty and majestic, it's probably because it was made on a mountaintop high in the Catskills, in surroundings conducive to the creation of the kind of soaring and mighty prog-rock sound this Canadian trio of virtuosos started perfecting back in the mid-'70s.
"Snakes & Arrows" was recorded at the residential Allaire Studios, where drummer Neil Peart, bassist-keyboardist-vocalist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson set up housekeeping for six weeks back in November-December 2006.
"It's just outside of Woodstock, New York," Lifeson said in a phone interview from his Toronto home. "It's situated on one of the mountaintops, or hills I suppose, and it has a beautiful view, a panoramic view, and the studio has really top-notch equipment, it's really spread out. It's very comfortable, and you can just focus on your project. There's no traffic to deal with, there's no hotels to deal with, you're there, you get up in the morning, the girls cook breakfast for you, you go in the studio and you work all day."
One imagines these guys might have become sick of the sight of each other long before the end of that lengthy retreat, but there were separate cabins on the premises that offered solitude when needed, and there was plenty of room to wander.
"It's pretty intense work in the studio, and you don't want too many distractions," Lifeson said. "But we took a day off every week, and we'd go to town, we'd have dinner, we'd walk around. And when somebody else was doing something, you'd get out. It was really nice to just walk around the grounds, through the woods. Everything was in color, and it was very, very invigorating, from November to early December."
Apparently all this fresh air and beautiful mountain scenery inspired them to reach for the peak of their powers, as one listen to "Snakes & Arrows" dynamically demonstrates. Instrumentally and philosophically ambitious epics such as "Armor and Sword," "Workin' Them Angels" and "The Way the Wind Blows" are surging aural seas of tempestuous bass and drums and amazingly intricate acoustic and electric guitar textures, with Lee providing the often melodramatic narrative in that high yet weirdly commanding voice of his.
Some sneer at Rush as just another diehard throwback to '70s progressive-rock excesses, but there is simply no denying their incredible instrumental prowess and the ingenious complexities of their songwriting and arranging. What's even more incredible is that Lifeson has had very little formal musical training.
"I started playing when I was 12. I just picked it up by ear," he said. "But when I was 18, I studied for about a year, classical guitar. That did give me a really good basis in trying to explore chording a lot more, and the nature of the classical pieces that you've learned to play, there are bass lines as well as the melody line, and you think of the instrument as two different parts and it (the band) being a three-piece, I think you have to develop a guitar style if you want to have a full sound, particularly with a rhythm section like Neil and Ged, who are very active. You need to fill out as much area as you can, sonically."
By the time Rush arrived at Allaire Studios, most of the songs on "Snakes & Arrows" were already written, with Peart, as always, providing the lyrics. But the atmosphere of the studio, situated on a cliff with surrounding glass providing a breathtaking view of the valley below, spurred the spontaneous creation of two instrumental tracks: Lifeson's poignant acoustic piece, "Hope," recorded in one take, and the frenetic astral jam "Malignant Narcissism," a Grammy-nominated number that borrows its title from the film "Team America: World Police."
Sadly, Rush didn't win the best-instrumental trophy.
"No, are you kidding?" Lifeson said. "We were up against, well, Bruce Springsteen. He was up for an instrumental, which he hadn't written or anything ("Once Upon a Time in the West" by Ennio Morricone). I think it's the third time we've been nominated in this category, and I don't know how to take that anyway. I am almost relieved that we don't win it. It's nice to get the nomination, and it's amazing how excited friends get. 'Oh, you got a Grammy nomination!'
"But I don't know about all that Grammy bull----."
Lifeson is simply proud of the album, which has been compared favorably with such Rush milestones as "2112" (1976), "Permanent Waves" (1980) and "Moving Pictures" (1981).
"There's something about 'Snakes & Arrows' that reminds me of old Rush, but in a new clothes kind of thing, you know?" he said. "Like the way we wrote, the kind of dynamics that we used are classic in a Rush context, but the sound of it is quite modern and powerful."
The follow-up album, "Snakes & Arrows Live," containing songs old and new, has just been released on Atlantic, and Rush is on a tour behind it that will bring the trio back to Oklahoma City for the first time in more than a decade.
"I know, we can't wait," Lifeson said. "I remember playing there. We were there with Hawkwind in the early days. We opened for them. That was like '75. I don't think we've probably been in Oklahoma City since the early '90s, but judging by your ticket sales, it's gonna be a great show."
Originally published in The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City, OK on 04.25.08.
Concert Review: Rush
Rush hadn't played Austin in 14 years prior to its concert at the Frank Erwin Center on Wednesday. The Canadian trio got a warm welcome from the crowd, long tired of having to drive to San Antonio to see Geddy Lee's beautiful face. A cruel dichotomy was at hand. Even though Rush put out an album, Snakes and Arrows, in order to tour, the majority of the fans were much more excited to hear the songs that made Rush successful. Perhaps due to the mixed reaction from the crowd, anything Rush played post-1984 seemed tired and uninspired. "Limelight" and "Freewill" had a lot of momentum, but such force was lost when Rush played "Far Cry" or "Mission."
The turning point came during the opening notes of "Subdivisions." From there on, the band performed mostly songs from its classic repertoire. The cheering was louder, the clapping was more plentiful and even some of the people on the upper level actually moved! The band members raged through "2112" and "Spirit of the Radio" as if they hand't lost their vigor from the 1970s. "Tom Sawyer" opened with a skit from the South Park boys, where Cartman tried to sing about the Mark Twain novel rather than the actual song. For the encore, Rush belted out "A Passage to Bangkok," complemented with footage from "Reefer Madness" and "YYZ," an instrumental powerhouse from Moving Pictures. (Oh, and Neal "God of Drums" Peart did a MINDBLOWING drum solo, maaaaaan!) Despite the trappings of big rock shows these days, Rush proved it is just as relevant as ever.
Originally published in The Daily Texan, Austin, TX on 04.25.08.
"Hello, good evening Austin, Texas," smiled Rush bassist and singer Geddy Lee into the microphone at his small keyboard set-up. "How are you Texans? I've been told it's been 14 years since we've played here. How'd that happen? We're sorry."
Not as sorry as some 7,000 Lone Star salivates cozily ensconced into the Frank Erwin Center's classic rock configuration. Boston, Scorpions, UFO: 1970s arena bash never flickered out in Austin. It got reconfigured. Not so of the local pit stop for Rush's 1993 capitulation Counterparts. Full FEC drum, the Canadian power trio's thunderdome set moved mountains as it has since the Nixon administration despite its forgettable album sponsor. Other than 1991's Roll the Bones, off which shuddered last night's third slot, "Ghost of a Chance," the grunge decade was one of sporadic studio quicksand for the band. Millennial returns run about the same, 2002's Vapor Trails a metallurgic hammer, but last year's Snakes & Arrows brought down by drummer Neil Peart's painfully New Age lyrics. Snakes & Arrows Live, a new double-disc set, corrects the problem same as opener "Limelight" each and every night.
