By Steve Newton
For 40 years now the trio of Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart has been traversing the world, taking their patented brand of challenging prog-rock to the masses, proving to all and sundry that Canada is more than just hockey, beer, and maple syrup.
And weed. I guess ya gotta add weed in there, too.
But nothing lasts forever, so they say, and even the mighty Rush has shown a few chinks in its once-heavy metal armor. When the band announced its current R40 tour last January the press release stated that it “will most likely be their last major tour of this magnitude.” More recently news has come of 62-year-old drummer Peart suffering from tendonitis and guitarist Lifeson, 61, being hit with severe arthritis.
Singer-bassist Lee, also 61, is not suffering from any debilitating ailments at the moment, and that’s a good thing, “I wouldn’t want to go out there and be a shadow of my former self,” he told Classic Rock magazine in May.
So what does a trio of 60-something musicians with health issues do when it’s facing possible forced retirement from the arena-rock lifestyle it’s known so long? Well, if your name is Rush you put together a 25-song setlist that includes your newest and oldest material–and a good smattering of what came between–and then crank it like it’s 1975.
After a whimsical cartoon intro that depicted the band members’ evolution over the years, last night’s show at Rogers Arena kicked off with “The Anarchist”, a rollicking number off Rush’s latest album, 2012’s Clockwork Angels. Just one song later Peart was pulling off a dynamic mini-solo that was the percussive equivalent of tendonitis getting its unwelcome ass handed to it on a platter.
The band worked its way back through time, visiting tracks from 2007’s Snakes and Arrows, 2002’s Vapor Trails, 1993’s Counterparts, 1991’s Roll the Bones, and 1984’s Grace Under Pressure before ending its first set with the rousing “Subdivisions” from 1982’s Signals.
That song is one of the five Rush tunes inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, the other four being “Closer to the Heart”, “The Spirit of Radio”, “Tom Sawyer”, and “Limelight”. They all got played last night with the exception of “Limelight”, which is rather surprising considering how extensively it was featured in I Love You, Man, that popular 2009 bromance about two Rush freaks who love “Limelight”.
The actors who played those guys, Paul Rudd and Jason Segal, showed up briefly in “No Country for Old Hens”, the video interlude that opened Rush’s second set. The clip also included the Rush members goofing off in fat suits, heavy makeup, and wacky costumes before a South Park clip led into the much-loved “Tom Sawyer”, from the group’s four-times-platinum 1981 LP, Moving Pictures.
A dazzling display of old-school lasers accompanied the so-so “Jacob’s Ladder”, though they would have been more effective if rolled out to the thrilling strains of the set-closing “2112”. Lee wasn’t quite able to hit the high notes on that heaviest of Rush tunes, but Lifeson made up for it with his astounding guitarwork. And by the time he had melted the frets of his tobacco sunburst Les Paul with the Zeppelinesque “Working Man”–the final tune of a three-song encore–it was evident that he’d followed Peart’s fearless example and pwned that pain-giving a-hole arthritis.