I can't stop thinking big. I can't stop thinking big.
Most bands could never manage to come up with a concept album, let alone more than one. And, certainly, any band that did have the chutzpah to make a concept album for their nineteenth release wouldn't think of doing it in its entirety on tour.
Most bands aren't Rush.
Despite being more than 40 years into their tenure as rock and roll's most underappreciated (yet still insanely popular) nerds, bassist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart still found a way to keep things fresh during their two-hour-plus show Sunday night at Toyota Center.
But this was not a show for the casual fan as the band played their latest release, the steampunk concept album Clockwork Angels, in its entirety -- a bit different from their hit-laden previous show in Houston in 2010, where they did their best selling album Moving Pictures from start to finish.
Much of Rush's success is owed to the fact that the band has always chosen to go its own path, and Sunday night was no different, from the multiple drum solos to the string section (a first for a band that has always prided itself on playing everything as a three-piece, despite some seriously complicated keyboard arrangements).
Perhaps the most surprising was how heavy the show leaned on songs from the band's synthesizer-laden series of albums in the 1980s -- a period that caused some fans to grumble at the absence of guitars (Lifeson has even said this wasn't his favorite era for the band). But, from the opening "Subdivisions" from 1982's Signals through "The Big Money," "Force Ten," "Grand Designs," "Territories" and "The Analog Kid," it was apparent the direction the night would be going. Even "Bravado" and "Where's My Thing?" from Roll the Bones were included in that first hour, broken up only by Moving Pictures single "Limelight" and "Far Cry" from Snakes and Arrows.
But what Rush may have lacked in some of the older classic hits they more than made up for with their rendering of Clockwork Angels. Even though this was their last U.S. tour date, the band seemed relaxed and focused on "Caravan," "The Wreckers" and the beautiful closer "The Garden." Fans ate it up singing every lyric and mimicking every drum fill.
The sound and light show, as per usual with Rush, was an integral part of their performance, particularly with Clockwork. The stage set, videos and animations leaned heavily on the steampunk influence of the album artwork. A video featuring the band dressed as gnomes pranking a tax collector opened the string of songs from the record, and the multiple video screens, limited pyrotechnics and massive lighting rig were all characters, filling out the plot of the story.
Also on display was the band's trademark sense of humor, and not just in the prepared videos. Lifeson, in particular, still manages to ham it up pretty good with fans despite, like the rest of the band, being just shy of 60. During "Tom Sawyer," he chose the "get high on you" to mock smoke a joint. When his guitar didn't come on at the beginning of the "2112 Part 1: Overture," he walked to the mike and said "You're fired!" A photographer dressed as a mad scientist prowling the stage even managed to elicit a laugh from the always-stoic Peart.
But, what most everyone was here to see was the band's musicianship, and it was on full display. Like jazz musicians, the members of Rush have improved as they have aged, yet still manage to maintain a very high energy level. Peart, in particular, is an absolute monster behind the drums and multiple camera angles from above, behind and even below to see his kick drum footwork, looked like something from an instructional clinic, which is exactly what the three put on.
Most surprisingly for someone who has seen Rush before was the "Clockwork Angels String Ensemble," as they were described by Lee. A group of nine cellists and violinists dressed in black T-shirts and jeans, they stood behind the drum riser and performed in rather animated fashion throughout Clockwork and even remained for "Red Sector A" and the high-water mark of the night, "YYZ," the benchmark instrumental from Moving Pictures.
Hearing a string section not only back up the band during "YYZ," but perform the signature guitar-and-bass riff in unison was as jarring as it was mesmerizing.
By the time the band finally ended the night, I had completely forgotten that they didn't play "Red Barchetta" or "The Trees" or "Closer to the Heart" or even "Freewill" and "Working Man." As usual, their ruthless precision in the delivery of their material and the genuine sense that these guys truly love what they do was won me over, even if they passed on "La Villa Strangiato."
Personal Bias: I've seen Rush multiple times over the years, most recently in 2010, and dating back to the '80s.
The Crowd: Kids of all ages, air drummers and more women than you would think.
Overheard In the Crowd:: "You just don't hear drum solos anymore."
Random Notebook Dump: This was the second show I attended this weekend with my fiancée's niece, Jade, who was responsible for the overheard in the crowd quote. The other show was Dying Fetus and Decapitated Cattle on Friday. Guess which show I preferred.
Random Notebook Dump II:Favorite T-shirt spotted in the crowd was a toss-up between "I pooped today" and "Got Geddy?".
By Jeff Balke
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