Red River's concrete fountainhead stood and emptied its burnt orange lungs at the Moving Pictures masterwork, its fair-haired architect Alex Lifeson delivering the first of almost three hours worth of hold-your-breath guitar solos. Signals' "Digital Man," ones and zeros only 25 years ahead of their time, batted second as if the deep album track had been anchoring Rush's live line-ups since 2112. "Ghost of a Chance," a watershed tune in Lifeson's long illustrious line of melodic precision, soared on the guitarist's perfectly enunciated spacial soul.
1989's Presto magically transformed Lee, Lifeson, and Peart into sensitive souls with a sound to match ("The Pass"), but that same serenity informing the guitarist's six-string spirit-in-flight solos took down the group's Nietzschian drummer after a series of personal tragedies. Clean-up hitter "Mission" reflected the namby-pamby melt of heavy metal's one-time Big Three overlords, but with perhaps only a sole other exception (the lyrically gagging newbie "Workin' Them Angels"), Pastor Peart was kept mercifully in check.
Proving the point immediately after, new instrumental "The Main Monkey Business," which Geddy Lee called one of the band's favorites, rattled King Kong's cage while absolutely demanding that Rush one day cut an all-instro LP. "Red Barchetta" and conservation PSA "The Trees" roared classic and yet paled as gateways to the Spielberg-esque close encounter of Grace Under Pressure's "Between the Wheels," landing like Apollo 6 at a blue lazarium spectacular near you. Roll the Bones opener "Dreamline" ended the hour-long first set rocketing the 21st Century gypsy caravan Neil Peart so beautifully worded. Sixty minutes never evaporated with such a flash (pot) of genuine arena grandeur.
On disc, Snakes and Arrows shoots Geddy's vocals upfont. Live - both on disc and last night - the material's musical muscle leaves the same Vapor Trails as its catalogue precursor. Five new numbers top loaded the second set, their video visuals - something Rush helped standardize in coliseums around the globe - aiding their acclimation among older salvos. "Spindrift" and "The Way the Wind Blows" segued powerfully into synthesizer teeth cracker "Subdivisions." When you swore nothing could out-quake such Signals, "Natural Science" levied 10 minutes of tidal Permanent Waves, after which a glowering "Witch Hunt" burned hotter than Salem, Massachusetts. The hits just kept avalanching. The encore, Vapor Trails hydrogen fireball "One Little Victory," the sweet Jamaican pipe dreams of 2112's "A Passage to Bangkok," and closing failsafe "YYZ" left an ecstatic audience anything but iron deficient.
Colossal Rush peers of the 1970s aren't quite yet extinct - Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones - but none have maintained the era's Marshall stacks with such unwavering consistency and zero hype. Progressive is as progressive does, so if Snakes and Arrows set some jaws in stone with Peart's touchy-feeliness, those very same weapons contemporized an exhilarating Rush 14 years removed and now graciously restored to Austin.
Frank Erwin Center, April 23, 2008
Ghost of a Chance
The Main Monkey Business
The Larger Bowl
Between the Wheels
Workin' Them Angels
Armor and Sword
The Way the Wind Blows
Malignant Narcissism/De Slagwerker (drum solo)
Spirit of the Radio
2112: Overture/The Temples of Syrinx
One Little Victory
A Passage to Bangkok
Originally published in The Austin Chronicle, Austin, TX on 04.24.08.
Review: Rush rocks the Erwin Center
Rush hasn't graced any stage in the Live Music Capital in 14 years, and the band's ultra-loyal followers were ready to pop a sizable case of champagne to celebrate their return.
With live staples such as the opener "Limelight," "Tom Sawyer" and "The Spirit of Radio" appearing alongside new songs like "Armor & Sword," and the dodging, weaving instrumental "Main Monkey Business," the trio was in unstoppable form, even at this early stage of the second leg of this tour (promoting 2007's musically rich, lyrically misguiding "Snakes & Arrows").
Although the cheers were long and loud, the biggest cheer of the night, as seems to be the case at every Rush show, was reserved for Neil Peart's drum solo.
He is a tour de force of timing, rhythm and improvisation. Criticism of the drum solo, even as the much-maligned art form it is, seems churlish when a musician of this caliber can pack so much into it and still keep it interesting. Peart was fully deserving of the standing ovation he received.
Rush, now in its 34th year together, is one of the few acts left from the past four decades that can still consistently deliver the goods when it comes to live performances and do it with style and drive. Also to be taken into consideration is the fact they play for just under three hours a night, which for three guys in their 50s is absolutely remarkable.
This is a band that never fails to give their army of fans what they want while keeping it real for themselves, and in today's musical climate, that's no mean feat. Possibly one of the best shows Austin will see this year.
Originally published in The Austin American-Statesman, Austin, TX on 04.24.08.
Rush - Snakes And Arrows Live CD
Recorded in Rotterdam during the bands 2007 World Tour, this 2CD set is Rush at their best.
From the opening riff of the opening track Limelight you know you're on to a good thing, and it just gets better and better. They may have been around for 35 years, but they STILL deserve the tag of Power Trio.
The new studio album Snakes And Arrows takes pride of place on the set with excellent renditions of Workin' Them Angels, The Larger Bowl and Armor And Sword to name but three of the eight or so tracks culled from the disc. Geddy Lee's strident voice cuts through the music like a scalpel and Alex Lifeson's guitar work provides a well, it can only be described as a "force" of sound; and not forgetting the drumming maestro that is Neil Peart (the drum solo on the Grammy Award-nominated Malignant Narcissism just has to be heard to be believed!).
Let us also remember that these guys are excellent musicians; their instrumentals like The Main Monkey Business and the closing track YYZ are true musical meisterwerks.
Thankfully, they have not forgotten their vast heritage and we are also treated to Rush "classics" such as Freewill, The Spirit of Radio and Tom Sawyer, plus going further back in time for A Passage to Bangkok from the 1976 album 2112.
We may not be getting as many studio albums as we used to from the Canadians, but they certainly make up for it in the quality of their live recordings.
Keep em coming - that's what I say!
Originally published in The Bolton News, Bolton, England on 04.24.08.
Music Review: Rush - Snakes & Arrows Live
Last years Snakes & Arrows album saw Rush hitting a belated creative high, something reflected both in journalistic appraisal and in the shape of a Grammy nomination. Why, even I said of the record that "this is the sound of a veteran band finding a way to charge the batteries and finding a way to move forward without leaving the past behind".
In fact, it was so good I even managed to drag myself along to a butt numbing three hour live show which saw the band perform nine of the Snakes & Arrows tracks across the 2 sets. I thought that the live show was a long slog, full of peaks and troughs, but that the high points were high enough to ensure that it was another good night for Rush.
And so, with a band hiatus coming up to enable them to indulge in some moustache growing, what better way to 'celebrate' the album and tour than with a 27 track double live CD. Of course, that's what Rush do, this being the eighth such release since All the World's A Stage came out in 1976. This one is a straight run through of the set, recorded over two nights in October 2007 at the Rotterdam Ahoy! arena, which means it replicates the show I saw. Now the one thing you can never fault Rush on is their musicianship, so there are no bum notes and missed cues here. However, that's the one thing you can fault them on. Because apart from some audience noise you wouldn't really know you were listening to a live show. Although there are also a few clunky edits between tracks, where Geddy Lee gets his minimal chit chat cut off.
