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: