US Airways Center
Thursday, June 16
It's always exciting when a band pays tribute to their most successful album by playing it from beginning to end. It was no surprise that US Airways Center was nearly sold out last night, packed with thousands of Rush fans singing and air-drumming along to their favorite songs.
Rush fans aren't your typical fans -- they are among the most dedicated in rock 'n roll. Jason Segel and Paul Rudd's idol worship of the holy triumvirate in I Love You, Man wasn't a far stretch -- last night's audience was so enthusiastic that you would think it was their first time seeing them.
It's no wonder that this tour was dubbed the Time Machine Tour. Rush hit the road in honor of the 30-year anniversary of the quadruple platinum Moving Pictures and played it in its entirety.
The night was complete with over two hours of music augmented with humor. Before the band took the stage, a video depicted the real history of "Rash." It all began when an obese man with a giant mole (played by Alex Lifeson) walked out of a bathroom in a sausage restaurant in Willowdale, Toronto. His bandmates were dressed as a server and a cop (Geddy Lee and Neil Peart, respectively). The trio witnessed the beginnings of Rash, a polka band that struggled through the familiar hooks of "The Spirit of Radio." Jokes ensued about beer wenches and sausage -- "The last time someone grabbed my sausage, I got remarried!"
The disguised band members complained that polka wasn't the right sound for Rash, so the band tried out disco and country. Geddy complained, "My bar mitzvah was better than that!" and Rash found Rush's characteristic sound. The video faded out and the real Rush took the stage, which was complete with a steampunk getup full of vintage televisions, clocks, old radio mics, a custom drum kit, and the spinning gramophone seen in the video. Alex's wall of Marshall amps were missing, but Geddy had plenty of junk on stage to make up for it. He even wore a Rash T-shirt.
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It was no surprise that the band kicked things off with "The Spirit of Radio", played in the correct style, of course. Geddy and Alex appeared to be having a blast, leaning against each other with string instruments held high. Like always, Neil was all business behind the drum kit that completely surrounded him. The audience praised the song's time signature and style changes, cheering for the reggae segment, and getting even louder once it returned to rock.
"You know we always play too many songs. We have like ten thousand songs, short songs, long songs, this one's kinda heavy," Geddy said, introducing "Stick it Out," a much more hard hitting song than its predecessor, "Presto." The crowd seemed to agree, showing about as much enthusiasm as when they heard the opening polka hooks of "The Spirit of Radio."
"Workin' Them Angels" is from Rush's most recent album, 2007's Snakes and Arrows. Released nearly 40 years into their career, it stays true to the band's working class roots. Cherub imagery dominated the video, showing wings attached to soldiers, construction workers, farmers, and women working in an office.
The second Counterparts song, "Leave That Thing Alone," was the band's first instrumental jam. It also marked the first of many times that the audience went crazy for Geddy's bass solos. Considering how well received the Counterparts songs were, I'm surprised they didn't play more.
Geddy recognized the crowd's enthusiasm and apologized for "that gross self-indulgence," and wanted to slow things down for "Faithless." You'd think the crowd would calm down, too (well, some people did), but there were still plenty of guys air drumming on the floor.
The band played two songs from their upcoming album, Clockwork Angels, which Geddy said should be released sometime before the end of the year, once they finish touring. In typical Rush fashion, most of its songwriting was accomplished on the road. "BU2B" and "Caravan" stayed true to their classic prog rock sound that fans came to know and love.
Some of the audience sat down during the new songs, perhaps a little bored that they weren't hearing their favorites. Rush planned ahead for this and used explosions and pyrotechnics to hold the audience's attention.
During "BU2B," Neil Peart threw a drum stick high into the air -- nearly half the height of the video screen behind him - -and effortlessly caught it. He did the same trick a few times throughout the evening and was met with nearly as many cheers as Geddy's solos. Rush may be known as a percussion band, but the bass is what really stood out last night.
A chart beneath the old clocks showed four time modes -- real time, half time, bass time, and sausage. It moved from real time to bass time sometime between "Freewill" and "Marathon," and later shifted to sausage time during the Moving Pictures songs.