Back to the music, and there is no doubt that the legions of somewhat scary Rush fans who were surrounding me that night will be rushing out to pick this up. They will not be disappointed, as the band rattles though powerful versions of "Freewill" and "The Main Monkey Business." As it was on the night, the highlight of the set was a 1-2-3 punch of "Subdivisions," "Natural Science," and "Witch Hunt" which are simply amazing, and one of the best uses you can put a spare quarter of an hour to.
I still think the drum solo should be outlawed by international law, so immediately skipped over "Malignant Narcissism," but they redeem themselves with a closing fanfare of "The Spirit Of Radio," "Tom Sawyer," "One Little Victory," "A Passage to Bangkok," and "YYZ."
People who strayed from the Rush path during their synth era will enjoy hearing how the band has returned to the world of rock, and people who attended the shows will enjoy it as a souvenir, especially as it's unlikely that so many Snakes & Arrows tracks will be performed live again.
It's not the best Rush live album, you want the 3CD Different Stages set for that. But it does what it says on the tin. A DVD version of this show is also planned and expected in late 2008 / early 2009. This has been confirmed on the bands official website, and will feature video from the same Rotterdam shows.
Originally published on Blog Critics Music on 04.23.08.
Diary of a Rush concert
My wife is no "Geddicorn."
As defined by Paste magazine, a "Geddicorn" -- a mash-up of Rush vocalist/bassist Geddy Lee's first name and "unicorn" -- is a "beautiful but possibly mythical creature: a woman who goes to Rush concerts without coercion from a male significant other."
My wife Mary is beautiful, yes. But she would have bypassed the New Orleans Arena on April 20 if left to her own devices. As a little girl, she suffered the indignity of her older brother Danny drowning out the Duran Duran and INXS albums on her Fisher-Price toy stereo by cranking Rush's "Grace Under Pressure" on his own, much larger system. Anthems about concentration camp survivors and paranoid androids are not the stuff of which little girl pop fantasies are made.
So Rush and Mary got off on the wrong foot. Her discovery, soon after we started dating, that I was a fan nearly scuttled the relationship. She came to accept it while hoping that, as with my wardrobe, it could be corrected.
A decade later, my wardrobe is much improved but Rush remains. In the days before the show, she resisted attempts to screen the band's 2007 album "Snakes & Arrows" for her.
"You're in training," I explained.
"I've been in training since I was five," she clarified.
"Seven hours until the show starts," I happily announced over lunch.
"And 10 hours until it's over," she responded.
That night, she and I joined 11,000 of the faithful to welcome Rush to New Orleans for the first time since 1996. Let the adventure begin:
7:15 p.m.: Drop off Mary at the arena parking lot entrance and go park. While I'm gone, she is nearly struck by a speeding car.
"That would have been terrible," I say, and mean it: I would have felt awful shipping her off to the hospital alone.
7:40 p.m.: Clearly in touch with their goofier sides, the musicians first appear via a comic video. Geddy Lee portrays a leering Scottish delivery van driver. Guitarist Alex Lifeson awakens from a nightmare to find himself in a tour bus bunk with...drummer Neil Peart. Lifeson later sports gag teeth as a clueless Mountie.
7:45 p.m.: Armed with a Les Paul, the flesh-and-blood Lifeson tears off the opening riff of "Limelight." Ladies and gentlemen, we have achieved liftoff. I am 16 again, albeit with a better haircut and more expensive shoes.
8 p.m.: During "Mission," Lee executes his first one-legged hop, a sure sign that he's into it. As am I.
8:03 p.m.: Mary joins the first wave of female significant others escaping to the concession stand and/or bathroom. There are no lines at the women's room, she later reports. That's because there are no women.
8:10 p.m.: Mary misses "Freewill," the night's first foray into Rush's classic period. "Don't worry," she says upon her return. "I heard it just fine at the bar."
8:20 p.m.: Peart, encased in a cocoon of crimson and gold drums, tosses a drumstick skyward for the first time.
8:24 p.m.: Lee apologizes for flip-flopping the New Orleans and Houston concerts to accommodate "some kind of hockey game." He's joking.
8:30 p.m.: Onscreen, Canadian comedians Bob and Doug McKenzie introduce "The Larger Bowl." Subsequent video images of dichotomies -- Ku Klux Klansmen and civil rights marchers, mansions and tenement buildings, easy chairs and electric chairs -- are officially the first buzz-kill of the night.
8:35 p.m.: During "Red Barchetta," I air drum discretely on Mary's hip.
8:40 p.m.: In "The Trees," Peart's allegory of foolish pride and prejudice, his drum riser spins around to reveal its electric side. Way cool. "This is the happiest crowd I've ever seen," notes Mary. "There are no drunk (idiots)."
8:50 p.m.: The night's first green lasers are wicked cool. "We are only immortal for a limited time," Lee sings in "Dreamline." Those of us channeling our teen years know exactly what he means.
8:55 p.m.: Intermission. Time to regroup and scout the merchandise table. A Rush leather jacket for $500? I like the band, but not that much.
9:25 p.m.: The second act. During a five-song block from "Snakes & Arrows," Mary sits down while most everyone else on the arena floor -- myself included -- remains standing. "Spindrift," the fourth consecutive new song, should be trimmed from the set.
9:40 p.m.: Insert earplugs, hoping to still be capable of hearing Rush on their 50th anniversary tour in 2024.
9:50 p.m.: Lee fails to power up his synthesizer until midway through the first "Subdivisons" solo. So maybe he and his bandmates are human after all.
10:03 p.m.: Mary sits during "Natural Science," an old epic about life in tidal pools.
10:06 p.m.: Mary stands up. "I want to watch Neil Peart," she says. I have never been more proud of her.
10:08 p.m.: The ominous "Witch Hunt." Peart triggers a cowbell effect with his left foot as his arms work the tom-toms. All three musicians trigger prerecorded sounds with their feet in real time, a compromise between recreating studio recordings and still performing as "live" as possible.
10:13 p.m.: Lee's plucked bass -- as opposed to the plucked, prop rotisserie chickens "roasting" onstage -- in "Malignant Narcissism" evokes the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Flea.
10:15 p.m.: The heart of any Rush concert: Peart's epic drum solo. He builds on recurring themes and structures, working the kit like an octopus, showing off by crossing his arms. He produces tones similar to African talking drums, then kicks into a big band swing groove with sampled horn bursts and video footage of the late great Buddy Rich.
10:22 p.m.: An enormous roar greets the conclusion of Peart's solo.
10:23 p.m.: Lifeson displays a fleet bit of 12-string acoustic guitar finger-picking on the instrumental "Hope." Whether on electric or acoustic, he has been near flawless all night.
10:25 p.m.: "The Spirit of Radio" soars; the musicians ham up its reggae breakdown.
10:30 p.m.: A spacey, pulsating effect signals the opening of "Overture," from the penultimate Rush album "2112." "What's this?" asks Mary, and I love her a little less.
10:35 p.m.: "Overture" segues into the brute force of "Temples of Syrinx." A guy behind us lets loose a primal bellow. At this peak moment, Mary sits down once again -- possibly grounds for a divorce.
