Concert review: Rush still close to the heart
It's hard to measure these things, but Rush did seem to be playing with more conviction Thursday night.
The last studio album, Snakes & Arrows, shows a band that has reinvigorated itself. The subsequent live album, Snakes & Arrows Live, shows how Rush has carried that enthusiasm onto the stage.
By my estimation, there are six live Rush albums. Each marks a progression. Each, naturally, has a different setlist -- though, over time, the band has gelled around certain songs. What the albums don't show is Rush's coy but idiosyncratic humour, and they only hint at the band's integrity.
The band -- Alex Lifeson, Geddy Lee and Neil Peart -- long ago reached a point where it absorbed current trends without altering its sound, and now has an immense musical vocabulary and has amassed a legacy that allows it to juggle its own history.
The setlist was different again last night. Did "The Trees" really work its way back in? Is this allegory for the environment more relevant now?
And for a band not known for its swing, but its mathematical precision, did Rush actually groove during "Dreamline"? And almost boogie during a section of "Freewill"?
It's evolution, and such changes show that Rush can still grow.
But what about the three food dispensers behind Geddy and the chef?
Originally published in The Province, Vancouver, BC on 05.30.08.
For a minority teen in the U.S., admitting you like Rush may be the ultimate taboo.
Rush is sometimes described as the whitest rock band in the world. Geddy Lee's high-pitched banshee-like wail can sometimes even make Morrissey sound as buttery as Al Green. I think that even when one Anglophile finds out another Anglophile listens to Rush, they are like, "Damn, you're white!"
As a member of a minority in the U.S. (which I am), admitting to your family that you're a fan might possibly be the ultimate taboo. It might even transcend the turbulence and alienation of confessing homosexuality. The shock. The horror. The confusion. Most likely your family won't even know who Rush are, and if so, you might be in the clear-but one can only be so lucky. It wouldn't surprise me if there were a black kid somewhere, as I type this, who is attempting to extol the virtues of Geddy Lee's bass chops on "Overture/The Temples of Syrinx" just before being shamed back into secrecy by his lesbian sister.
Living in South San Diego in the early '80s, I was a typical preteen. On sunny Saturdays my dad would blast his soul and funk records and the cholos would drive by in their impeccably waxed cars bumping oldies. When I was about 8, I received my first hip-hop mix tape, and witnessing a B-boy's greasy Jheri-curled head gyrating effortlessly on the marble floor in front of the local theater was probably the single most exciting public spectacle I had experienced up to that point. Then I found rock.
The kids I hung out with were a motley bunch from various ethnic backgrounds: Mexican, Guamanian, and, in my case, African-American and Filipino. We got into rock music to escape the predictable doldrums of neighborhood life. Rush seemed to be the puzzle piece that fit perfectly into the obsessive trajectory toward male puberty. First it was insects, next military weaponry, after that Star Wars (duh), then Dungeons & Dragons, and, of course, Neal Peart's drum set.
Neal Peart's drum set was fodder for hours of adoration and debate within my group of friends. It was bigger, shinier, and more accessorized than anyone else's?and he could play it with a level of technicality that was just incomprehensible to us. We would stare at live pictures trying to identify which piece made what sound on which song: "That's gotta be the glockenspiel!" I remember one of my friends practically getting into a fistfight with this fat loudmouth kid over the pronunciation of Neil's name. "Puurrrrt," my friend said. "Peee-urrrrt," the other kid snidely claimed. They had to be separated.
My friends and I had a quasi-rehearsal space in my garage that resembled Fat Albert and the gang's junkyard jam studio. We had a chalkboard set up with our band name, "YYZ" (Rush's classic instrumental track, complete with multiple time signatures), drawn on it. My drum set consisted of whatever crap was lying around that I could beat on. I vividly remember that for my snare drum I used a little wooden recipe box, and for drumsticks I repurposed some old nunchucks I'd made from a thick broomstick handle when we were all going through our martial-arts phase. I had originally painted the nunchucks silver, and when I drummed the paint would bleed off onto my hands. By the end of rehearsal, I looked like one of those gas-huffing Romanian kids covered in Auralac.
My dad was a man's man originally from southern Texas, a hardened Vietnam vet. Most of my leisure activities evoked bewilderment and regret from my pops, but this newfound music interest seemed to take his feelings of perplexity to a new level. He would peer into the garage and just shake his head. "Actin' like a fool," he'd say to me.
I used to try make my mom listen to Rush on my portable Panasonic cassette player. Looking back, I guess it was a bit of a stretch to think I could turn her on to a Canadian prog-rock power trio that put out concept albums based on dystopian tales set in the year 2112, since she was still just getting a grasp on American culture. Listening to AM Gold and Freddie Aguilar was probably the most adventurous she had ever gotten with music. I would think to myself, "She'll love the intro to 'The Trees,' she just hasn't heard it enough." I'd turn up a highly technical passage for her to hear, and she would just grimace and in her hard Filipino accent say, "Aye, it's soooo ogly!"
As I got older, I obsessed less over Rush and moved on to other bands. I knew I wanted to hang out with girls, and telling them you're a Rush fan usually isn't your biggest selling point. It's kind of like saying, "Hey, I still play with toys while I take a bath, do you wanna make out?" Like so many people, I honestly felt the albums following Moving Pictures just didn't do it for me, though I was, and still am, a fan at heart.
I eventually graduated to playing real instruments. As a musician, I've always embraced the music-nerd side of me cultivated by hours of listening to Rush. I've learned that no matter what type of musician you are, if you have the mettle to flawlessly execute Rush riffs, you will be highly revered. But if you can flawlessly execute Rush riffs, wear clothes that fit, aren't a virgin, and don't hang around Guitar Center entering contests called "Guitarmageddon" and "Bass Wars"-then you will be a god.
Originally published in Seattle Weekly, Seattle, WA on 05.28.08.
Masters of their domain
Rush proves rock-ability only improves with age
A drummer with a thousand-piece drum kit, a rock show with an intermission, fantastical lyrics that don't make sense - these are the hallmarks of a band that takes its music way too seriously.
Or they're attempting to elevate a lowbrow art form to technical and artistic heights to rival the classical masters. It all depends on how you look at it.
In short: "Progressive rock."
Love it or hate it - and I'm coming from the point of view of a guy who was devastated when my vinyl copy of Brain Salad Surgery was purposely scratched by an art rock-hating philistine - Rush is an important, Canadian part of the prog-rock canon.
A mothership drum kit, a concert in two acts and convoluted rock classics in strange chords and unruly rhythms impossible to dance to were all accounted for in the band's concert at Rexall Place last night.
As were flying saucers, laser beams, fog, mind-blowing films and blinding strobe lights - you can't have a good prog rock experience without the trappings.
Of course, with any good prog rock outfit, like any good jazz band, the musicians are expected to deliver the goods - and they did!
Neil Peart pounded his many drums and gizmos with passion and precision.
Alex Lifeson uncorked one blistering solo after another, drawing bigger cheers with each.
And Geddy Lee was the ultimate multi-tasker, yelping out the high notes as he danced from bass to foot pedals to synthesizers and back again.
Not bad for three middle-aged guys and some of the best support production money can buy.
An opening cartoon themed around snakes and arrows set the stage for what would be a generous showcase for Rush's new album, titled - you guessed it - Snakes and Arrows.
Brave of these lads to risk the classic curse of the classic rock band, the phrase "here's one from our new album now" translating to "you just have time to go for beer before we do Freebird.
But fans needn't have worried.
