Rush's concert at US Airways Center began at 7:45 p.m. and ended about three hours later, after 26 songs, a number of video animations and skits, and thousands of notes' worth of guitar solos. It was a night for the hardcore Rush fan — four of seven parts of "2112," 15 albums represented, and nary a recognizable single to be heard, save for "Tom Sawyer."
In fact, the winding concert could be seen like Rush itself — for the uninitiated, it was long (and thanks to malfunctioning air conditioning, extremely hot and sweaty), meandering, and impenetrable. But for the hardcore fans, wearing Rush T-shirts from decades ago and fist-pumping to complicated time changes, it was paradise.
The current Rush tour, R40, is a celebration of the band's 40th year together, the year now-legendary drummer Neil Peart joined bassist/singer Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson. The band went on to release 20 studio albums and cement itself as pioneers of progressive rock, not to mention as of the most technically proficient rock trios of all time. All things considered, 61-year-old Lee's voice sounds incredible, belting powerfully in the stratosphere of the male vocal range throughout the night. Peart and Lifeson were on, too — Lifeson's guitar tone sounded impeccable, clean, and full of life, and Peart's drums wound rhythmic circles around his two bandmates, binding everything together in a supreme musical package.
The night began the three band members appearing in Monty Python-esque animated form on a projection screen spanning almost the entire floor-to-ceiling height of the arena. As the animated Rush walks on a road, all sorts of random things happen to them along their journey, including passing a fire hydrant that spouts sausages and then turns into a grill for said sausages, which the band members cook and eat. Needless to say, the symbolism was a bit . . . cryptic, though the video ostensibly showed them aging 40 years, from strapping young lads to the seasoned gentlemen they are today. Eventually, though, continuing down this zany road, the trio arrived in front of a street sign that read "Phoenix," prompting an enormous cheer to rise up from the crowd. The screen lifted, and the band launched into "The Anarchist," from the band's latest album, 2012's Clockwork Angels. It set the tone for the night, as the band would work through its discography in reverse chronological order.
The band's sense of humor shined throughout the night. In addition to the tongue-in-cheek intro, the band had a weird set of props on stage during the first set, including a couple of strange steampunk-esque phonographs and a popcorn machine, and a model of a brain that stood behind Lee, all of which were steadily replaced with front-loading washing machines throughout the night. At one point, dudes in cat costumes and horse costumes wandered across the stage, waving at the audience. When the band started its second set, it began with a skit starring Lee and various others and ended with the kids from South Park in a band called "Lil Rush," attempting to cover "Tom Sawyer," though getting their Mark Twain characters confused on the way. As the skit ended, the video screen once again lifted, revealing the band as it launched into its most recognizable song.
The second set was the meaty entree of the night, including "Jacob's Ladder," the rarely played epic "Cygnus X-1," "Xanadu," and finally, parts I, II, IV, and VII of "2112."
The band exited again for a brief intermission before the encore, and the screen lowered again. This time, Eugene Levy, appearing in character from his old SCTV days, introduced the band, and the band then played the first notes of "Lakeside Park," then going into "Anthem," "What You're Doing," and "Working Man."
Last Night: Rush at US Airways Center
The Crowd: Lots of dudes with graying hair, bulging waistlines, and Rush T-shirts. But then again, way more women than I expected — maybe, like, 35 percent of the crowd.
Overheard in the crowd: "I'm going to slip and die"
"Yeah, fuck these floor seats!"
—Two guys complaining about a massive puddle of about $6 of spilled beer on the arena floor, wishing they were in the stands with cupholders.
Random notebook dump I: "Rush sort of defined the prog-rock stereotype. Fantasy-inspired lyrics, seven-part songs, intense time signatures, 12-minute guitar solos, fanatical support from lovers of the band."
Random notebook dump II: "There's not a lot of room for showmanship when you're in a prog-rock trio."
Random notebook dump III: "Geddy is a real fucking bass player. Picks are for six-strings."
Personal bias: I'm more of a King Crimson fan.
Set list (cobbled from my notes and Setlist.fm):
The Main Monkey Business
How It Is
Roll the Bones
Between the Wheels
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No Country for Old Hens
The Camera Eye
The Spirit of Radio
Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres Part I: Prelude
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
Correction: It appears Eugene Levy was not in drag during his video interlude, but was actually portraying a (male) character from his stint on SCTV.