Concert Review: Rush (Knickerbocker Arena, Albany, New York, October 19, 1996)

When I say “Rush”, do you think “1970s”?

I thought you might, but let me use the band’s Saturday night show at the Knick as a point of reference in helping you to break that unfortunate FM radio-reinforced connection. By my count, Rush performed eleven songs from the ’90s, eleven songs from the ’80s and only three songs from the ’70s. (Of course, one of those ’70s songs was the 20-minute-plus epic, “2112”, but why muss up a nice statistic with a detail like that?) So, when I say “Rush”, you ought to be thinking something more along the lines of “contemporary” or even “timeless”. Most of the stomping, waving, screaming fans at the Knick certainly were.

Saturday night’s show was the opener on Rush’s support tour for their new album, Test for Echo. It was also the first show that Rush has ever played in an “Evening With” format; that spacious two hour and forty minute twin-set arrangement finally allowed the band the luxury of performing macro-nuggets like “2112” and “Natural Science” in their entirety. There were some first night technical bugs in the set, and it took the sound crew a while to get the mix EQ’ed for proper audience consumption — but the overall effect of the show was stunning, captivating and very, very immediate. As bassist Geddy Lee noted: “There’s no mistakes, just new parts.”

While Lee’s voice and drummer Neil Peart’s lyrics are most frequently cited as hallmarks of the Rush sound and ethos, the band’s odd three-piece interplay may have actually provided the Knick show’s most unique and impressive moments. Peart drummed with a pianist’s touch throughout the evening, creating sounds that were more crash and chord than boom and thud while Lee played bass like a lead guitarist — when he wasn’t doubling on keyboards, which he played like a bassist. Guitarist Alex Lifeson assumed the instrumental wild-card role, filling in the rhythm/bottom parts when Lee and Peart tackled the high end, then going widdly when his rhythm section dropped into spelunking mode and actually acted like a traditional rhythm section. “Driven”, “Half the World” and “Virtuality” (all from Test for Echo) and 1981’s “Red Barchetta” provided particularly noteworthy samples of Rush’s cross-cutting interplay in their standard bass-guitar-drum mode, while “Red Sector A” and “Subdivisions” found the band peaking with Lee working the synth-boxes.

Rush’s visuals were, as always, top of the heap. Lasers, film, lights, mirrors, video, it was all there before us–along with the band’s functional on-stage refrigerator and collection of kitchen machinery to accent that homey “Evening With” motif. “Virtuality”‘s video production was the evening’s best, while “2112” was framed perfectly with simple ’70s-style stage lighting and low-energy, low-motion film imagery. When the video machines and the lasers weren’t running, the band members’ images were projected on the stage back-drop, and Peart got cheered every time he popped up on the big screen. It must have been his smashing new goatee and sporty West African duds, don’tcha think?

The evening finally wound down with a rip through the new “Time and Motion”, ’80s gems “Spirit of the Radio” and “Tom Sawyer” and encore “YYZ”; it was worth the price of admission just to hear thousands of people singing along with the “Salesmen!” part of “Radio”. I know that per the super-secret Working Music Critic’s Manual of Hip, I’m supposed to sniff distastefully about the whole arena rock thing and dismiss Rush contemptuously with the rest of the ’70s sci-fi concept album crowd — but I just can’t do either. Rush are cool. They put on a cool arena concert. I was glad I went and wasn’t ashamed to sing the line: “We are the priests of the Temples of Syrinx.” Best of all, I was not alone.

Bonus Reads: See these related JES articles if the Rush Love is strong within you:

Interview with Neil Peart (1997)

A Certain Measure of Tolerance: Neil Peart (1952-2020)

My Ten Most Memorable Concerts

 

5 thoughts on “Concert Review: Rush (Knickerbocker Arena, Albany, New York, October 19, 1996)

  1. Great post! I always wanted to see Rush live, and one of my only real regrets is missing them on the Clockwork Angels tour before they retired. 70s Rush isn’t worth dismissing either. In fact I’ll throw the unpopular opinion out there that their first 5 albums were some of their best albums individually, including Caress of Steel!

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    • Thank you! I like the ’70s albums well enough too . . . I just like the later ones MORE! I saw Rush the first time at Nassau Coliseum on Long Island in 1979. The show was good, but they made the mistake of inviting local legends The Good Rats to open, and the Rats might have delivered their finest on-stage performance ever that night, and many of their fans either left after their set, or were unhappy with what Rush offered, so it was not Ged, Neil and Alex’s finest hour. (The Good Rats are superb, if you’ve never heard/heard of them: https://jericsmith.com/2009/11/04/in-praise-of-good-rats-2/

      I had tickets to the (now final) R40 Tour in Kansas City, purchased well in advance, as soon as the Tour was announced. Then it turned out that we moved to Chicago for work reasons, and the move was right on top of the concert date, so I had to miss it, alas. Still pains me!!

      I’m still working on cross-posting some other related pieces to these archival articles. I just updated the concert review page with links to the interview I did with Neil before the concert, if you’re up for more vintage Rush fare!

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  2. Love Rush, although I do still think of them as a 70s/early 80s band; not much after 81 appeals to me. Not reinforced by radio though, I don’t think you’d ever hear them on the radio here (perhaps the very occasional spin of Spirit of Radio).

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