10:40 p.m.: Onscreen, Cartman and the cartoon gang from "South Park" -- Peart is friends with the show's creators -- attempt "Tom Sawyer" as Lil' Rush. They fail, and hand off to the real band. This concludes the set.
10:45 to 11 p.m.: An encore of "One Little Victory," "A Passage to Bangkok" and the instrumental "YYZ." All fine and good, but they had me at "Limelight."
11:05 p.m.: Bask in the afterglow. Having witnessed the previous two Rush tours in amphitheaters, arenas are preferable. Lights, videos and spooky songs about witch hunts are far more effective indoors.
Now in their mid-50s, Lee, Lifeson and Peart are clearly not phoning it in. Given their music's complexity, they couldn't. Lee's voice was especially strong. They played nothing from their first three, relatively crude albums; this material was not missed. The nine new songs mostly held their own, which bodes well for Rush's continued relevance.
11:15 p.m.: Driving home, Mary cues up "Freewill" on the iPod. Maybe she's part Geddicorn after all.
Originally published in The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, LA on 04.22.08.
Review: Snakes & Arrows Live
When it comes to the big, bloated double-disc live album, Rush bows to no one.
Consider that "Snakes & Arrows Live" is their sixth bit of indulgence, just five years after the last one ("Rush in Rio"). Face it, the Rush live album is like family. You all have one somewhere in the house.
The difference this time is that "Snakes & Arrows" was the first good Rush record in what feels like forever, making the ensuing live album less of an ordeal. Most of the new songs sound terrific next to standbys like "Limelight" and "Subdivisions," and two of them - "Far Cry" and "The Larger Bowl" - are outright show stealers that will be concert staples from here on.
Beyond that, there's the usual prog-rock excess that comes with the Rush territory (yep, they're still playing "A Passage to Bangkok"). Thankfully, they've decided to retire a few classics - just how many live versions of "Closer to the Heart" do you need?
But then they bust out "The Spirit of Radio" for the umpteenth time and all is forgiven. You know the drill - it's a live Rush record. Prepare to air drum accordingly.
Originally published in the Niagra Falls Review, Niagra Falls, ON on 04.19.08.
Rush's Alex Lifeson: The interview
Since Rush last performed in New Orleans on Dec. 6, 1996, guitarist Alex Lifeson, bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee and drummer Neil Peart have, like the city, endured their share of heartache.
The band took a four year hiatus following the 1997 death of drummer Neil Peart's only child, a 19-year-old daughter, in a car accident; less than a year later, his wife died of cancer.
When a newly remarried Peart was finally ready, the trio went back to work. They discovered their popularity as a live act had only increased. Their first-ever concerts in Brazil included a show for 40,000 fans at a Rio de Janeiro stadium, documented on the gold-selling live album and DVD "Rush in Rio."
Marring this period was Lifeson's New Year's Eve 2003 run-in with sheriff's deputies at the Ritz-Carlton in Naples, Florida. The guitarist and his son were charged with multiple felonies, then later pled no contest to a misdemeanor. They subsequently sued the Ritz-Carlton and the deputies involved for battery, unlawful arrest and false imprisonment; they were in turn counter-sued by two deputies.
The band recently launched the second leg of a tour promoting its current "Snakes & Arrows" album. Lifeson called from tour rehearsals in Toronto in early April.
In the days following the interview, the band would be forced to move its scheduled New Orleans Arena concert to April 20, in order to accommodate a Hornets playoff game the previous night. Rush manager Ray Danniels also announced the band would donate $100,000 to various Hurricane Katrina relief initiatives.
So you're gearing up the machine once again.
Normally at the start of a tour, we're coming off a fairly long break. We'll spend two months in rehearsals, between the individual stuff we do, then as a band for three or four weeks, then full production rehearsals for 10 or 12 days. This time around, because we're really just picking up the tour, we only blocked in a week and a half (in Toronto) and managed to get up to speed very quickly.
After watching the intense crowd response on the "Rush in Rio" DVD, I'm surprised Rush even bothered to come back to North America.
I know. (laughs) I'd like to move there. That was an incredible experience. It completely caught us off guard. We had no idea that we had that kind of following in Brazil, or in South America, for that matter.
The crowd actually sang along to "YYZ," an instrumental.
When we mixed that, we probably sat there for an hour just watching the crowd. We kept replaying it without the band, just listening to the crowd tracks. It was amazing! It was so loud. It was really exciting.
The band generally takes a long time between albums and tours. But going down there for the first time seems to have renewed your enthusiasm.
That whole tour was about renewal. We were coming back after a very difficult four years, particularly for Neil. That whole tour was about rising up from the flames and getting back into the groove. It was a nice way to end -- that was the last day of the tour. It was a very positive moment for us.
That momentum continues.
Since the first date on the "Vapor Trails" tour (in 2002), I don't think I've gone onstage without thinking, "This could be the last gig I ever do, so enjoy it." All the tours we've done since then have been a lot of fun and so enjoyable. I don't dislike a single song we're playing. I'm not bored of a single moment onstage. It's a good feeling. We're very lucky. (laughs)
The first leg of the "Snakes & Arrows" tour was your highest grossing tour ever.
We were probably up about 20 percent on average on attendance. We always do well, but there were even more people coming out on this last tour. And a lot of younger kids, which was very interesting to see.
Back in the day you guys cultivated a mystique. Nowadays you seem to be much more visible. Is there a concerted effort to not be in the shadows as much?
I'm not so sure it's a concerted effort. I think it's a natural development. We're a little more confident and comfortable in our skin as we get older and mature. For a long time, we really wanted to keep the band a separate issue from our own private, personal lives. And we were really successful at that for a long time. You don't hear much about the band; we certainly aren't in People magazine or anything like that.
There's a lot more attention being paid to us currently than there has been in a long time, and it's all kind of interesting. But we're still kind of like a small, cult band -- that's the way we look at it. We don't have big, burly bodyguards and all that crap. We just go out and do our job and we have fun doing it, and then we go home.
Neil, especially, tries to maintain a little bit of distance.
That's the kind of guy he is and that's the kind of guy he's always been. Despite all the terrible things that happened to him, he's always been like that. He's not comfortable with crowds, which is a drag for a guy who has to sit in front of 15,000 people a night. The guy's such an amazing musician. People start complimenting him and he gets embarrassed.
So he's built this wall around him -- fence is probably a better term. He'll make contact, and he's a great guy, but he's just a little uncomfortable with all the attention and the big crowds. It's hard for him to relinquish privacy.
Speaking of People magazine, I was taken aback by your little mishap in Florida.
It was a horrible, horrible experience that still continues four and a half years later. I was having dinner at one of the most elegant resort hotels in the country, and the way we were treated....I was beaten up, I had my face punched in by three cops, I was Tasered six times, my son was Tasered twice. And we didn't do anything! It was dragged through for 15 months before the criminal end of it was sorted out. I was charged with five felonies, and all of them were dropped. What does that tell you?