Familiar fare like Limelight, Freewill and The Trees were interspersed with fresh material in Act 1.
(Act 2, with its promise of 2112, YYZ and a gargantuan drum solo, was sadly missed due to an early deadline).
New songs included a twisted instrumental called The Main Monkey Business.
As if to distract from the lack of lyrics and surfeit of time signature changes in the convoluted song, visuals included a guy in a chef's hat walking out to check stacks of roasting chickens in glass cases (contrasting with stacks o' Marshalls on the other side) - no explanation here - and black and white monkey cartoons. There were big cheers for the monkeys "doing it."
Also of interest was A Larger Bowl, which seemed to have something to do with various inequities and injustices in the world, to judge by the images on the video screens.
The song was as intricate, powerful and interesting as any of Rush's best work, plus it had a worthy message.
And it was introduced with a video message from none other than Bob and Doug McKenzie - now how Canadian is that?
Around 9,000 people turned up to savour the Rush experience in all its sonic, visual and olfactory glory - including lots of rocker dads with teenagers in tow, thus assuring future generations of progressive rock fans for time to come.
Sorry, dude who scratched my record, this stuff is not going away.
IN THE SEATS
9,000 AT REXALL PLACE
A DISTINCTLY CANADIAN PROGRESSIVE ROCK EXPERIENCE - COMPLETE WITH AN APPEARANCE FROM BOB & DOUG!
4 OUT OF 5
Originally published in the Edmonton Sun, Edmonton, AB on 05.28.08.
Concert review: Rush returns to rock Regina
It took Rush 30 years to return to Regina but it certainly was worth the wait.
Geddy Lee, Neil Peart and Alex Lifeson made their first Queen City stop since 1978 on Sunday, bringing their Snakes & Arrows tour to the Brandt Centre, much to the delight of a sold-out crowd. Lee apologized for the absence, telling the crowd, "This was long overdue and we've got a gazillion songs, way too many songs, for you."
The performance opened with a dream sequence displayed on three huge video screens -- a nightmare featuring a plethora of snakes wakes Lifeson from a deep sleep. His horror is compounded when the nightmare wakes a second person in the bed: Peart. Then the scene shifts to a trailer where an abrasive Scotsman, portrayed by Lee, berates the frontman to hurry up and get out on stage.
It's a good thing Rush took the advice because it delivered a rock show in the truest form. It was the complete experience -- you heard it, you saw it, you felt it. The sound was crisp and loud and the theatrics included everything that makes a rock show great, from flashpots to lasers to pyrotechnics.
Lee's distinctive voice was in fine form. The 54-year-old still has a strong voice with the complete range than enabled him to hit all the notes, even the high, hard ones. Lee was a multitasking machine. In addition to singing, he pounded out the bass lines, played keyboards and synthesizer and manipulated numerous trigger foot pedals. He still, however, was quick to slip away from his mic stand whenever the opportunity presented itself, rocking out only as Geddy Lee can.
Perhaps the biggest question of the night concerned the line of three industrial rotisserie-chicken roasters immediately behind Lee. Apparently the sight gag is a message to fans that although Rush takes its music seriously, the band doesn't overdo it. In previous tours Rush used vending machines and front-loading washing machines to achieve the same effect.
Songs from Snakes & Arrows were featured prominently, including five in a row to start the second set, and although the crowd responded to the new music, it was the oldies that got the biggest and best reactions.
"Subdivisions" got the crowd's attention and by the time Rush completed the second set with "Spirit of the Radio," "2112" and "Tom Sawyer," the crowd was in full-blown party mode.
Peart and Lifeson took full advantage of their solo opportunities to shine. Peart's drum solo, coming out of "Malignant Narcissism," was so good it was outrageously ridiculous. Reportedly Peart makes each night's drum solo unique by starting with a basic framework interspersed with bits of improvisation. Despite his stoic expression, Peart managed to surprise the crowd when his drum stand revolved and he continued on a smaller drum kit and MIDI trigger pads before revolving back to finish with a rocking jazz riff on his original kit.
Lifeson is sometimes overshadowed by Lee and Peart but anyone who saw him play Sunday won't soon forget his lightning-fast playing. Immediately following Peart's drum solo, Lifeson took to the stage for "Hope," a cut from Snakes & Arrows. It was two minutes of acoustic magic on a 12-string guitar.
Rush reached back into the archives for its three-song encore. "One Little Victory" featured a fire-breathing dragon that set off flashpots on the stage while "A Passage To Bangkok" was set to images from the movie Reefer Madness. The 27-song performance, which clocked in just short of three hours, wrapped up with "YYZ."
Before exiting Stage Left, Lee told the crowd that he'd see them again.
Hopefully we won't have to wait another 30 years.
Originally published in The Leader-Post, Regina, SK on 05.26.08.
Can't Rush perfection
Canadian prog-rock trio's return to Winnipeg worth the quarter-of-a-century wait
Plenty of bands live up to their name. Last night's Rush concert at MTS Centre proved they ain't one of them. How so? Let me count the ways:
1) The CanRock legends weren't in any hurry to play Winnipeg. This was their first local show in about 25 years (due to our geographic isolation, not because some yahoo once threw a bottle at them, singer-bassist Geddy Lee assured me years ago when asked about that local legend).
2) The show was a pretty leisurely affair. Instead of making us sit through a who-cares opener, the casually clad trio took the stage around 7:45 p.m. after a comedic video (more on that later) for the first of two hour-plus sets. That's right; they played for nearly three freaking hours. And yes, they did do more than eight songs. Har de har, smart guy.
3) Adrenaline-charged mayhem and spontaneity were not in the equation. For the most part, Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson didn't exactly leap and bound around the stage like Mick Jagger. And their set list has barely changed since this tour began last year -- or since they released their Snakes and Arrows Live album last month. (I considered shouting the next song title during every break to make it sound like I was psychic, but luckily for everyone around me, I am way too lazy.)
Now, before you, ahem, rush to flame my inbox, let me clarify: There's nothing wrong with any of the above. After all, Rush concerts -- and I've enjoyed my share since the mid-'70s -- aren't about mayhem and untethered passion. They're about the sort of drill-team precision and consistent perfection on display last night. They're about watching Lee muti-task on bass, keyboards and foot pedals while belting out cerebral lyrics with his helium pipes. About watching Lifeson play one-man guitar army, topping layers of spacey arpeggios with knife-edge chords and searing solos. And watching Neil Peart -- undeniably one of rock's greatest drummers -- tirelessly and flawlessly drive the whole intricate, time-shifting affair from the calm centre of his massive 360° kit, where he presides with stoic concentration.
A thunderously appreciative crowd of 10,500, with no shortage of pasty, doughy, middle-aged white guys sporting rock T-shirts -- i.e., my people -- got all of that in spades.
Dirk, Lerxst and Pratt very deliberately made their way through a scheduled 27-song set that drew heavily from last year's outstanding Snakes and Arrows studio album, with '80s hits like Tom Sawyer, Limelight and Freewill coming at the expense of earlier material (though a few 2112 cuts were still to come at press time). There was the requisite eye-popping show, complete with lasers and video screens. And, of course, the mandatory jaw-dropping drum solo from Peart and his rotating red kit.
But the crowd also got something that has gained prominence in the trio's show since they were last here: Humour. Perhaps to offset their relatively static show, the band made ample and creative use of those video screens, showing artsy animations and silly sketches featuring the South Park crew, the McKenzie brothers, Jerry Stiller and the boys themselves. Another comic touch: Instead of amplifiers, Lee's side of the stage was equipped with a line of industrial rotisserie-chicken roasters (last tour it was vending machines; before that, front-loading washers). The message is simple: They take the music seriously -- but let's not overdo it.