"Subdivisions" had a massive crowd reaction. The Rush documentary explains that this was seen as an anthem to many outsiders that could relate to the disconnect between them and the popular kids. It was a fitting end to the first half of songs.
"Due to the fact that we're really, really old, we have to take a short break," Geddy said, kicking off a 20 minute break before the Moving Pictures segment. During the intermission, a timer slowly inched forward until it stopped at 1980. Another video played: "Episode 17: Rock 'n' Roll is my name." The chubby, moled Alex was back, eating a sandwich and squirting mustard onto the Time Machine button. Someone shouted that he looked like Austin Powers' Fat Bastard. I would be hard pressed to disagree.
The scene showed Geddy, a pushy director working on Rash's music video as Neil, a reserved cameraman, observed the scene. Alex and Geddy got in a fight, insulting moles and bad teeth. Beer wenches paced back and forth and Geddy shouted, "stop moving pitchers!" Rash struggled with "Tom Sawyer" and changed between present day Rush, teenagers, children, infants, monkeys, wizards, cavemen, and a mixed up array of members. I've got to admit, it was cool seeing Geddy on drums and Neil on guitar, if only for a moment.
Once Neil played the opening beat of "Tom Sawyer," the crowd went crazy and sang along, although it didn't quite match what Geddy was singing. He left out the first words of some verses and did his tremolo at slightly different intervals. Geddy wasn't too far off, though, and the music sounded fantastic.
The crowd continued their usual trend of going absolutely crazy during fast songs and being a bit more subdued for slow songs. The set dragged on a bit between "The Camera Eye" and "Vital Signs," but it wouldn't be Moving Pictures without the last three songs.
The Moving Pictures segment was followed by "Caravan," an energetic new song, and "Love 4 Sale," a lengthy drum solo. At one point, Neil played his kit backwards for a different sound. He spun back around and was joined by a jazz track and visuals of a steampunk robot playing drums.
One of the greatest takeaway moments of the show was when Alex was spotlighted with an acoustic guitar for the opening riffs of "Closer to the Heart." He was joined by the rest of the band, and the rhythms kept building as the song went faster and faster until it reached a climactic ending.
Things continued to get more epic, as a video showed neon galaxies and the 2112 album cover. The space imagery was appropriate for the song's subject matter. Things just got weird -- men in gorilla and chicken suits casually stood on stage drinking white wine. After they walked off stage, more fire and explosions ensued.
Their final song, "Working Man," started off with an upbeat reggae beat and funky bass, and carried on for awhile with the "Cygnus X-1: Book 1" outro. It was only fitting that the band closed with their first song to receive radio play in The United States.
After Rush finished playing, they had a final joke -- a video of Jason Segel and Paul Rudd backstage acting like they had every right to be there and eat Neil's sandwich. The band appeared and remarked that seven women in the audience must be some sort of record. Lots of awkward hilarity ensued. You can see the whole thing on Funny or Die:
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I've got to hand it to Rush for going strong for so many years. They have some fantastic musicianship for only having three members. I can understand why people are so crazy about this band.
1. The Spirit of Radio
2. Time Stand Still
4. Stick it Out
5. Workin' Them Angels
6. Leave That Thing Alone
8. BU2B (Brought up to Believe)
12. Tom Sawyer
13. Red Barchetta
16. The Camera Eye
17. Witch Hunt
18. Vital Signs
20. Love 4 Sale
21. Closer to the Heart
22. 2112 Overture/The Temples of Syrinx
23. Far Cry
24. La Villa Strangiato
25. Working Man
Last Night: Rush at US Airways Center
Personal Bias: I'm a fan of the hits. I chose this show as a father's day gift to my dad, who had a blast.
The Crowd: Middle aged geek rockers. Not surprisingly, the crowd was dominated by guys.
Overheard in the Crowd: "This will be a geriatric convention in 10 years" along with plenty of "there's a lot of good looking women here tonight."
Random Notebook Dump: 1. Geddy, where's your Rickenbacker? 2. This is still the same song? (La Villa Strangiato) 3. Where was "Fly by Night"?