(As always, all concert pics are courtesy of the lovely and talented Boots, whose buttkickin’ ninja camera skills amaze and delight Hokeyblog readers worldwide! Check out more of her work at Concert Girl and say hi for me!)
We’ll get to the Rush R40 Live concert review in a moment, but first: a testimonial…
I have this awesome childhood summertime memory, from the age of 12. I had broken my foot in a bizarre Tae Kwan Doe/Running incident (don’t ask) and had spent much of the spring of 1983 in a miserable cast. When my foot had finally healed, I couldn’t wait to get back on my bike again. By then it was almost summer vacation, that time of open and endless carefree fun and possibility. I had a $10 allowance, and with that cash infusion I had a pretty set routine every Saturday. I’d throw three bucks into my football-shaped bank, then I’d hop on my bike and ride to the 7-Eleven on South Dixie Highway and SW 152nd Street (still there). There I’d buy some comics, a Snickers, and a Coke, then ride over to Coral Reef Park. I’d sit under a tree, enjoy my wildly teeth-enrottening, nutrition-less snacks, read my comics, place my Walkman headphones over my ears… and listen to Rush.
Earlier that year Rush had become my favorite rock band (after The Beatles, natch). Thanks to that time-honored teenage tradition of totally ripping off the Columbia Record & Tape Club for all you could manage, I acquired a pretty decent collection of their albums. I specifically remember audio-devouring Permanent Waves, Exit… Stage Left, All The World’s A Stage, Fly By Night, 2112, and Moving Pictures like they were going out of style. Exit: Stage Left was probably my favorite of the bunch, as it was the band’s seminal live album. Not only did it contain a classic collection of tunes, it made me feel like I was there watching, listening, becoming part of the experience. Hearing Geddy Lee announce “This is The Spirit of Radio…” as Alex Lifeson ripped into that opening shred was my invitation to go along with the ride. And I simply couldn’t get enough of anything the band had to offer.
What was it about Rush that captured my attention more than other bands at the time? I wish I could definitively codify this, for my own gratification. I suppose I could say it was simply everything about Rush that appealed to me. Their musicianship was top-notch, across the board. I absolutely loved the textured atmospherics of Alex Lifeson’s chord progressions, the thundering power of his riffs, and his masterful ability to shred like any guitar hero worth their salt. Geddy Lee’s bass playing was extraordinary to my (and most people’s) ears — fluid, melodic, emblematic of soulful virtuosity. The man could sing, play incredible bass lines, do keyboards with his feet, and probably fire off a dozen MIDI sequencers using telepathic commands. And do I really need to say anything about Neil Peart on the drums? The man is legend. Period.
But with those lyrics — the themes, the explorations of ideas as vast as the cosmos, as immediate as the human heart, as wild and uncharted as the imagination — it seemed like each song, be it a radio single or an epic 10 minute prog piece, took you on some strange, wonderful, memorable journey. I’d sit under that tree in the park, listening to 2112, staring off into the distance while the music whisked me away into a whole other universe of possibility. Plus it really rocked too, y’know?
I’ve loved Rush ever since, although my interest in the band has ebbed and flowed over the years. Some albums and eras I liked more than others, but I always came back to their music in the end. It was way, way too ingrained in my DNA to ever really turn away from it.
OK, so that’s my testimonial. For more of my thoughts on the band’s music, check out my collection of Rush Album Reviews. It’s a work in progress and I’m about halfway done as of this writing, but so far it’s been a labor of love. Anyway, let’s get to it; we’re really here today to talk about their recent Tampa concert, held at the Amalie Arena on May 24th, 2015. Celebrating 40+ years as a band, the correspondingly titled R40 Live Tour has been largely touted as the band’s final tour of this magnitude. That’s not to say they won’t continue to record or have a one-off performance here or there, but as far as large-scale, multiple-date/multiple-city tours… this was it, folks. I had seen Rush before but I wasn’t going to miss what might probably be their final tour. The Tampa show was the closest location to our home in Fort Lauderdale, so we gladly made the schlep up over the holiday weekend.
After arriving and settling in at the arena, we still had a good 45 minutes to go before showtime. I decided to brave the merch line to pick up some concert shirts. The result was absolute bedlam — completely disorganized lines, flaring tempers, and loud drunks resulted in a most colorful convergence of personalities. Still, I was able to grab everything and return back to my seat with about 10 minutes to spare. The highlight of my merch line experience was a girl standing behind me, not a whisker over the age of 19. She was proudly proclaiming that she was a girl, that she was young, and that her generation loved Rush and they were her favorite band, etc. etc. etc. She then pointed to the iconic image of the naked man before the Red Star logo (a quintessential representation of the individual struggle against the collective) and loudly asked, “What album is that from??”
(Boots later informed me that her generation predominantly downloads music and most likely aren’t as familiar with/accustomed to album cover art. The answer being 2112, of course, the young girl was eventually set straight.)
Back at my seat — on the lower level in the 103 section, the Geddy Lee side of the stage, a few rows up — I chatted awhile with Boots and a marvelously mustachioed gentleman next to me who Boots dubbed ‘Mr. Pringles’. All around us the crowd was mostly male, white, and in their 40s, but there were LOTS more women and children this time around than I’d ever seen before at a Rush show. A few minutes later the house lights dropped and with an opening animated musical montage, the Rush show began in earnest.
