Rush is probably a band I’ve seen perform live more than any other band. They’ve lasted this long as a recording and touring rock band probably because they don’t do the stupid stuff other rock stars do — and then end up on “Behind the Music” 20 years later. Their primary focus is the music, and all the other stuff that goes with being a popular rock band is fluff that they would rather not dabble in. Indeed, they keep rather low profiles — despite the fact that they have a large and loyal fan base that would probably love it if they were the “I want to touch the people who by my records” kind of guys. But they are not, and when people come to their concerts (or listen to their records) they do so because they want to see and hear three guys who are very accomplished musicians perform in a manner that clearly demonstrates after 34 years of recording and touring, this band has not rested on his laurels.
The older Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart gets, the more they put into their shows. Since the mid-’90s, Rush has performed three hour shows that give fans a lot of value for their money. They play their long-form songs like “Natural Science,” “2112,” “The Trees,” and “La Villa Strangiato” and then push the energy level higher with drum solo that spans a number of musical genres (rock, African, electronic, and jazz). I took my wife and daughter to a Rush show the other night (both of whom have never seen the band play live), and they loved it. My wife commented that she had never seen someone’s hands move that fast during a drum solo. And indeed, Peart’s drum solos have evolved into fully formed musical pieces that transcend the stereotype of the self-indulgent drummer who just bangs away at a kit without an ear for musicality.
So here we go with a live mix of songs that showcase the band through the decades!
Rush at the Sleep Train Pavilion, Concord, CA 5/4/08
Taken with my cell phone — hence the lousy quality.
“Working Man/Finding My Way/Drum Solo”
One of the things that makes this 1976 recording interesting to listen to is the drum solo in the middle of the tune. Peart was a young drummer whose technique was clearly impressive in the context of the songs, but as a soloist, his ability to surprise the audience with interesting drum work at it nascent stage. Some of the patterns he displays here survived into future solos that grew in complexity.
In 1981, I saw my first Rush show in Oakland, CA and only knew a couple of songs (“The Spirit of Radio,” “Tom Sawyer,” and “Freewill”). When they played “Red Barchetta” it was one of those “Oh, wow” moments where you hear a song for the first time and are completely transfixed by the awesomeness of it.
“The Enemy Within”
By the mid-’80s, Rush had evolved from a hard rock sound to a more synth-based form. Many of their older fans were not impressed by their foray into New Wave, but stuck with them nevertheless. And truth be told, while I was a fan of New Wave, I found that Rush had kind of lost their way as their synth-drenched tunes became a little too sterile for my taste. However, this song from their Grace Under Pressure album was a nice change because it showed that the group could groove.
In the mid-’90s Rush slowed the recording and touring cycle because of a few things: 1. After recording and touring in support of their Counterparts CD, some friction developed between Geddy Lee and the other two members. Nothing earth shattering, but they clearly needed a break from one another. 2. Peart decided to completely re-train as a drummer with the help of Freddy Gruber and needed a good year to master some new techniques. 3. After the release of Test for Echo and subsequent tour, Peart’s wife and daughter died, and he quit the band. Geddy and Alex had to release something to fulfill their recording contract, and they released Different Stages as a kind of swan song to commemorate their career. There was no official announcement the band had broken up — and it wasn’t revealed until Peart mentioned it in his book Ghost Rider — but the release of this CD certainly made it seem like the band had closed up shop. This version of “Resist” is noted because the Test for Echo Tour is the only tour in which they performed the song with full instrumentation. The last two tours (Vapor Trails and R30), Geddy and Alex have done “unplugged” versions with just acoustic guitars.
In 2002, Rush reformed and recorded Vapor Trails. They toured and found that their fans had not abandoned them — indeed, they were one of the top grossing bands that year. Additionally, they found that they had a huge fan base in Brazil. So, they packed up their gear and did a three city tour of Brazil. Of all the live albums Rush has produced, I think this one is my favorite. The crowd is clearly pumped, and in turn, it made the band play more aggressively. Plus, the crowd sings along to almost every song – including the instrumental, “YYZ.”
While I was really excited when I heard the news that Rush was recording and touring with a new CD, I was ultimately disappointed with the results. Snakes and Arrows has a lot of good qualities, but many of the songs are very plodding and dull. “Far Cry” is the exception because they didn’t over-think the song. It was written very quickly and the music came together after a really great jam. It took me a few listens to get into the song, but once I did, it has become a favorite. Alas, for some reason, the band decided to “dial down” the tempo on this tour and powerful songs like “Far Cry” sound a bit laconic when performed live.