As long as they can pull off that balancing act as expertly and effortlessly as they did last night, they're welcome to hurry back.
Where: MTS Centre
When: Sat., May 24
Sun Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5
Originally published in the Winnipeg Sun, Winnipeg, MB on 05.25.08.
Fans forgive Rush's long absence
MTS Centre crowd cheers returning prog-rock heroes
Rush made up for some lost time Saturday.
It's been 26 years since the veteran Toronto prog-rock trio last visited Winnipeg, but they made sure no one could stay angry at them for their lengthy absence with a three-hour-plus show filled with hits, new songs and classic album cuts that offered a little something for the 10,500 (mostly male) hardcore fans who filled the MTS Centre last night.
The group -- vocalist-bassist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart -- was treated to a hero's welcome the moment they walked on stage and launched into Limelight, a 1981 single off Moving Pictures about the highs and lows of fame.
A third of their setlist was culled from their three albums released between 1980 to 1982 (they played five songs off Moving Pictures) when they were becoming worldwide stars; 1982 was also the last time the band was in Winnipeg so it's likely fans at that show heard some of the same material.
The roars for the group started even before they took the stage during an opening video segment featuring Lifeson waking up from a nightmare to find Peart sleeping beside him before a Scottish Lee barked at a different version of himself to get on stage and play.
"It's nice to be back tonight after so long. Thank you for forgiving us. We'll repay you in kind with a thousand songs," Lee said to introduce 1987's Missions, which had him switching between bass and keyboard while playing effects with his feet in front of three chicken rotisserie ovens labelled The Henhouse (a man in a chef's outfit even came on stage periodically to baste the roasting birds).
Both Lee and Lifeson did double duty playing effects, included background programmed synthesizers, while holding their own on their main instruments. Lee provided the rhythmic thrust, Lifeson stood workmanlike beside him while cranking out imaginative leads and heavy chords while Peart proved his status as one of rock's all-time great drummers with a dynamic performance that at times was a show in itself.
It's not often concertgoers look forward to a drum solo, but when Peart's time came for his showcase on his rotating kit two-and-a-half hours into the show it was one of the most anticipated moments of the night and he didn't disappoint with some of his trademark gymnastics that made every other drum solo seem obsolete.
The new album was represented with nine songs. The instrumental The Main Monkey Business featured psychedelic imagery and some monkeys doing the "business" on three video screens behind the band. The video fun continued with Bob and Doug McKenzie introducing The Larger Bowl. The characters from South Park would appear later.
Fittingly for a band of their nature, the show was a spectacle of both sound and sight. The video screens were used for comedy gags and other various images while the spellbinding light show employed strobes, lasers and featured two multi-tiered rigs resembling UFOs that would descend from the rafters occasionally and add an otherworldly element to the visual eye candy.
Following a 20-minute intermission the band played five new songs in a row, which brought the energy level down a notch, but Subdivisions quickly turned things around and kick-started an end-heavy fan-favourites potion of the show with Natural Science, Witch Hunt, The Sprit of Radio, 2112 Overture/The Temples of Syrinx, Tom Sawyer, A Passage to Bangkok and YYZ ending the evening in climatic fashion.
Hopefully we won't have to wait another two decades before they return.
Originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press, Winnipeg, MB on 05.25.08.
Don't Rush them!
It's been 26 years since the legendary Canadian progressive rockers have played here...and they're sorry
Geddy Lee wants to apologize to Winnipeggers.
"I want to say sorry to Winnipeg fans that we're idiots for not coming back for so long. There's no grudge; we're just idiots," says the Rush frontman over the phone days before beginning the next leg of the band's Snakes and Arrows tour, which stops at the MTS Centre Saturday.
The Toronto prog rockers haven't played the city since 1982, and over the years there have been rumours that the band hated the city for a variety of reasons, ranging from them being insulted by the small turnout of 7,400 people at that Oct. 5 Winnipeg Arena concert to someone throwing a bottle on stage during the same show.
None of that is true: Rush doesn't have anything against Winnipeg, the 54-year-old vocalist-bassist says. The simple matter is the city just wasn't routed into the band's touring schedules.
"We basically ignored a lot of Canada to focus on the rest of the world for a long time, and as our touring slowed down, we sacrificed a lot of the world. We didn't get to England for 20 years, so it's not like we ignored Western Canada. We just concentrated on our bigger markets and just focused on the bare essentials. Now we enjoy touring more and the last couple of tours we're hitting places we haven't been to for a long time."
Since 1971, the trio -- Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart -- have released 19 studio albums that have sold an estimated 40 million copies. But the group has slowed things down in the past decade, with only three releases since 1996 and selective tours of their biggest markets. After 37 years together, the amount of time between albums and tours has become more spread out, allowing the band more down time to regenerate and keep things from becoming a grind, Lee says.
"I'm a big believer in laying fallow. I'm a big believer in after every tour getting away from each other to let the juices rejuvenate and then sitting down when we're hungry to write. When I say to Alex, 'We've got to write,' that's a good sign. It's easier to be creative (when we're) not touring. As much as touring is fun to a point, it's also a tremendous amount of work and really an upheaval in your life."
There have been many upheavals in the lives of Rush members over the past several years that had nothing to do with the band, and there was a chance the multiple Juno Award-winning group might not even continue following the death of Peart's wife and daughter in less than a year. Peart's daughter Selena died in a car accident in August 1997, and his wife Jacqueline died from cancer in June 1998.
They took some time off while Peart got his life back together and waited to see if he wanted to keep making music.
The acclaimed drummer spent 14 months touring 88,000 kilometres across North America on a motorcycle, which he documented in the book, Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road, one of four books he has written over the years.
"When we came back together after that time, there was a real good feeling to move forward," Lee says. When we came back on the road we felt emotions from the audience waiting for us, so it rejuvenated us spiritually.
"We don't put pressure on each other to remain (in the band). You remain because you want to and not by making demands of each other to come back. It's a low-key thing: 'Hey, how you doing? You feel like writing? Yeah? Come on let's make a record,' as opposed to having someone else telling you to make a record."
The first album recorded after Peart's family tragedy was 2002's Vapor Trails. That was followed by the 2004 EP, Feedback, a collection of eight covers of songs by the likes of Eddie Cochran, Cream, The Yardbirds and Buffalo Springfield.
The covers collection was recorded as a response to the emotional toll that writing and recording Vapor Trails took on the group and allowed its members to have some fun playing some of their favourite old songs, Lee says.
When it came time to writing and recording last year's Snakes and Arrows, the band decided to shake things up by enlisting the production skills of Nick Raskulinecz, best known for his work with Foo Fighters and Velvet Revolver.
"We did the Vapor Trails album, and it was difficult to do following those dark periods. This last record was an inverse experience -- it was so positive working with Nick. He was enthusiastic in terms of our musical ideas and brought our level of interest to an all time high," Lee says.
Helping to keep their spirits high were the younger fans the band was seeing on tour. After being together for so long, Lee and his bandmates were attracting multiple generations of fans at shows, which gave them an added boost during their marathon three-hour concerts.
"I think the fans help to a large degree by showing so much interest in us that it makes you feel youthful and interesting. On a record like Snakes and Arrows, which I feel is one of the best records we've ever done, it shows we're youthful and our hearts are in the right place, and that has a great impact on your life."
