"We've got 6,000 songs to do, so let's get with it."
Rush bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee might have been joking, but something about his hyperbolic statement, made early in last night's nearly three-hour set by the legendary prog rock band rang completely true. Most 44-year-old bands are content to plot out a greatest hits set, maybe sneaking in a new tune here and there. Not Lee, drummer Neil Peart, and guitarist Alex Lifeson. The band's set was filled with deep cuts, extended solos, and a good chunk of the band's new sci-fi/steampunk record, Clockwork Angels.
The trio's shows are big productions, including elaborate lights and intricate videos (starring Jay Baruchel and the members of Rush as Three Stooges-like gnomes), and featuring, on this tour, a full string section.
But the technical prowess of the three Rush men remains the primary flash, and none disappointed. Lifeson goofed with the crowd and showed off his chops on a black Gibson Les Paul during signature solos in "Analog Kid" and "Force 10"; Peart offered up three (count 'em, three) extended drum solos, including a stint on an electronic kit that led into "Red Sector A"; and Lee, with his distinctive yap and grainy bass manipulation, held the whole thing together, adding quips like Dr. Evil's famous "one million dollars" cackle to the end of "The Big Money" and encouraging the crowd to "raise the roof" during the wonderfully awkward dance section of "Wish Them Well."
Cameramen scurried about during the evening, capturing the detail and pomp of the Canadian power trio for an upcoming live DVD. The fans seemed extra-excited about the possibility of one day seeing their face in an official Rush live release. They unapologetically air-drummed, jumped, and shouted along every lyric. When the band took a breather following the expressive "Far Cry," I heard nearby Rush-philes buzzing about the inclusion of "Middletown Dreams," from 1985's Power Windows. "We got 'Middletown Dreams,'" they excitedly stammered, proving the power of the deep cut.
For all the ponderous themes explored by Rush, like the urban sprawl of "Subdivisions," the bleak concentration camp scenes of "Red Section A," and the Objectivism-tinged sci-fi epic of "2112" (and its many overtures and sections), Rush is a lot of fun. The band swapped out the "star man" for Stewie from Family Guy and flashed Three Stooges clips during "The Big Money." The band's "Watchmaker" videos, tied to the epic story of Clockwork Angels, reveled in a sense of humor one might not expect from a detailed, complex storyline that's actually been novelized by noted sci-fi author Kevin J. Anderson.
But the band's Clockwork Angels set, which opened the second half of the show and found the trio aided by an adept and theatrical string section, was the heaviest section of the night. The band's crunchy new record translated well live: "Caravan" thundered like classic material, whereas "Carnies" was more pop-focused, with grind and swing that modern hard rock bands should take a cue from.
"The Garden," with its psychedelic imagery and slow-motion stomp temporarily lost me, but the band quickly rebounded with "Manhattan Project," another one of those "big idea" songs that had the crowd chanting and screaming as video projections of Hiroshima's destruction rolled on. Heavy, indeed.
The band's closing set was joyful, just pure rock exuberance. Classic instrumental "YYZ" revved up to the band's classic single "Spirit of the Radio." It could have ended there, but band returned to offer up its most popular tune, "Tom Sawyer," and then just to prove indifference to the radio and mainstream popularity, segued into parts of the side A-filling "2112" suite, from 1976's 2112.
"We have assumed control," the loud speakers blared as the Lee, Peart, and Lifeson triumphantly vamped. But the band had control from the moment it took the stage, and the fans couldn't have been more pleased about it.
Last Night: The Holy Triumvirate, uh, I mean, Rush @ US Airways Center
The Crowd: Ponytailed prog aficionados, a few scattered post-rock types, short-sporting dads and uncles, a group of ladies flashing a homemade sign reading: "#Mythbusters: Girls Do Love Rush." Oh, and lots and lots of folks in Rush shirts.
Overheard: "Someone must be reprinting classic Rush shirts, because I saw a guy wearing a pristine Moving Pictures tee, and I know he wasn't there."
Choice Lyrics: "The truth is contrary," from "The Wreckers," and "It's really just a question of your honesty," from the most "hell yeah"-inspiring "Spirit of the Radio."
Questionable Choice, Dude: The guy taking his Coldstone Creamery "Love It"-sized waffle cone into the crowded bathroom, holding it in one hand while handling his business with the other.--Jason P. Woodbury
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