So I took legal action. It's been a real fight. The Ritz-Carlton is a big corporation, and they have a big, powerful law firm. All I ever asked was my day in court.... It's been an uphill battle at every stage of the way. I didn't make a big deal of it, even though it was eating away at me every day. I wanted it to be sorted out and I wanted my chance in a court of law to deliver the facts as I know them, as well as the 12 other witnesses that we were bringing.
I try not to think so much about it these days and let it happen the way it's going to happen. We're waiting for a ruling on the appeal and then we'll see where we go.
It makes you wonder how the guys in, say, Motley Crue, deal with things like this all the time.
I've never been in a fight in my life! I'm a grandfather. I'm very proud of the work that I do. I set high standards for myself and my family. I love my family and I'll protect my family with my life. For that, I've spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend myself, and I get run over.
I had a great lawyer, and the facts of the matter were what they were. But I'm telling you that in Collier County, which is a very conservative part of Florida, the sheriff's department....they're mean guys. It's a big force, and they exercise a lot of force. I've seen them pull over a car with old ladies, cotton-tops, and the deputy had her out of the car with her hands on the back of the car like something out of "Cops."
Getting back to the band....Have you ever disagreed with a point of view Neil has put across in his lyrics?
I don't know if I've disagreed. There may have been times where I was probably not as passionate as something he was talking about. But it's all about the delivery of these concepts that he has. They're usually a band concept. We get into the idea of what it is and the way he's going to deliver it through his lyrics.
The relationship for lyrics between him and Geddy is very close. Neil will rewrite three, four, five, 10 times if he has to if Ged's having a problem with getting the idea across or just being comfortable with the number of words that he has to sing. They work very well together. I've seen Ged take out one word from a stanza and say, "That's the word that I'm feeling in this stanza. Can you rewrite the whole thing around that word?" (Neil) always obliges. It's very professional, a real shared experience.
Neil has dealt with religious themes and agnosticism in the past. Why such a focus on "Snakes & Arrows"?
Well, look around. The world's a crazy place right now and it's driven by religion. It's always been driven by religion. But currently the division between the East and the West, and the small representation of the very militant within those groups creating such an enormous mess...it has to be talked about and thought about.
Do you do "Faithless" live?
No. We talked about it, and we were prepping it, but we decided to keep the set the way it is. We do nine (songs from "Snakes & Arrows").
The acoustic/electric interplay throughout "Snakes and Arrows" is reminiscent of old-school Rush.
I wrote basically the whole record on acoustic. That's the way we used to write in the old days. Everything has a particular flavor to it. The chordal structure has more of a folky attack. Those bass chords, C and G and D, played down low on the neck like you would on an acoustic guitar, just lends a different character to the music once you electrify it.
Since "Vapor Trails," you've definitely gone back to basics and pared your sound down.
(Producer) Nick Raskulinecz really woke us up. He's been a fan of ours since he was 11 years old. I think Rush was the first band he went to see live with his mom in Knoxville. So for him, it was really a lifelong dream to work with us.
We're always looking forward, we're always trying to progress with every record we make, and we can drive ourselves crazy doing that. He said, "That's fine, but don't leave what made you the band that you are behind. Think about the way you write, think about the way you arrange music, think about some of the sounds that you used traditionally. Don't run away from those things all the time."
It was an eye-opener for us, because we do tend to do that. One of the reasons "Snakes & Arrows" works the way it does is because there are elements of the old Rush, the past Rush, but we try to package it in a very forward and contemporary way.
So is Coheed & Cambria the best Rush cover band you've ever heard?
(laughs) Nick worked with them just recently, too. I don't know. They're a little heavier, I think. I guess the comparisons are always with the vocals.
You guys have become a reference point for younger bands.
With a lot of these younger musicians, they look to us as an example of, if you stick to what you believe, you can make it. You don't need radio and all those other things that are increasingly becoming less important as the industry changes. A lot of young guys look at us and go, "These guys are in their 50s and they're still playing, and playing well. We can do it too."
Did Neil and Geddy ever give you crap back in the day when they would be in the "Best Bassist" and "Best Drummer" polls and you wouldn't?
Nobody even pays attention to that kind of stuff, really. Expect me! (laughs)
So is the future of the band open-ended at this point?
With every tour, it feels like it's the last tour. But we're really enjoying ourselves. We're playing the best that we've every played. We're sounding really good, really tight. But there are other things in life. You keep thinking as you get older that maybe you want to pursue other things, or maybe it's time to pack it in, blah, blah, blah.
But this time, though, just before we started rehearsals, Ged and I were talking about what we're going to do on the next tour. So I guess we're looking forward. I don't know what our plan is. I think we want to take a little bit of a break after this tour ends.
We're saying that, but I don't know what's going to happen. We might get itchy like Ged and I normally do; after a few months we'll want to start writing and get back into it. Whether we go back in the studio and make another record or do another tour...hard to say.
We've got so much catalog. I'd love to do a tour where we just play stuff that we've never played before. Don't play anything that we play now and call it the B-track Rush tour. Play some of the stuff nobody has ever heard us play live. That would be a lot of fun. There are lots of opportunities and directions that we can go.
On the band's 30th anniversary tour in 2004, you did an acoustic segment for the first time. So there are ways to innovate.
There's been talk about getting an orchestra together and doing "2112." That's almost Spinal Tap-ish in concept. But at the same time, it might be kind of cool with a great visual presentation.
I'm glad that after a decade you guys have found your way back to New Orleans.
How are things there?
Well, we had a little weather mishap a couple years ago. Where Rush is playing at the downtown arena, everything looks fine. But there are still neighborhoods pockmarked with devastation and plowed fields that used to be houses.
I suppose it's a little shocking to us that don't live there that more hasn't been done quicker to get the city back. It's such a fantastic city and such an important city in America.
Is lighting designer Howard Ungerleider still on the road with you?
Oh, yeah. He's still there. He'll always be there. He's been there since '74. Liam Birt, our road manager, has been with us since '72. We've got some old guys for sure, but even the young guys want to keep coming out. Everybody gets along great and there's no ego.
Geddy and I just played "YYZ" with the Foo Fighters here in Toronto at the Air Canada Center. Those guys are so much like us. They're the sweetest, regular, normal guys. Dave Grohl is hilarious, and he's so great with the crowd. But you could see in their crew that they would do anything for them. Because there's no division between crew and band, and "you can't talk to this guy" and all that crap. There are lots of artists like that, and I just don't get it.
So you did "YYZ" during the show with the Foo Fighters?
An hour into the set, Taylor (Hawkins) did a little bit of a drum solo and then we came up and played "YYZ."
That had to go over huge.
Oh yeah! I couldn't believe how fast it was posted on YouTube. Within minutes.
There are no secrets any more. That Rush mystique we talked about earlier....you can't maintain that at this point.
No. It's impossible.
Originally published in The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, LA on 04.19.08.
Bumped band is a good sport
Rush delays concert for Hornets playoffs
The score of the New Orleans Arena's most unlikely matchup this year: Hornets 1, Rush 0.
The NBA's decision to schedule the Hornets' opening playoff game at the arena Saturday forced the veteran Canadian rock band to move a planned Saturday night concert to Sunday.