In an essay on the band's website, Peart, the band's primary lyricist, explains the album is based on faith, his motorcycle journeys and world issues.
Peart sends Lee sheets of lyrics and the two hash out the final version together. The band then works out a melody for the lines or makes them fit with music that's already been written.
"I have to feel for any lyric he writes before I can make music for it or write a melody for it. I have to agree with it or put myself in his place and interpret that," Lee says. "It doesn't always happen, and we have a lot of back and forth about this lyrics."
Being such a musically complex group, Rush has been known to take over a year to record an album. But this time the whole thing was done in seven weeks.
"I think, first of all, there was a confidence about the songs from the beginning, because of the way Alex and I began writing the music in a casual manner on acoustic guitar and bass like we did 25 years ago," Lee says.
"The songs came in a natural way and there was a quality of the songwriting that was apparent from the start. When Nick came into the fold, he brought such an incredible enthusiasm. He's the most positive producer I've met in my life. He creates a vibe that you can accomplish anything."
And while Rush is known as a no-nonsense band, its live shows always feature a quirky on-stage visual element. A few years ago, there were washing machines and a dryer doing laundry during concerts. This time around, there are two rotisserie ovens cooking chickens, which the band, crew and guests eat after the show, Lee says.
"Many, many years ago, man was wandering around looking for something to eat and chopped off the head of a furry bird. Then they decided it would taste better if you cooked it, so I'm just carrying on that proud tradition," he says.
Originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press, Winnipeg, MB on 05.24.08.
Review: Rock concert fans get their Rush
After weeks of hearing rock radio morning-show hosts and their listeners debate the merits of Rush, the Canadian threesome strengthened their fandom and likely added some new followers Tuesday night at the i wireless Center in Moline.
At times indulging in '80s arena rock excess - the lights that look like an alien spaceship landing, laser lights and an occasional blast of pyro here and there - the concert had a nearly constant chorus of 5,700 head-bogging, fist-pumping fans, particularly those who were stationed in the floor seats.
Rush, formed four decades ago this fall (founding drummer John Rutsey, who was with the band until 1974, died last week), has produced 18 studio albums and five live discs. While much of the band's history was explored, there was also a good chunk of its most recent album, "Snakes and Arrows," released last year.
Fans - half of whom seemingly were wearing current and past Rush T-shirts - went wild over songs such as "Freewill," "Dreamline," "Subdivisions," "The Spirit of Radio," "2112" and "Tom Sawyer."
Nearing age 55, Geddy Lee, the band's lead singer and bass player (sometimes switching to keyboards in a split second), still can attack the stage with reckless abandon, while unapologetically sticking close to video monitors on the left center stage with the lyrics of the songs. Teasing both the band and its fans ("Mullets," he sputtered, "I think I had one"), Lee is full of charisma and energy.
Guitarist Alex Lifeson was a bit more reserved, but still came on with a dramatic acoustic guitar solo towards the end of the three-hour show. Drummer Neil Peart performed a jaw-dropping solo, alternating on several different sets of percussion that brought the crowd to its feet.
The video production on the concert was particularly stellar, with three screens showing a camera trained on each of the three performers for much of the night. A humorous video with the three and some Monty Python-esque animation opened the show, while stars of other video cut-ins included Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas' "SCTV" Canuck alter-egos, Bob and Doug MacKenzie; the cast of "South Park" attempting "Tom Sawyer"; and actor Jerry Stiller, in an offbeat chicken massacre. (Chicken was an underlying theme of the night - anyone care to explain the three large rotisserie ovens at the back of the stage?)
Although Lee claimed that Rush had recorded "about 4,000" songs, the band's set of more than two dozen of those songs - no matter how new or old - got a macho seal of approval from the predominately male crowd.
Originally published in the Quad-City Times, Davenport, IA on 05.21.08.
Rush crafts top-notch show at i wireless
Forget about yesterday's "Tom Sawyer;" today's "Sawyer" is all about mean, lean pride.
I have to confess, I really can't back that up. Tuesday's Rush concert at the i wireless Center with roughly 5,500 fans was my first experience seeing the Canadian trio.
Shame on me. Rush is one of the best bands I've seen, giving off more energy than bands with twice the membership (and more than half their age). I'm not going to go as far as to say it was the best show that I've seen, but those guys are probably the most talented rock musicians to grace a Q-C stage.
It's simply master craftsmanship. Guitarist Alex Lifeson is extremely gifted. He has to be to stay out in front of a rhythm section with Geddy Lee on bass and arguably the best rock drummer ever, Neil Peart.
They also have to be on top of their game to keep up with their rapidly changing music. Rush songs are very elaborate pieces that change gears several times throughout a composition.
"Natural Science" was a prime example. That song was all over the place, slowing down, speeding up, chord changes ... the works. The end result from a lesser band would have been a choppy mess. But Rush has a remarkable ability to put it all together. It's no wonder most cover bands won't touch a Rush song.
While it was amazing to see Rush work hard to keep up with one another, it was a joy to see Peart go solo. Normally a drum solo is some obligatory portion of show that gives fans an opportunity to get more beer or grab a smoke. Not at a Rush show.
Peart's performance was nothing short of amazing. He started off with an amazing rock solo. When he was done, he stood up and his kit spun around.
The smaller, electric kit allowed hit to show off some different skills, like tapping on a keyboard with a drum stick while maintaining a rhythm with his other hand. When that was over, the kit spun around again and he played to some piped-in jazz music.
He truly is amazing.
Another highlight was "Spirit of Radio." Lifeson had a small 12-string acoustic solo that sounded great, but it nearly was forgotten when "Radio" came out of nowhere, sounding like canon fire.
The show was broken into two sets, with the former lasting more than one hour. Everyone needed the 20-minute break -- Rush, obviously to rest their bones, but the audience needed it, too.
Rush played for at least three hours. Because of deadline constraints, for all I know Rush may still be playing.
Originally published in The Dispatch, Moline, IL on 05.20.08.
The Canadian trio's return to St. Paul will be much the same as last fall. But what really bothers fans is the lack of respect from the rock establishment.
Bruce Springsteen did it. Now it's Rush's turn to revisit St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center after playing there last fall.
Does the band check September's set list to avoid too much repetition? Heck, no.
"Once we've established what the set is for the tour, it stays that way," Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson said recently during tour rehearsals in Puerto Rico.
For this leg of the tour, the Canadian rock trio has "dropped a couple of songs and put a couple of others in. We've changed a bit of the video stuff that goes on behind us," Lifeson said. "Other than that, it's pretty much the same as it was on the first half of the tour," even though half the cities will probably be repeats.
Preparing a set list requires balancing radio favorites with album tracks and material from the current CD, "Snakes + Arrows."
"There's always the core that we have to do, like 'Tom Sawyer,' 'Spirit of Radio,' those songs," he said. "And then it's really what we all bring. We all e-mail each other with suggestions so we're prepared when we go into rehearsal. This tour, we decided to do nine songs from 'Snakes + Arrows.' which is quite a bit. Normally, we do four or five from any new album."
(If you're really dying to know the set list, go to http:// rushtour2008.blogspot.com.)
Sometimes, the Toronto trio will have to relearn old songs. On their 2007 trek, the guys played "Entre Nous" (from 1980's classic "Permanent Waves") for the first time in concert. "It was going back and trying to recall what you did in the studio when you played it," Lifeson said. "A lot of it has to do with muscle memory. You go through the song once or twice and you can't quite remember what position your hand was in. Then suddenly everything clicks."
