ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, MAY 22, 1997
Although they’ve sold more than 35 million records and been a major force on the hard-rock world for 23 years, it appears as though Rush’s status as an arena-packing concert draw—at least in Vancouver—has slipped a few notches. There were scads of empty seats at last Friday’s (May 16) GM Place show; in fact, the upper levels were completely barren of bodies, which is something you wouldn’t have seen at a Rush show 10 years ago.
But if the band’s untrendy prog-rock has failed to attract hordes of new fans, its powerful hold on a core of devoted, near-fanatical followers continues—as evidenced by the coke-smoking rowdy seated next to me in row 13, who came all the way from Calgary so he could leap up, splatter beer around, and scream “Yeah! Best band in the world!” at the top of his lungs.
For its own part, Rush worked hard to please longtime fans during a two-and-a-half–hour “greatest hits” set, but it was hampered by substandard sound in the form of Alex Lifeson’s overbearing high-end guitar mix. And while you couldn’t blame the band for trying to promote its new Test for Echo CD, an abundance of material from that unspectacular release got little response.
They should have stripped back songs from that release in favour of more classic cuts; not one tune from Rush’s Zeppelin-esque debut LP made the set list, and it’s as if the band petulantly boycotts that ’74 disc simply because it’s the only one Neil Peart didn’t play on. Come on guys, give original drummer John Rutsey his due too, eh? It’s not easy being the Pete Best of Canada.
It was when the band did opt to venture back to the mid-’70s that it received its strongest audience response and delivered the marathon concert’s most memorable moments. When the stage’s video-screen backdrop displayed the familiar album-cover image from All the World’s a Stage—a naked man standing in front of a glowing red circle/star—many of those in attendance realized it was “2112” time, and Rush didn’t disappoint on a sizeable section of that multipart epic.
The band’s technical prowess was prominently displayed here, and a camera set directly above Peart’s massive drumkit offered an eye-opening angle on his intricate art-rock percussion style. During one particularly busy segment of “2112”, the Buddy Rich of rock actually knocked one of his larger cymbals clear off its stand.
Too bad Rutsey wasn’t there to chuckle vengefully at that bizarre sight.