"That is certainly an unfortunate situation, but that's a little bit of the cost of doing business," arena spokesman Bill Curl said. "We're not out to cause people problems. We're out to enable them to see as much sports and entertainment as we can."
Concert promoter LiveNation was aware the April 19 date might conflict with a playoff game when the company booked Rush into the arena months ago, Curl said. Such potential scheduling conflicts are common at dozens of venues with professional sports teams.
"When you book that far out, you have to roll the bones," said LiveNation's Brian Birr, playing on the title of a Rush album. "This show was booked before the (Hornets') season started."
LiveNation and arena officials did not know the NBA's playoff schedule until late Wednesday.
"We were in hopes that the Hornets might get the Sunday game," Curl said. "It was 50-50 going into last week. There was no way to make this announcement ahead of time. You have to hold your breath and see what happens and do the best you can."
Tickets for Saturday's concert will be honored Sunday. Refunds are also available from wherever the tickets were purchased.
Despite a full season of Hornets home games, the New Orleans Arena has presented 20 concerts in the previous 12 months, the most of any year since the arena's 1999 opening. Rush has not performed in New Orleans since 1996. Pent-up demand led to advance ticket sales in excess of 10,000, among the highest totals on the current leg of the band's tour.
Rush's manager, Ray Danniels, apologized to fans inconvenienced by the date switch and announced Thursday that the band would donate $100,000 to various Hurricane Katrina relief initiatives.
Rush was initially scheduled to perform Sunday at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion outside Houston. LiveNation swapped that show to Saturday.
Flip-flopping the Houston and New Orleans dates made the most sense logistically, given the tour's route.
"There weren't many other dates that Rush was available to play New Orleans," Birr said. "They probably would have had to cancel New Orleans if they couldn't have done it on Sunday."
Canceling would have not only disappointed fans, but also have resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenue for the band, arena and promoter.
Keeping the show on a weekend would better accommodate travelers and facilitate walk-up ticket sales, Birr said. "We were trying to inconvenience the least amount of people."
Some Rush fans, including at least one flying to New Orleans from Canada, were likely to return their tickets for refunds. Others rolled with the changes.
David Domingue of Scott planned to attend both the New Orleans and Houston shows, increasing his lifetime Rush concert total to 28. Domingue simply reversed the direction he planned to drive on Interstate 10.
"It's good that the Hornets are back where they belong," Domingue said. "As big a fan of Rush as I am, I'm glad arrangements were made so fans of both can be justified."
Originally published in The Times-Picayune, New Orleans, LA on 04.18.08.
Scheduling Changes Due to NBA Playoffs
The New Orleans date on the 200 Snakes & Arrows tour, originally scheduled for April 19th, will be pushed back to April 20th due to a scheduling conflict with the opening game of the New Orleans Hornets-Dallas Mavericks first round playoff game. In a press release from Live Nation, it was confirmed that the Houston RUSH concert scheduled for Sunday April 20th has been moved to Saturday night April 19th. All tickets for Sunday's performance will be honored at Saturday's concert. Likewise, all tickets for the Saturday show in New Orleans will be honored at the new date on Sunday. See the links below for more information.
Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion Official Website
Live Nation Press Release
Here's what rushes to Geddy Lee's mind
It's been 14 years since Canadian rock legends Rush played Austin. The band stops Wednesday at the Erwin Center on their "Snakes & Arrows" tour and we talked with bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee last month about why the long time between Austin shows, the band's new record ... and baseball.
American-Statesman: You guys haven't come to Austin for 14 years. How come?
Geddy Lee: Well, we can't play every city. We play that area of Texas every tour, usually San Antonio. We just play as many shows as we can in the time that we have. Part of the reason we're doing this tour is to hit places we haven't in awhile, but we have no bias against playing Austin, I can assure you. (Laughs.)
Rush has a new live album coming out ('Snakes & Arrows Live' was released Tuesday). Wasn't that originally meant to be a DVD?
I think it's still the plan. We're editing all the footage now and hopefully by Christmas time we'll be putting out a DVD. With the live album, we figured if we could get some stuff released before the tour that would be a bonus, and we pulled that off.
Any major changes to the set list this time out?
Yeah, we're going to change about three or four songs, bring back some more of the classics, or what people consider to be classics (laughs); bring back some stuff from "2112" things like that.
Rush isn't known for long tours, so why is there a second leg? Is it your last tour?
We've never said it's our last tour, and we've never even guessed when it would be our last tour. These are just rumors that people start. We felt we owed it to "Snakes & Arrows," which we feel is one of our better records in a long time, to go back out and try to play to more people and, seeing as we're enjoying it too, why not keep enjoying it for a few more months. (Laughs). We pace our tours in a very civilized way, we have enough days off, plus we've found that there was this influx of new people coming to see us, younger people, and that was gratifying and really encouraging.
You're a huge baseball fan. Predictions for '08?
Well, I'm thinking the Mets in their division this year; I think Johan Santana will make the difference. I think the Cubbies look strong in their division. I like the Tigers, although you can't write off the Red Sox.
I don't think the Astros are improved from last year. They still have some great players, but I don't know if they have enough to compete.
Who do you like for the World Series?
Well, if I had to hazard a guess this far out, I would have to say Mets/Tigers; let's be bold! The only thing that would prevent the Tigers is that their bullpen isn't looking so strong right now.
Aren't we supposed to be talking about Rush, not baseball?
Baseball's more fun anyway.
More from Geddy Lee
On the intro filmed by former 'Great White North' comedy duo of Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas for the song 'The Larger Bowl':
They were up in Toronto filming a special for the CBC called the '2-4 Anniversary' (a 2-4 is what we Canadians call a case of beer). So they did this crazy special and they called me up and asked me if I would do a little cameo on the show. ... I've known Rick since I was a kid and I hadn't seen him in awhile and it was a blast doing this little segment with them. Then after we finished taping, I was leaving the building and I thought, 'Wouldn't it be great for them to do an intro to one of our songs?'... They said that they'd love to, so I sent them some titles of our songs and that's the one they chose.
On playing (with Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson) as the guests of the Foo Fighters recently in Toronto:
(Foo Fighters' management) told us that Taylor (Hawkins, Foo's drummer), whom we've met a couple of times and is a big fan of ours, would like to play 'YYZ' with us ('YYZ' is a Rush instrumental track from years ago). We happened to be in town starting our own rehearsals anyway and we love that band ... and we share the same producer (Nick Raskulinescz, who produced 'Snakes & Arrows'), so we have this kind of in-house connection, so we said sure.
Where was Neil (Peart, Rush drummer and lyricist)?
Unfortunately Neil wasn't in town, because they were going to get him to play one of their songs, and he would've been up for it ... so that didn't work out, but it turned out to be a total hoot.
'YYZ' isn't the easiest song to play ...
(Laughs) Yeah, it's not exactly 12-bar blues, but Taylor went for it, nailed it and had a big grin on his face for the whole performance. It was quite lovely to see, and Alex and I were really complimented by the whole thing.
Originally published in The Austin American-Statesman, Austin, TX on 04.17.08.
Rush does it big at Amway Arena
As singer Geddy Lee mentioned at one point, the guys in Rush are "no spring chickens."