Here’s what the set-list looked like:
The Main Monkey Business
One Little Victory
Roll the Bones
Distant Early Warning
The Spirit of Radio
Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres Part I: Prelude
Cygnus X-1 (The Voyage Part 1 & 3 with drum solo)
Closer to the Heart
2112 Part I: Overture
2112 Part II: The Temples of Syrinx
2112 Part IV: Presentation
2112 Part VII: Grand Finale
What You’re Doing
WHAT A SETLIST!! They opened with three songs off of their most recent album, 2012’s Clockwork Angels, and then slowly moved backwards through time, doing songs from almost every album in their catalog in reverse order (with the exception of Feedback, Test For Echo, Presto, Hold Your Fire, and Power Windows — which seems like a lot, but with 20 studio albums they have a HUGE body of work from which to draw an excellent collection of songs).
The production values were top-notch as well. The band was flanked by ginormous high-definition video screens, pyrotechnics, lights, lasers (lasers are lights, yes I know), fireworks, and a constantly changing stage setup. Stagehands in red jumpsuits were continuously emerging from backstage to rearrange gear, props, and other visual “gotchas”, while at the same time never distracting from the action onstage. Meanwhile, the band was in fine form. Oh sure, Lee can’t quite hit those high notes of forty years ago (to be fair, few rock vocalists could, especially one entering his fifth decade in the business), and Alex might have made a slight but noticeable flub during “Xanadu”, but overall they remained quite remarkable.
It’s quite a gamble for any band to start with their newest material and work backwards over the course of two sets. The first set consisted of songs from 1982 to 2014, whereas the second set consisted entirely of “classic-era” Rush from their debut LP to the seminal Moving Pictures album. There were plenty of highlights throughout the evening, although I think the biggest crowd response might have come from the “rap” section of 1991’s “Roll The Bones”, during which a video was played of celebrity Rush fans lip-synching to pre-recorded audio while the band performed the background music. Watching the like of Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Jay Baruchel, Tom Morello, Peter Dinklage, Les Claypool, and the Trailer Park Boys kick some gluteus max got the crowd roaring.
It wasn’t all deep cuts and new material, of course. Established Rush classics and radio hits like the aforementioned “Roll The Bones”, “Working Man”, “2112”, “Closer To The Heart”, “The Spirit of Radio”, “Tom Sawyer”, “YYZ”, “Distant Early Warning”, and “Subdivisions” kept the casual fans entertained. But HOLY MACKEREL … can we talk about Set 2? Let’s talk about Set 2…
I’d be lying if I said that early era Rush wasn’t my favorite period of the band. Not that I don’t love (or at the very least, really like) other periods of the band’s history, but the run of albums from 1976’s 2112 through 1982’s Signals is sweet perfection to my ears. This period featured the best of all possible worlds, from shorter FM hits to epic-length, more progressive pieces, and I loved it all. But I never thought I’d ever get a chance to hear deep cuts like “Natural Science”, “Jacob’s Ladder”, or selections from both books of “Cygnus X-1” live and in concert. This culminated in the show highlight, the landmark “Xanadu” from 1977’s “A Farewell To Kings”. Alex and Geddy both whipped out their double-necks (Alex’s Gibson featured both 12- and 6-strings, whereas Geddy’s Rickenbacker had both a bass and 6-string guitar), whereas Neil took advantage of his chimes, bells, and glockenspiel, all of which adding deeper instrumentation and atmosphere to the classic album track. I was entranced. Boots was amused. She always calls the song “Kubla Khan”; incidentally, she also renamed “Red Barchetta” (which wasn’t performed that evening) with the rather puzzling title “The Cabin In The Woods That No One Talks About”.
Those are my two favorite Rush songs. She thinks she’s funny. She’s mostly right.
The set ended with an almost complete rendering of the 2112 suite, and right then and there I was transported back to 1983, 12 years old, sitting next to my bike under a tree, letting my mind wander while all hopped up on chocolate and sugar-water. Hearing the “Presentation” sequence of the suite resonated that deeply with me. OK so maybe this is a bit corny guys, but hearing Geddy sing “Listen to my music / And hear what it can do / There’s something here as strong as life / I know that it will reach you…” live was a powerful moment for this utter cornball.
Projected video of Eugene Levy as his classic SCTV “Rockin’ Mel” Slirrup character introduced the encore set, in which Rush was transported to a high school gymnasium set, playing tunes from their first three albums: “Lakeside Park” from Caress of Steel, “Anthem” from Fly By Night, and “What You’re Doing” and “Working Man” from the debut album to close out the evening. It was raw, stripped, and played up by playing it down. By then the stage featured the band and a few prop speakers hoisted up on chairs. It made for a wonderfully evocative sequence to end the show.
What a great concert, especially for fans of the album tracks from their first 8 LPs. Watching the “Exit: Stage Left” video that closed the show was heartfelt, hilarious (the Signals dog probably had the best laugh-out-loud moment of the evening), and — if this is indeed Rush’s final tour — a most fitting bow to an amazing 40-plus year career. If you’re a fan, make a beeline to the closest show to your burg this summer, but even if you hold out for the inevitable live album/Blu-Ray you’re still guaranteed a fine time. No matter how you slice it, if this was my last time seeing Rush live, then thanks for the memories guys. If anyone needs me, I’ll be at the park, under a tree, listening to “The Fountain of Lamneth”, my imagination wholly elsewhere…