He added that singer/bassist Geddy Lee has a teleprompter onstage just in case he needs to be reminded of a lyric. (Drummer Neil Peart is the band's principal lyricist.)
These days, Lifeson, 54, thinks Rush is in a groove.
"In so many ways, we're playing better than we ever have. We're enjoying touring better than we ever have. There's so many things about it that seem to give much more pleasure at this stage of our lives. We don't feel tired or bored or at the end of it. Everybody feels excited about the future and making another record and being on the road again."
Cover of Rolling Stone?
If any Rush fans have forgotten anything about September's show, they can check out the new concert CD "Snakes + Arrows Live," taken from the tour. Are the band members afraid that a live document will give away too much about the current tour?
"With us, I don't think it matters," Lifeson admitted. "Rush fans know everything all the time anyways."
Over 35 years, Rush has developed one of rock's most devoted cults. Because the band is either loved or hated (especially by critics), the fans have "this badge of honor," said Lifeson, who occasionally reads fans' rabid postings on the Internet.
He thinks the fans are more upset than the band members about Rush never even landing on the ballot for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
"They feel really slighted by it," he said. "I've read those postings. For us, it really, really doesn't matter. It's like the Grammys; if we get nominated, we think, 'There goes our credibility if we win a Grammy.' Fortunately, we never do."
Perceptions of rock's most enduring cult band, however, may be changing. Apparently, Rolling Stone magazine has taken an unexpected interest in Rush recently, dispatching a reporter to spend a whopping four days with the trio in Canada.
"They've never been much in the way of fans of ours -- in fact, totally the opposite of that for the longest time," Lifeson said. "There's been quite a bit of friction between them and us. It was odd to us to get this request to do this big interview with them. I've yet to see how it turns out. If they want to do a cover story on Rush, then something's changing somewhere."
Maybe Rolling Stone is starting a Canadian edition, eh?
Originally published in the Star Tribune, Minneapolis, MN on 05.16.08.
Rush makes time stand still at Mandalay Bay
There is a ringing in my ears at about the same pitch as Geddy Lee's voice as it catapults the guitar solo in "Something For Nothing." I've felt this before, 11 times total, after every Rush concert I've attended, most recently last night (that would be May 10, or the day before Mother's Day) at Mandalay Bay Events Center. When I called Mom this morning to wish her a happy Mother's Day, I told her my ears were whistling because of the Rush show.
"I can't stand that band," she said.
She has never understood.
I was 16 first time I saw Rush in concert, at the Oakland Coliseum Arena during the band's Moving Pictures tour, a show from which was recorded as the classic "Exit Stage Left" live album. At the time my tastes in music ranged from Queen to AC/DC, Journey, Led Zeppelin, ELO, the Blues Brothers, a lot of the dance music that was out in the disco era (I did own the Chic album and two Village People records, and I learned The Hustle), and have loved the Beatles for as long as I can remember. But a friend of mine, a ne'er-do-well named Doug, had an older brother with an "advanced" music collection (advanced, meaning he owned a stack albums that included Y&T, Nazareth and UFO), and he played for me Rush's "2112." Whoa. It was wild. Geddy's voice jarring, higher than any woman vocalist I'd heard. I remember actually listening to the lyrics, the storytelling of the connected first side and the explosive instrumentation. It was so different, so out of the dark.
When "Moving Pictures" was released, Doug and I had a friend who worked at a record store at the mall. He called us when the shipment arrived, and we rode our bikes over to pop open the case. I still have that album, with my little fingerprints still visible from when I grabbed the fresh copy, which seemed wet with ink when I bought it.
What I remember most about that show at the Oakland Coliseum was the thick fragrance of pot that hung in the air. In those days it was a fairly common odor at concerts, especially at the Coliseum, which reeked of reefer for every show, even "Disney On Ice." I felt the stench had permeated the very structure of the arena, similar to how old kitchens can smell of garlic. It was amid that odor that the band played "Passage to Bangkok," and I turned to my buddy and said, "Hey! This song is about pot!" It's the smartest pot song ever, likely. They also played "Red Barchetta," a song about a hopped-up sports car being aired out on a country road.
Since, I've owned every Rush release, most in multiple forms. I've got nine CD versions of "Tom Sawyer," "The Spirit of Radio" and "Freewill." I've seen them in Oakland, San Francisco, Sacramento, Reno and here in Vegas. When they took the stage at Mandalay Bay, many in the audience had seen a dozen shows just on this tour - it seems Rush is becoming the next Grateful Dead, with a loyal (but smaller, and probably richer) collection of fans hooking onto large segments of each world tour. I spoke to one woman who has seen four shows on this tour and had seen the band 24 times over the years (contrary to popular belief, Rush does have female fans; behind me in the ticket line was Glynda Rhodes, wife of Vegas land magnate Jim Rhodes). Rush is the rare band that can actually tour in support of a live album - the set list was largely unchanged from the 2007 Snakes & Arrows tour, after which the band released "Snakes & Arrows Live," then launched another Snakes & Arrows tour.
It was not the best Rush show I've seen, given that I'd seen essentially the same show less than a year ago, but the band was characteristically powerful and added touches of humor with video cameos by Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis (reprising their Bob and Doug McKenzie roles for a Great White North skit) and the boys from "South Park," performing a garage version of the indefatigable "Tom Sawyer." The crowd was suitably aged, most graying or, like Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson, admirably fighting a recession. There was also a large contingent of people carrying a Chilean flag, as Rush is huge in South America (and I expect one day they will be big in Japan, too. It's inevitable).
There were some kids, too, as fathers tugged curious teens to the concert; Dennis Miller even spoke of taking his teenage son to a Rush show during this tour. On Saturday, as Geddy announced "a song about a car" to introduce "Red Barchetta," I looked to my left, in the row in front of me, and noticed a young man, probably age 16, standing with his fingers pressed hard against his ears.
From one Rush fan to another: Good move, kid. Good move.
Originally published in the Las Vegas Sun, Las Vegas, NV on 05.11.08.
RUSH - [LIVE]
I'll be the first to admit that I had always kind of taken Rush for granted. When a band has been around over 35 years, it's easy to say, "Oh, Rush will be touring again, I'll catch them next time." Well, after saying that to myself year after year, I finally went and saw Rush live and from the opening power chords of "Limelight," I realized that I had been missing something truly spectacular all these years.
Starting the almost three-hour-long show with a crazy Kabuki inspired dream sequence video, Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and drum god Neil Peart were extremely high energy, and despite the cool wind that constantly flowed through the pavilion, the three of them were as electric as their music. After an already mentioned "Limelight," the band delivered what seemed to be slightly condensed versions of "Digital Man," "Mission" and "Ghost of a Chance." All sounded amazing, and were really brought to life by the video screens behind them, which featured not only live video of them, but also some very cool computer generated graphics as well. And although I was at first distracted by the three rotisserie chicken ovens behind Lee (I later learned that he uses the house amps, and decided to fill the void left by his missing amp cabinets, as well as show off his wacky Canadian humor, by using the ovens), I was totally mesmerized by the awe inspiring musicians in front of me. Lifeson was getting amazing sound out of his Les Paul (his guitar work on "The Main Monkey Business" off 2007's Snakes & Arrows blew me away), while Lee showed the crowd why he is such a highly acclaimed bass player, and how he was able to effortlessly switch from bass to keyboard was beyond me. As for Neal Peart, what can one possibly say? The guy is one of the greatest drummers of all time, and his drumming was so loud and so clear, it almost seemed that the music was supporting his drums, and not the other way around. Even more mind blowing was the that Peart was actually playing two kits tonight, and just before "The Trees," (one of my favorite Rush songs) his kit rotated 180 degrees, and he simply got up, got in front of the kit now in front of him and together with Lee and Lifeson delivered a pretty killer rendition of the song. Lee then told the crowd that it was time to travel back to the 80s, to a time of big hair, mullets and a song about a red car. Needless to say "Red Barchetta" from 1981's Moving Pictures was next, and I don't think I've ever seen so many people air drumming in my life. After a smokin' version of "Dreamline," Lee announced to the crowd that "We ain't no spring chickens anymore," and said it was time for a break, and the three of them left the stage. Fear not however, Rush would return.