So it was only fitting that the venerable prog-rock trio did things old-school on Tuesday in a marathon 3-hour concert at Amway Arena:
A massive light show. Fireworks. Great-and-Powerful-Oz-like flames. Strobes. Lasers. Enough fog to ground a small airplane.
Not to mention the complementary fragrance of marijuana in the air.
Most important, there was music that was complex, intense and still utterly grand.
A band that never met an excessive musical gesture that it didn't love, Rush is easy to parody. It's also highly influential, which was obvious from the demographic mix of a crowd that ranged from baby-boomers to pre-teens.
If one wants to ascertain the main source of the band's appeal, look around: Air drummers in the audience outnumbered air guitarists by at least an 8 to 1 ratio.
On stage, the object of their devotion was the musical centerpiece. Neil Peart is still an animal behind the drum kit, executing the hairpin rhythmic turns that power songs such as the opening one-two punch of "Limelight" and "Digital Man."
Those songs also showcased the interplay of Lee's serpentine bass lines and Alex Lifeson's soaring guitar solos, which were especially effective in "Digital Man."
Lee's vocals seemed a tad lost in the mix in the opening moments, so his distinctive high tenor didn't sound that impressive. Later, however, the balance stabilized and his forays into the upper register on "Mission," of 1987's Hold Your Fire, showed that he can still hit the high notes.
It was encouraging that the sound mix was excellent, perhaps assisted by the sound-dampening curtains that covered the unsold seats in the back of the upper bowl.
In addition to the music, there were plenty of visual diversions. Three giant video screens showed an assortment of odd geometric graphics, as well as video clips featuring cameos by the band members, TV actor Jerry Stiller, SCTV's McKenzie Brothers and the South Park cast.
Chicken was a running joke all night. Instead of amplifiers, Lee stood in front of three giant glass ovens holding racks of rotisserie chickens. A dude even came out and basted them.
It all showed that Rush has a sense of humor, which helps balance the overt grandeur of the music. Just as often, skillful playing pumped life into war horses such as "Tom Sawyer" and elevated songs off the latest CD, Snakes & Arrows.
When it came time for Peart's inevitable extended drum solo, it took a reasonable 7 minutes and was both audacious and inventive.
With a massive kit that included a vibraphone pad, Peart was capable of being a one-man band. There were at least a dozen tom-toms alone.
Like everything else about Rush, it was big.
Originally published in the Orlando Sentinel, Orlando, FL on 04.16.08.
Rush bring brainier brand of rock back on the road
Rolling Stone magazine gave Rush's last studio album, Snakes & Arrows, three stars, but with further instructions: "If you're a Rush fan, add two stars; if not, subtract two." It has ever been thus for the durable Torontonian rock trio. To some, including the rock establishment, the band is culpable of wailing vocals, interminably self-indulgent solos and nerdy science fiction lyrics. Yet to fans, Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart form a triumvirate of musical virtuosity and inventiveness; Rush may not exude sex like other groups spawned in the '70s, but have created instead a brainier brand of rock. The Post's Adam McDowell spoke with bassist/vocalist Lee about Snakes & Arrows Live, a double album released today to ignite the second leg of the Snakes & Arrows tour. Fans suspicious of anti-Rush bias can rest easy: The interviewer owns 18 Rush albums, and sometimes wears a "star man" T-shirt under his other clothes.
Q Snakes & Arrows Live is the third multi-disc live album you've released this decade. Why so many?
A We like fans to have a souvenir of every tour, particularly DVDs. I think our fans really like to have a visual version of what every tour was about. So this is just a precursor to [a DVD], which hopefully will be edited by the fall.
Q Your tour visuals are often quite funny. I especially like the giant rotisserie oven full of roasting chickens that's part of the Snakes & Arrows stage setup. What's the deal with that?
A Everybody likes chicken, right? I like chicken.
Q Are they real chickens?
A I can't discuss that. Those are part of the secret to my bass sound. Those roasters give me a hotter and tastier sound.
Q The received wisdom about Rush seems to be that it's this love-or-hate band that critics mostly hate. But I did some digging and most of the reviews for Snakes & Arrows, and Vapor Trails before it, were positive. Was there really a time when critics hated Rush?
A I think that reputation is an old hangover from our early days. We were not very well-liked the first 10 years of our recording life. Time has worn on; that has changed.
Q Was there ever a great Spinal Tap-style putdown from a review that has stuck in your head?
A I remember I was called, at one point, "the damned howling in Hades." I've always been fond of that one. That goes back to the late '70s. Since then, our music has evolved a lot and my voice has changed a lot. Somehow, once something bad's been said about you, it hangs around in the ether for a long time.
Q You've never had trouble getting recognition as probably the best rock bass player ever. You recently won Bass Player magazine's "coolest bass line in a song" award for Malignant Narcissism, which I haven't tried yet, but it sounds really hard to play. For the sake of all of us who have struggled to master, say, YYZ, I'd like to know if even Geddy Lee has trouble playing any Rush songs.
A Yeah, all the ones that are hard for fans to play are hard for me to play. I have to really play attention or I'll blow it. You've just got to practise a lot.
Q When I saw you at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto last fall, I was pretty excited that you put Natural Science and Entre Nous [both from 1980's Permanent Waves] on the set list. What motivates you to perform relatively little-known songs from old albums?
A That's really a treat for our hardcore fans. There are certain classics we know we're going to do, like Tom Sawyer, but we get these requests for these deeper cuts. It's fun to bring a bunch of those songs back for every tour. People always seem to react well when we dust off some old nuggets.
Q Personally, I'm going on record with a request to hear Something for Nothing live.
Q Do you think fans connect as intimately with the new songs as they do with the '70s and '80s stuff?
A It's hard to know. Certainly looking at the first bunch of rows that my poor eyes will allow me to see, they seem as enthusiastic with the new material as the old stuff--in some cases, with the younger fans, more enthusiastic. I do have a great fondness for [2007's] Snakes & Arrows and I think it's some of the best work we've ever done--along with Power Windows , Moving Pictures  and probably 2112 . Those are probably my four favourite Rush albums.
Q You've said many times that you feel like there's a great song in you that you haven't written yet. How will you know when you've created it?
A I don't know if you know that. Maybe that's just a fool's errand. Maybe you never really know when you're doing your best; never really know when you've peaked. I just still believe that there's some great music out there that I can channel in some way into a Rush song.
Originally published in the National Post, Don Mills, ON on 04.15.08.
From the Cutting Room Floor: Geddy Lee pines for Halifax
Adam McDowell's interview with Rush vocalist/bassist Geddy Lee runs in the National Post on Tuesday to coincide with the release of Snakes & Arrows Live, Rush's third multi-disc live album this decade. Below, the Geddy goodies that didn't fit.
On fan loyalty:
We have a loyal following that supports what we do, and what we've noticed in the last couple years is that our audience seems to be expanding. Our ticket sales were up by about 20-25% in some cases, and that was largely because of younger people who are just getting turned on to the band. That was very gratifying.
