ORIGINALLY POSTED ON STRAIGHT.COM, JULY 1, 2011
Rush fans are famous for their unwavering devotion to the Canuck prog-rock trio, but some go that extra mile—like the guy who showed up at Rogers Arena Thursday night (June 30) sporting a homemade placard tied around his neck. The young dude had obviously thrown this hokey piece of wearable art together in record time, but he was garnering a lot of thumbs-up from the concertgoers filing past. They all seemed in total agreement with the statement that he’d lifted from an episode of Family Guy: “OH GOD, THERE IS NO F***ING DRUMMER BETTER THAN NEIL PEART!”
Usually when a rock drummer starts into a long solo at an arena show, that’s a sign for the audience to sit down, maybe even head to the exits in search of beer. With Rush drummer Neil Peart it’s different. When he started into his extended solo toward the end of the nearly three-hour performance, people instantly stood up—and didn’t sit down until he was done giving his vast array of skins the beating of a lifetime.
The mesmerizing effect Peart’s drumming had on the crowd was a sight to behold. But his bandmates were no slouches either.
It was the penultimate date on the band’s yearlong Time Machine Tour, so called because it sees the group travelling back to relive various phases of its 40-year career. Rush spent most of its time back in 1981, however, performing its Moving Pictures album in its entirety, which meant that proven crowd pleasers like “Tom Sawyer” and “Limelight”—and lesser-known gems like the sprawling instrumental “YYZ”—were a guaranteed part of the setlist. That surely helped draw a good portion of the roughly 13,000 in attendance.
“As usual we’ve got three, maybe five songs to play tonight,” joked singer-bassist (and sometime-keyboardist) Geddy Lee early on, but that was after the band had already plowed through the ’80s tracks “The Spirit of Radio”, “Time Stand Still”, and “Presto”.
From the get-go the power-trio struggled with a trebly, muddled sound—which is par for the course in hockey rinks, although I’ve heard Rush sound much better in the same venue, as it did in 2008 on the Snakes and Arrows tour. But that aural complaint didn’t seem to register with the mostly middle-aged crowd, who—just like those guys in the bromantic comedy I Love You, Man—were there to have a good time in the presence of their idols, so-so sound be damned.
Even if you weren’t a prog-loving Rush fan—and were maybe dragged to the show by a fiftyish dad who’s never gotten over his teenaged fixation with original drummer John Rutsey—there was lots to enjoy besides the music itself. The staging and visuals were quite stunning, revolving around antique-looking, experimental time-travel gadgetry. And the immense lighting rig above the stage operated with amazing precision, unfurling like the metal fist of a shape-changing Transformers robot.
An hour or so into its set, Rush took a 25-minute break, then returned to kickstart the Moving Pictures portion of the show with “Tom Sawyer”, which drew the biggest ovation of the night and caused the blown-away fan behind me to proclaim: “That’s the best song ever done. Best song ever!”
I didn’t have the heart to turn around and say, “Nah, ‘Limelight’ is better.”
After Peart’s aforementioned drum wipeout, the group left the stage, returning soon after to encore with the 1978 instrumental “La Villa Strangiato”, off the Hemispheres disc. Then it was time to set the time machine’s dials as far back as they’d go, back to ’74 for the self-titled debut album’s “Working Man”. The trip apparently included a pit stop in Jamaica, as the song was given a reggae treatment at first, before metalicizing into its original Zeppelinesque form.
B.C.-born guitarist Alex Lifeson pulled out all the stops at that point, offering up his most intense fretwork of the night. I can’t think of many other 57-year-olds who could end a marathon night of rockin’ with that much energy and enthusiasm. The pogoing Geddy Lee is one of them, though.