Birmingham Evening Mail
NEC Special Edition
September 11 & 15, 2004
by Andy Coleman
NEC ARENA, BIRMINGHAM
SEPTEMBER 11 & 15, 2004
It was 30 years ago the current Rush line-up and launched a career that has resulted In 35 million album sales worldwide.
Vocalist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Nell Peart also undertook their first US tour in 1974 to support their self-titled debut album which became the biggest selling debut album any Canadian band had ever released.
Fly By Night and Caress Of Steel followed in 1975 but it was 1978's 2112 with which they hit the jackpot.
Based on the work of novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand, the million-selling record took the ideas of freewill and individualism as its central themes.
It signaled a period of huge success around the world with stadium and arena-filling shows and major releases like Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures.
During the eighties and early nineties their popularity was maintained but in 1997 the band thought the end had come.
Main songwriter Neil Peart lost his only child Selena to cancer, then 10 months later, his wife Jackie died of cancer.
"We just didn't know whether we'd ever perform together as a band again," recalls Alex Lifeson.
Remarkably, Peart overcame his sadness by motorcycling across North America and writing a book, Ghost Rider: Travels On The Healing Road.
In 2002 he returned to Rush for the Vapor Trails album and tour. But it was a tour that by-passed the UK.
"We tried to get over to the UK on that tour but we left it too late. Many venues were already booked up," says Alex.
"We could have come back later but it would have been six months after the original tour had ended." It was vocalist Geddy Lee who insisted that Britain was included in the schedule for the 2004 30th anniversary tour.
"Geddy said that unless we visited the UK and Europe he would not go out on tour," claims Alex. "So we sorted those dates out first and only then began booking shows in America. The UK was given priority."
Despite Geddy's insistence on British dates the band worried they'd been forgotten in the UK.
"We hoped we still had some fans there but we were completely surprised and amazed when tickets sold so quickly and extra dates had to be added," says Alex.
After 30 years of Rush, Alex says the appetite and enthusiasm for the music is still as strong.
"On the last tour we played three hour shows, this time around it's three hours 20 minutes so there's no question of cutting back. There's just so much material.
"And after 30 years it's still a great deal of fun. We're also still great friends. Geddy and I live just five minutes away from each other in Toronto and on our days off we meet up for lunch or to play tennis.
"It's a pleasure to be on stage and I reckon we're now playing better than ever."
But after so long on the road, and at the age of 51, where does Alex find the energy to get up on stage every night?
"That's a good question," grins the amiable Canadian. "I practice yoga in my room for an hour every day, and another 20 minutes before shows.
"I also play a lot of golf and tennis and regularly go the gym. Keep the body strong and tough, that's the secret."
Not that Rush make things easy for themselves.
"It's quite an energetic set and in the summer when it's so humid we lose six to seven pounds in weight per show."
Alex promises the works when Rush perform In Britain - that means a spectacular light show and effects.
"We don't want to short change our fans," he says. "That's why the shows are so long; there's so much material it's tough knowing what to leave out. We want to make it satisfying for us as well as the audience.
"When we played in Mexico City and South America last year we discovered our best loved song there was 'Closer To The Heart which we'd dropped from the set for the tour.
"Not wanting to disappoint the fans, we re-learnt the song during soundchecks and put it back into the set, which is unheard of for us because we like to get things fully rehearsed down to the last detail."
Among the songs we'll be hearing at the NEC shows are four from the Rush mini album, Feedback, a collection of covers of songs the band were influenced by when they were starting out 30 years ago.
"A friend of ours suggested we do it to mark our 30th anniversary and initially we said no because we write all our own material.
"But the more we thought and talked about it the better the idea sounded so we decided to try a few songs. We had so much fun!
"It was not a difficult project and we decked the studio out with candies, rugs and lava lamps to create the right atmosphere.
"We recorded all together in one room - usually we're off on our own doing our separate parts.
"We got to eight songs then ran out of time as we had other things scheduled. If we'd have had more time we'd like to have done 13 or 14 songs."
Coincidentally, the finished record clocks in at just 30 minutes - one minute for every year of the band - something, says Alex, that wasn't planned.
"I didn't even know it was 30 minutes long," he claims. "Wait till I tell the others that!"
There are no plans for another covers album ("We don't like repeating ourselves") but the studio used for Feedback may be booked for the recording of the next original material record.
"It had all this vintage equipment and we learnt that recording together does have its advantages. In the past we've been very analytical about the process but I think the Feedback sessions had more soul.
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