After about a half-hour intermission, and another Canadian humor-inspired dream-sequence video, Rush returned to the stage, and pretty much picked up right were they left off. Kicking off the second set with songs off of Snakes & Arrows, including "Far Cry," "Workin' Then Angels," "Armor and Sword" and "Spindrift," the band now shifted the show into high gear, and just about every song was accompanied by lasers, fireballs and explosions. With the warm smell of colitas that was now rising through the air, this show was starting to feel like a 70s arena rock concert, and by the time I heard "Subdivisions" from Signals, I could have been 13 years old and standing on the floor of The Cow Palace. And just when I started coming back to 2008, Neal Peart proceeded to put on one of the most magnificent drum solos I have every witnessed in my life. Taking full advantage of both kits, he showed the crowd why he is not just a rock drum god, but also a true master of the drums. I usually grow tired 5 minutes into a drum solo, but Peart could have performed a three-hour solo for the entire show and I don't think anyone in the crowd would have complained. Using trigger pads, it seemed that he was able to produce every sound imaginable, and his solo slowly morphed from traditional rock drumming to a much more intricate jazz sound, leaving everyone watching in total awe.
Continuing to please the crowd with the classics, Rush pumped out a nice little rendition of Permanent Waves' "Spirit of the Radio" before the "starman" image appeared on the three giant video screens. The place absolutely erupted, and the band didn't disappoint and proceeded to deliver the goods with an amazing version of "2112 Overture/The Temples of Syrinx." How could they have ever have topped that you may ask? Well just when it seemed Rush had finally hit their peak, the stage dimmed and the characters from South Park appeared on the video screens. I don't want to give too much away here, but let's just say the video was just as funny as any South Park episode, and a perfect prelude into "Tom Sawyer," which was a perfect song for Rush to end the second set with. Returning to the stage one last time, Rush continued to give the audience the classics they wanted to hear, and after "One Little Victory," "A Passage to Bangkok" and "YYZ," the evening finally came to a close.
After the show I was walking back to my car and looking for words to describe what I had just witnessed, all I could really think of was, Wow, now THAT was a rock show!
Originally published in Ground Control Magazine on 05.11.08.
Concert Review: Rush
A model of consistency with the capacity to thrill packed houses close to 30 years after creating genre-defining albums, Rush remains an enigma that floats along in a universe it controls by its lonesome. Tuesday at a sold-out Nokia, their show went 3 1/2 hours with intermission and resembled many of their shows that have come before -- the trio deftly playing their instruments with a casual air, flawlessly re-creating and never reinventing their recordings, the devoted fan base reacting with air drums, air guitars and air batons. Unlike their peers, Rush can step forward from the past and venture beyond prog-rock confines moving toward pop -- "Ghost of Chance" could be a George Michael hit -- or even straight-forward hard rock like "Armor and Sword."
Current tour, with a set list of 27 songs, is a curious one: It's program is based on a live album, released April 15, that chronicled the tour that followed the last studio album, "Snakes & Arrows," which was released a year ago this week. Tour is taking them to long-overlooked cities and into new venues such as the Nokia, about the smallest place Rush has played in L.A. in 20 years. (Volume, however, was at a level needed to reach from the Hollywood Bowl to the San Fernando Valley). Presence of "Snakes & Arrows Live" benefits Rush concert virgins by providing an idea of what to expect, specifically a greater emphasis on traditional melody than the '80s albums, a more rounded bottom within Geddy Lee's trademark wail and, of course, brilliant drumming from Neil Peart.
Beyond his stick work, Peart's unique powers show up in the songwriting, his pedagogical approach to the philosophical and the honorable unique within rock music in the past three decades. As a drummer, he is peerless in alternating between holding down a beat and cutting through the din created by Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson. His solo toward the end of the evening is a stunner -- he goes two minutes before he ever even taps a cymbal -- and he culminates the showcase with a big-band tribute to his idol Buddy Rich, although the precision with which he plays deserves comparison to Rich protégé Ed Shaugnessy as well.
Solo seg sits squarely in the middle of a block of tunes the band appears to rely on for a second wind. "The Way the Wind Blows," about as close to the blues as Rush has ever come, eases into "Subdivisions," the FM radio staple from '82 that Lee sings with an elevated level of circumspection, and finally the intricately designed "Natural Science," one of the epics from 1980's landmark "Permanent Waves."
It's all a set-up for glorious versions of "The Spirit of Radio" and "2112: Overture/The Temples of Syrinx," which feature Lifeson at his most tenacious; the two tunes may well be the only times the guitarist lets the audience see him step outside his cool demeanor. "Tom Sawyer," natch, closes the main show; "YYZ" is the last of three encores.
Quibble as one might that the trio is shackled not only to a specific repertoire but also the order in which songs are played, it works as well for them as it does in the legit theater. Stage is clear except for a set of eight amps stacked in pairs, Peart's revolving drum platform and three vertical rotisserie ovens stocked with whole chickens. (They replace the last tour's clothes dryers).
The 3 1/2 hours of music-making are accompanied by video imagery -- live action, animation, vintage footage and performance shots -- that's crisply reproduced and generally enthralling. Using B&W footage of apes and chimps is a bit too spot-on accompanying "The Main Monkey Business," one of "Arrows & Snakes'" stronger tracks, but then again, who doesn't get a chuckle watching lower primates execute human tasks?
Originally published in Variety, Los Angeles, CA on 05.07.08.
Rush still fierce in a smaller setting
Review: The highly skilled trio's first intimate show at Nokia Theatre in L.A. maintains the level of vigor that has marked its late-career peak.
Logic would dictate that if a live encounter is somehow out-of-the-ordinary for fans, it must also be so for the band they're cheering on.
In other words, should long-running Canadian trio Rush play rare gigs at a relatively smallish venue like the new 7,100-seat Nokia Theatre in downtown Los Angeles, as it did Tuesday and will again Thursday, then it must be as intimate and radically different an experience for the makers of "Moving Pictures" and "2112" as it is for those of us who know every riff and fill from those classic albums.
Yet, much as he seemed to wish that were true when he called a few weeks ago from tour rehearsals in Puerto Rico, Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson admits there isn't much change between playing a midsize place like Nokia and the usual large-scale spots the group typically headlines - like the twice-as-large Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine, where the band returns Sunday.
"You might feel the energy a little differently in a place like (Nokia), but you're sort of locked into things," he says. "And the stage is the stage - provided it's the same size, it really doesn't matter if you're in a 2,000-seat hall or a 20,000-seat amphitheater, generally speaking. You can't see very far out into the house, anyway.
"And with in-ear monitors now, you're really kinda isolated. Which in one way is great, because it provides a much better platform for you to do your work from - you can hear everything so much clearer, intonations are better, tones are better. All of that stuff works for a better performance. But you feel a little disconnected from the audience sometimes with those things. That's the one thing I miss - the noise on the stage, people shouting."
