Rush –the world’s most famous cult band — brought their Time Machine Tour to the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, CA for a marathon set (or should I say, two sets) of old and new songs that spanned their 30+ year career.  I’ll say one thing for Rush: in this era of evaporating disposable incomes, Rush gives their fans their money’s worth.  Now, even in more economic flush times, the band has been performing three hour sets, but this show seemed like the group really rolled out all the bells, whistles, smoke and lights to enhance their music.  Not that the group really needs all the extra flourishes, since their music is pretty dynamic to begin with, but while the production values aren’t quite at KISS levels, they are impressive for Rush.

Before getting to the music, I have to mention the stage show.  The boys have always been a goofy lot, but their comedic skills were on full display with three short films that were placed at the beginning, middle and end of the show (one short film had Paul Rudd and Jason Segel reprising their roles from I Love You, Man), and the first film set up the time machine theme with sausage overtones (view the clip below to see what I’m talking about):

Sure, some of the jokes fell flat, but it was nice to see the guys stretching out by making fun of themselves.  But when it came time to play, there wasn’t any goofing around because, let’s be honest, people come to see Rush play with precision, passion, and complexity — and they did not disappoint.  With the show opener of “The Spirit of Radio,” the band set the tone for the first set by starting strong and taking the audience on a tour through Rush’s output from the ‘80s onward.  For me, some of the most welcome songs were “Time Stand Still,” “Faithless,” and “Marathon” — all different in style, to be sure, but they stood out as examples of the band in middle age, affirming their atheism, and their work/artistic philosophy.  If there were any flaws in the first set, it came with poor selections from Counterparts (“Stick It Out”) and Snakes & Arrows (“Workin’ Them Angels”) – the latter is a song I would consider a stiff from the group.

Shot from my iPhone (Row Q)

As the set closed with “Subdivisions,” the band took a break and came back to feature their best selling album in it’s entirety.  Moving Pictures is clearly an album that vaulted the band from prog rock misfits to mainstream rock stars.  “Tom Sawyer,” “Red Barchetta,” “YYZ,” “Limelight” and even “Vital Signs” have been consistently played on classic rock radio, and there hasn’t been a tour since 1980* when the band didn’t play “Tom Sawyer.” Hearing the entire album played live, however, reveals a dark subtext to the songs.  Sure “Tom Sawyer” rocks (as do almost all of the songs), but these songs as cinematic vignettes reveal “Today’s Tom Sawyer” as a guy who is quite emotionally hardened and cold, the protagonist on “Red Barchetta” as an individual who finds brief moments of freedom in a world squashed by conformity, and “Limelight” as a exploration of the emotional trappings of being a star.  Even one of my favorite songs on the album (“The Camera Eye”) with its majestic and kinetic music, has lyrics that capture snapshots of New York and London that demonstrate a love for inanimate objects (i.e., the buildings) rather than the people who inhabit the cities.  Taken in total, listening to Moving Pictures live explores aspects of modernity where there is little joy and a great deal of alienation.

“Caravan,” a song that I initially did not like when it was first released as a single, was performed with blistering ferocity, and it contrasted nicely with Peart’s drum solo (“Love 4 Sale”), in which he completely jettisoned any remnants of “The Rhythm Method” to create a subtle and layered solo that was less flashy and more mature.

The rest of the set was a standard grouping of Rush songs (save perhaps for the inclusion of “Far Cry”) that took the audience closer to the heart, to the year 2112, through a strange village, and capped it off with paean to those who work for a living.

At the end the band was clearly spent, and so was the audience, but Rush certainly demonstrated why they are one of the hardest working rock bands in the business, and why, if you can, should catch this show.

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*“Tom Sawyer was played on a Warm-Up Tour in ‘80 where the band played the song faster and it had a different verse.