On the second leg of the Snakes & Arrows Tour:
We wanted to expand the tour to hit cities that we haven't hit for a long time. I'm looking forward to playing a lot of Canadian cities that we haven't played in a while. We haven't played Winnipeg in a while, or Regina. We're still hoping to expand the Canadian dates to include something on the East Coast. We've had a hell of a time getting arena dates in those cities, especially Halifax.
On what's been on his playlists lately:
I've been listening to Björk's Volta record quite a lot. I just adore her voice. The latest Radiohead album I also enjoy a lot. They're a terrific band; I think they're the last band carrying on the progressive rock thing. I know a lot of people don't consider them progressive rock, but I sort of do.
Originally published in the National Post, Don Mills, ON on 04.15.08.
Lee still gets a Rush
After all these years lead singer gets butterflies when performing
You'd think, at this stage of his career, no performance could give Rush singer/bassist Geddy Lee the butterflies. But he gets them when he knows a show is being recorded for a live album.
"There's always a bit of nerves when you're recording, even though we played about six million shows and we've done so many live recordings that it's getting ridiculous," Lee tells Sun Media. "When you know that you're being recorded you want to put your best foot forward.
"Sometimes that translates into you rising to the occasion, and sometimes that translates into you tightening up a little bit. All you're really after is trying to get an honest impression of what it's like to be at one of our shows musically."
The two-disc, 27-track new album was recorded over two nights last October in Holland. It contains new songs off Snakes & Arrows as well as a bevy of staples such as Freewill, Tom Sawyer and The Spirit of Radio.
The live recording process also went a bit smoother than 2003's Rush In Rio, a one-shot affair that presented several logistical nightmares.
"That was basically cross-your-fingers," Lee says. "With this one, we recorded both nights and there are songs on there from both nights -- so it gives you a bit more comfort. You're a bit more relaxed about it knowing if you screw it up at night one, you can nail it on night two. All in all I think we played very well those two nights."
And unlike groups releasing a combined live CD/DVD package, Rush aren't rushing the DVD portion out until the fall. Lee says the DVD will have the obligatory bonus footage and extras.
"We filmed both nights and it turned out really terrific, we're really quite excited about that," he says.
Rush spent a large chunk of 2007 touring, but they're already on another 49-date North American trek, which kicked off in Puerto Rico on the weekend. They play Canadian shows May 24 in Winnipeg, May 25 in Regina, May 27 in Edmonton, May 29 in Vancouver, June 12 in Montreal and July 9 in Toronto.
Lee says this current leg sees four or five changes in the set list, with some rarities played last year replaced by more signature material.
"We're playing more cities on this tour that we haven't played in quite some time," he says. "And I think those fans kind of want to hear more of the classic tracks."
The request for rarities isn't something the band ignores, but Lee says deciding which ones to dust off isn't an easy process.
"We try them out at rehearsal to see which old songs we can still stomach, and which old songs we can actually improve upon," he says.
Lee also says that the newer songs are often the toughest to pull off in concert, because of their newness and intricacies.
"When we record there are so many layers, that means we have to have a lot of samplers and sequencers that we have to trigger with our feet," he says. "And early in a tour it's always difficult to learn to sing and play at the same time. When you record it you do those things separately."
Rush have a few things in the planning stages, including a new studio album they see somewhere on the horizon. A possible Feedback II covers album of '50s and '60s rock songs is also something Lee doesn't close the door on.
"It would be fun," he says. "I think my manager goes to sleep having dreams that we'll do that. It was really a lot of fun to do and pretty easy. You never know, maybe when we're on the verge of our 50th anniversary."
A Rush documentary is also in the works, but Lee is a bit miffed why anyone would want to film the trio.
"A filmmaker thinks that we're interesting," he says. "We're doing our best to disappoint."
Originally published in the Toronto Sun, Toronto, ON on 04.14.08.
Enduring Rush, Geddy Lee keep creative, play Sunrise
The last time Geddy Lee toured with Rush, he was shadowed by an impersonator. In a video sketch used to set up one of the band's best-known songs, there was Eric Cartman, the angriest kid on Comedy Central's South Park, fronting a pint-sized tribute called "Lil' Rush."
So how did a '70s-vintage Canadian power trio hook up with one of TV's hippest cartoons? In an interview, singer and bassist Lee said it all began when his band mate, drummer Neil Peart, moved to Los Angeles and happened to meet South Park co-creator Matt Stone. The two got along, and ever since, "We've had this kind of relationship, I guess you'd want to call it," Lee said.
Lee and Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson recorded the Canadian national anthem for the score of the 1999 South Park movie. The South Park crew in turn made the concert cartoon that introduced last year's live performances of Tom Sawyer. Rush, who perform on Sunday at BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, may never get to appear on The Simpsons or play Saturday Night Live, but the South Park connection underscores the band's pop-culture saliency after 30-plus years in action.
Besides being butchered by Eric Cartman, Tom Sawyer appears - unaltered - on the soundtrack of Rob Zombie's Halloween remake. The song also has its own Wikipedia entry: "... named for Mark Twain's literary character ... relies heavily on Geddy Lee's skill as a synth player and the techniques of drummer Neil Peart ... an example of Rush's distinctive songwriting ... intelligent yet enigmatic lyrics with an intricate pattern of multiple time signatures."
Rush, with its prog-rock pedigree, has been inspiring this sort of completism and amateur scholarship since long before Wikipedia existed. Rush's musical influence on later bands isn't as widespread or easy to spot as, say, Black Sabbath's - the New York band Coheed & Cambria, all high-pitched voicings and futuristic tales, is the most conspicuous example of a real-life Lil' Rush.
But Rush is passing its DNA along in other ways. Like any classic rockers worth their salt, Rush has tracks on both the Rock Band and Guitar Hero video games. Players can strap on their plastic, push-button guitar modules and collect points "playing" the lunch pail riff of 1974's Working Man (on Rock Band) or the speedy licks of the 1981 instrumental YYZ (on Guitar Hero).
Lee, 54, doesn't view this activity as a form of semi-retirement - another grand old band becoming content to replay high points and license assets. "We still consider ourselves to be a creative band," he said, adding, "I don't have any desire to be a nostalgia band."
Last year's Snakes & Arrows was the band's 18th collection of all-new, all-original studio material - meaning Rush has been releasing fresh albums at about the rate of one disc every two years since a self-titled 1974 debut. That productivity is one example of the trio "always moving forward," as Lee put it. Another is the band's wariness of looking too far backward.
Lee cited Rush's 30th anniversary tour, in 2004. He, Peart and Lifeson wanted to observe the milestone, but a pure anthology tour "didn't feel right," Lee said. So they pegged the tour to a new album, Feedback - the first ever to feature Rush playing cover tunes. The songs were old - eight rock staples including For What It's Worth and Summertime Blues - but the gesture was novel enough to feel like progress.
At the same time, Rush is one of those bands with devoted, longtime fans who come to feel a certain ownership of the material. "They have taken those songs into their lives," Lee said. And he understands that they expect to hear those songs played in concert, and played well. He's felt the same sense of entitlement toward bands he grew up with. To hear one play "a lame ... version" of a song he loves "bums me out," he said.
Originally published in the Sun-Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale, FL on 04.11.08.