I imagine those few fans that can be spotted beyond the glare of the spotlights must look quite deranged - hollering hosannas and shouting lyrics as if caught in an invisible cone of silence. "Yeah, exactly - you become a lip-reader," Lifeson says.
Still, regardless how Tuesday's show felt for the men of Rush - Lifeson, bassist-vocalist Geddy Lee and drummer extraordinaire Neil Peart, all now in their mid-50s - it surely was something special for the capacity crowd, an up-close and often sensory-overloading display from rock titans who haven't played anything but the biggest locations in Southern California since the early '80s.
It was better, however, if you thought to bring earplugs. "The sound in there was something else," I heard one ecstatic frat bro say to his friends while walking back to the car, not realizing how that comment could cut both ways.
Without anything to reduce the incessant white-noise that Nokia's poor acoustics tends to propagate, every crash of Peart's cymbals and high-pitched wail from Lifeson's Gibson guitar washed over the mix in tidal waves, obliterating Lee's bass, obscuring even his most operatic singing. (It'll probably sound better in the open Irvine air.)
And about those one-of-a-kind vocals: They're still sharp, yes, but Lee requires considerable warm-up time. "Limelight," the evening's opener, found his phrasing lagging behind the beat and his yelping almost cartoonish. It wasn't until later in the first of two sets, when "Red Barchetta" gave way to "The Trees," that he gained complete control - and then he wowed consistently with notes Freddie Mercury would have found tough to hit.
Still, despite such initial misgivings, Rush's set Tuesday clearly thrilled this audience of die-hards who know every complex twist of epics like "Natural Science" and "Digital Man" and newbies who just discovered the band by mastering "YYZ" on "Guitar Hero." No matter the lapses in sound quality, there's no question that Rush's musicianship is beyond reproach.
Peart, at the center of an expansive 360-degree kit that occasionally spun around so he could bash at an electronic portion, remains a marvel, stoic and workmanlike but with unrivaled chops. Lee, looking more like Frank Zappa than ever, is like a gifted octopus, his limbs picking his ax or pedaling out deep-bass tones or pushing at his old-school synth setup, often simultaneously.
And Lifeson, long one of the most underrated guitarists in rock, has reached a point in his career where he makes it look easy. His playing balances a need for the familiar with a desire for expansion, while his rapid fingering on riffs like the one that fuels "The Spirit of Radio" arrives relaxed yet flawless.
Best of all, the trio's instinctive dynamic - expertly wielded while tumbling in and out of the midsection of "Freewill" and throughout taut instrumentals like "The Main Monkey Business" - is the sort one only finds in rare groups that have survived intact. (Lee and Lifeson have been playing together for 40 years now, and with Peart since '74.) Amazing, then, that rather than coasting, Rush seems to be playing with more vigor and intensity than it has in at least a decade - the proof of which can be seen and heard on 2003's immense DVD "Rush in Rio" or the new "Snakes & Arrows Live" disc.
Lifeson attributes such late-career peaking to a determination to make every moment count these days. Way back when, "You're just waiting for the next gig, the next album, the next phase." But after tragedy struck Peart in the late '90s - his first wife Jacqueline died of cancer months after their only daughter Selena was killed in a car accident - the band's future seemed uncertain for a time.
"We all really don't take anything for granted anymore," he says. "There's definitely a maturity that you reach, where you're more comfortable in your skin and confident in your playing. We're in a really good space now. But we came really close to calling it quits.
"And to have come through it ... there's just more significance now to touring. Every show we play now is like the last time we're gonna play. We really try to make the most of it."
Originally published in the Orange County Register, Santa Ana, CA on 05.07.08.
Live Review: Rush at Nokia Theatre
Bottom Line: Another loud, long, fun and funny set from one of rock's greatest live acts.
Rush doesn't throw a lot of curveballs live, which made its 2004 tour such a kick -- or a kick in the teeth to grizzled purists. That 30th anniversary jaunt included covers and a sit-down acoustic segment, both firsts for the band.
But at the sold-out Nokia on Tuesday -- Rush's second visit to L.A. in less than 10 months -- it was back to business as usual. And business is good.
The Canadian prog-metal mainstays delivered a long, loud, well-paced show awash in humor, theatrics and typically virtuoso playing. Rarely straying far from recorded versions of its songs, the band kept up its intensity for nearly 3 1/2 hours -- and the floor crowd never sat, except during intermission.
Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart have been making it look so easy for so long that it's tempting to take them for granted. But the band continues to look forward, playing only three songs from the '70s and a slew from its year-old "Snakes & Arrows" album, among its strongest in many years. (The band is touring behind the just-released "Snakes & Arrows Live.") Among the 2007 album's standouts were lead single "Far Cry" and "The Larger Bowl," introduced by Bob and Doug McKenzie via the giant vid screens.
Lee's voice broke a couple of times during the opening "Limelight" but held up well for the rest of the show, though it often was muddied amid the din. He played hit-or-miss with the highest notes, drilling them during "Freewill" early on but not even attempting the grimacing screech of "The Temples of Syrinx" three hours later. His bass playing remains impeccable -- as enjoyable to watch as hear.
Wearing his unsmiling game face, Peart drummed on his 360° kit with a perfectionist's calculation. His storied fills mostly followed the albums smack for smack, but he's a little less showy at 57 and made less use of his most exotic percussion instruments. His nine-minute solo during 2008 Grammy-nommed instrumental "Malignant Narcissism" devolved into a tape-accompanied swing thing. And after a late one-two of some "2112" and "Tom Sawyer," many of the air drummers in the mostly male crowd looked spent.
Just another brilliant Rush concert. It's time to lose the snarky excuses and put these guys in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The band returns to the Nokia Thursday night (May 8).
Originally published in the Hollywood Reporter, Hollywood, CA on 05.06.08.
Rush still relevant
Not many rock bands feel fresh and relevant three decades after they've made the scene, but what Rush did in the 1970s and '80s it continues to do today.
And it still works.
The Canadian power trio played a packed Reno Events Center Saturday, delivering a show that was lengthy, energetic and technically brilliant. In fact, the only real disappointment was a set that spanned the group's career yet placed a disappointingly heavy emphasis on its latest album, "Snakes and Arrows."
It's a credit to bassist-vocalist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart that they're still crafting creative and listenable music, but 90 percent of the folks who go to a rock show are hoping to hear favorites. So, it's a tad self-indulgent when a band focuses on tunes that half the crowd won't know.
Rush did, at least, open with a favorite, kicking things off with "Limelight," a hook-heavy rocker from 1981's "Moving Pictures" album. But rather than stick with the most familiar material, the boys dug deep into their catalog, following "Limelight" with the lesser-known "Digital Man," "Ghost of a Chance" and "Mission."
Because the concert also included nine songs from "Snakes and Arrows," one would have expected the gaps to be filled by familiar favorites like "Closer to the Heart," "New World Man," "Distant Early Warning" and "Fly By Night." But none of those tunes made the cut. Instead, the band concentrated on obscure material and paused only to play absolute musts: "Tom Sawyer," "Red Barchetta," "Subdivisions" and "The Spirit of the Radio."
Of course, Rush was never about hit singles. In fact, the group has only had a handful during its three-decade career. So, it's somewhat forgivable when this band focuses on new material and album cuts, choosing to show off the musicianship of the players rather than spend its energy on a hit parade.
