I can't claim to be anything more than an appreciative "late adopter" where Rush is concerned.
Despite observing a casual, arm's-length appreciation for Toronto's most successful gift ever to the annals of rock 'n' roll history - 43 million records sold and counting over the past 44 years, thank you very much - since first coming across "Subdivisions" way back in 1982, it was only once my "professional" life started putting me in front of the band's live shows on a semi-regular basis that I moved beyond a "don't quite get it, but get why people get it" stance and reached a point where I can now not only easily tolerate three hours at a Rush show but actually even look forward to it a little bit.
Rush makes far more sense live. Particularly in Canada, where attending a Rush concert is almost a matter of patriotic duty, something you must eventually do if you wish to assume full citizenship. Rush is a Canadian thing, like toques or skating or Pierre Berton or The Rick Mercer Report.
And seeing Rush in Toronto - the city for which "YYZ" is named - is another thing altogether. It bordered on the religious, the way the Air Canada Centre lit up after the first of Neil Peart's solo turns on the world's most overstocked drum kit on Sunday night.
And whether you've come around to their charms or not, the way the "The Spirit of Radio" and "Tom Sawyer" and the legendarily epic "2112" eventually brought a venue populated largely by gentlemen of an age supposedly well past behaviour typically associated with giddy teenagers to something like a joyous, frothing mass orgasm is incredibly difficult to argue with. Rush does something to people. If you're into Rush, you're into Rush.
Indeed, there were a lot of father-son combos in the sold-out room on Sunday. A lot. The arena bowl could easily have doubled as the set for a public-service announcement about unconventional approaches to masculine familial bonding, so thoroughly peopled as it was with fathers of a certain age in faded concert T-shirts from Rush tours past excitedly leading one, sometimes two of their offspring and the odd friend of the son's cut loose from his own parents for the night up between the merch and concession stands and up and down the bleachers. This was clearly the site of many a ritual passing of the torch. Tradition was being established and upheld.
Good thing, then, that Rush is still up to the task of blowing minds. The trio's latest album, Clockwork Angels, is its liveliest, most lingeringly tuneful and most straightahead rockin' in years, and the band seems to know this.
After hitting the synth-y '80s hard during the first set with a rash of old favourites - "Subdivisions," "Big Money," a stampeding "Force Ten," "Grand Designs," a version of "The Analog Kid" graced with a truly ripping Alex Lifeson guitar solo - Rush devoted the bulk of its post-intermission run to tunes from Clockwork Angels.
This brought a more recital-hall air to the proceedings - one only heightened by the presence of an eight-piece string section behind the band - as most of the crowd stayed seated and diligently attentive for the new stuff, taking it all in politely rather than getting rowdy. A deliciously heavy "Headlong Flight" finally managed to rile everyone up, but while no one appeared particularly upset that Rush was concentrating so heavily on the here and now, the mass exhalation of release when new cut "The Garden" finally gave way to "Red Sector A" and handful of late-set oldies was palpable.
Still, utmost respect to Geddy Lee, Lifeson and Peart (who return to the ACC on Oct. 16) for their willingness to go with the fresh and unfamiliar rather than taking the easy path to audience satisfaction. For three cats pivoting around 60, they still tear into their dense, tricky material with visible enthusiasm at where their musicianship can take them.
And they're still unapologetically geeky enough to drench their stage show in bizarre steam-punk curios, tripped-out animation reels and Terry Gilliam-esque video interludes that brought to mind leftovers from a lost reel of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Hell, they were selling copies of sci-fi author Kevin Anderson's novelization of the Clockwork Angels concept album as you walked in the gate. It doesn't get much more anti-cool cool than that.
If Rush doesn't make the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame this year, something's seriously wrong with the world.
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