The beauty of Rush has always been the sheer talent each player brings to the gig. These are musician's musicians who rank among the greatest in the world at their instruments individually. So, when they're together on stage, there's a convergence of complex bass lines, eclectic yet technically astounding guitar and phenomenal drumming. Ignore the driving backbeat and wailing electric guitar and what these musicians do seems more like freestyle jazz than hard rock, which is, of course, the point of a progressive rock band.
It's noteworthy, too, that age hasn't slowed these Canadian rockers. Saturday, they plowed through nearly 30 songs and were on stage for close to three hours, all the while looking as spry as teenagers. More importantly, the music hasn't lost a beat. Peart is still one of the most phenomenal drummers in the world, Lifeson shifts effortlessly between smart solos and solid rhythm playing and Lee is as strong voiced as ever, not to mention that he still plays bass like a mad man.
Watching these three on stage is just plain fun. Throw in occasional pyrotechnics, a terrific light show, videos played between and during songs, and you have one terrific rock show.
What's more, Lee deserves credit for pronouncing Nevada correctly each and every time he mentioned our fair state. For that, we'll forgive him for skipping "New World Man."
Originally published in the Reno Gazette-Journal, Reno, NV on 05.05.08.
No conclusion for Rush
Rush fans love their band. Music critics, not as much. Despite a long and stellar career that began in 1968, Rush has yet to be inducted into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame. Fans are peeved, as evidenced by Internet petitions created to get the band inducted. Guitarist Alex Lifeson appreciates the fans' efforts, but isn't upset that the band has yet to be inducted.
"It doesn't matter at all," Lifeson says. "If we were inducted it would mean we'd probably have to go up there (to Cleveland) and play there."
Since releasing its self-titled debut album in 1974, the Canadian power trio has had a line of gold and platinum records. The band wrote the soundtrack to many lives with its 1976 release, "2112," a concept album based on the writings of Ayn Rand. That album, featuring Geddy Lee's high-pitched vocals, drummer and songwriter Neil Peart's thematically woven songs and Alex Lifeson's intricate guitar-playing, gave Rush a lifetime license to make music the way it wanted.
"That album bought us our independence," Lifeson says. "We've never put much onus on writing a hit single. So, (the album's success) has allowed us to make the music we wanted to make. We developed a really strong and loyal fan base. In some ways, we're a really successful cult band. A lot of people still don't know who we are. But it's very gratifying to still be at it and still playing with that same attitude."
Rush continued building its audience with its fusion of hard rock and progressive sounds with "A Farewell to Kings" in 1977, "Hemispheres" in 1978, "Permanent Waves" in 1980 and "Moving Pictures" in 1981. The latter album has been called one of the greatest hard rock albums of all time by some music critics. Rush fans are familiar with the songs "Tom Sawyer," "Red Barchetta," "YYZ" and "Limelight" from that album. Other well-known songs from that period of Rush's career include "Working Man" and "The Spirit of Radio." Following albums such as "Signals," in 1982 (which contained the hit "New World Man"), "Grace Under Pressure" in 1984 and "Power Windows" in 1985 sold millions.
Rush became one of the hardest-working tour bands on the circuit and consistently packed arenas and amphitheaters with mostly male fans.
"Our concerts back then were about 99.9 percent guys," Lifeson says. "They all were into playing air guitar and air drumming. We were all about the playing and the musicianship. There was no real female appeal. None of us are particularly cute. The music we played was more male-testosterone music, kind of like Led Zeppelin. Those were our roots back then."
How times have changed.
With its 2007 release of "Snakes and Arrows," on Atlantic Records, Lifeson says the band is seeing a much more gender-diverse crowd.
"Now we'll see groups of girls come down on their own," he says. "That's something you wouldn't have seen (in the band's early days)."
Most things move in cycles. Rush's musical appeal was no different. By the late 1980s through the 1990s, Rush continued to make music, but added few new fans. Band members got older. Personal tragedies struck. But still, they persevered.
That the band never embraced the drug-addicted rock-star lifestyle helped it through the rougher times.
"We all come from very middle-class backgrounds," Lifeson says. "We've known each other most of our lives. I introduced Geddy's wife to him when we were 17. We've always been very rooted with a good work ethic and upbringing.
"We've had our crazy times, don't get me wrong. But we've always taken our music seriously. We were never really a wild band. We never wanted anything to get in the way of our music."
Now, an entire generation of new fans are coming to shows. Lifeson says he noticed a young girl, maybe 9 or 10, at a Rush concert with her mom a few nights back.
"She sang every word to every song," he says of the young girl. "I was blown away. I thought, What sort of impact have we had that she would learn all the words to all of our songs?' It was very special."
Video games such as "Guitar Hero" have introduced Rush to a newer generation of fans, Lifeson says.
Lifeson considers Rush's latest CD, "Snakes and Arrows," one of its best. A live version of the same album was recently released.
The band performs nine songs from "Snakes and Arrows" on its current tour.
"That's a pretty good indicator of how much we and the audience enjoys it," Lifeson says of "Snakes and Arrows." "We normally play four or five songs from a recent album on tour. But it seems everyone has become familiar with the material. We see people singing all the time. It's gone over very well. It's always a pleasure to play new material."
Originally published in the Reno Gazette-Journal, Reno, NV on 05.02.08.
Rush highlights new material
Most bands that have endured for three or more decades feel compelled to essentially play a greatest-hits set in their concerts. Be it Aerosmith, the Rolling Stones, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard or Journey, these groups will sprinkle in perhaps three or four new songs into a live set at best.
Rush is a prime exception to that rule, and at no time has that been more apparent than on the group's tour in support of its 2007 studio CD, "Snakes & Arrows."
On the tour, which resumes this month, the band has been playing nine of the 11 songs from "Snakes & Arrows." In a late-March phone interview guitarist Alex Lifeson said two factors allow Rush to showcase so much of the new material live -- the band's satisfaction with "Snakes & Arrows" and the length of the band's set.
"First of all, we felt so strongly about it," Lifeson said of "Snakes & Arrows. "We were very happy with the results of the record. ... In the past we probably would have done three or four, maybe five, from a new album. But this one, we just couldn't, we wanted to play the whole thing. ... And in doing over three hours, it allows us to get a chunk of the new material in, as well as revisiting older stuff."
Just as important, Lifeson said, many Rush fans seem to mirror the band in its desire to live in the present and push forward musically.
"I want to think that Rush fans want to hear that anyway. They want to hear the new stuff," he said. "Sure, 'Tom Sawyer' or 'Spirit of the Radio' are great, but they want to see where the band's going and how we can replicate what we do in the studio, still."
Rush, in fact, is proud enough of "Snakes & Arrows" and the shows the band performed last year on the first half of the tour to release a two-CD set in April culled from two shows in Rotterdam, Netherlands called "Snakes & Arrows Live." A DVD shot during those same concerts will be released later this year.
The members of Rush are Lifeson, singer/bassist Geddy Lee and drummer Neil Peart.
"Snakes & Arrows" has provided a heartening high point for a band that had endured its share of heartache and uncertainty in recent years.
Formed in 1974 in Toronto, the band's future was thrown into question when, in 1997, Peart's 19-year-old daughter, Selena, was killed in a one-car accident near Brighton, Ontario. About a year later, his wife, Jackie, succumbed to cancer.
The band put everything on hold, and Peart (who remarried in 2000) hadn't even picked up his drum sticks for almost four years when in fall 2000 the group decided to return to the studio and try to resume its career.
The band found a groove and returned in 2002 with the CD "Vapor Trails."
Originally published in The Press-Enterprise, Riverside, CA on 05.01.08.