You get one of the freshest Rush set lists in years. You get Digital Man, Entre Nous, Circumstances, Passage to Bangkok, Witch Hunt, Natural Science, Freewill and – not kidding – nine new songs from the latest album Snakes and Arrows (good thing the album kicks ass). And not one medley!
I just returned from seeing the band at the Clark County Amphitheater and they did not disappoint. But I didn’t really expect them to. No, you can pretty much rely on Rush to perform really really well no matter what. That is not even a question.
The question becomes, what are they going to play? Who are they catering to on the tour? I have to say, the band on this tour is catering to the die hard Rush fan, finally. Long gone are the ‘crowd pleasers’ like Closer to the Heart and New World Man. Now we get four of the seven songs from Permanent Waves, half of Moving Pictures, and two from Signals. Very heavy on the 1978-1982 period. We also get 80s gems like Between the Wheels and Mission. But no Big Money or Force Ten. Can I say it any louder – THANK YOU! Killer, killer set list.
And this time around, not only did they dig deep into the catalog, they featured their newest release more prominently than I remember them doing since they did seven out of the eight songs on Power Windows on that tour in 1985. This is epic and shows that Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart are not going to wrap it up any time soon.
I mean, they could easily rest on their laurels and play the same rotation of songs over and over again but they clearly believe in the new album so much that they want to feature it heavily. And the new songs went over really well, even when they opened set two with five of them in a row.
Granted, three of those nine new songs were instrumentals, and one of those is an Alex Lifeson acoustic solo piece called “Hope.” (Rush instrumentals always work and get a big response). So that meant that with the encore closer YYZ, they did four instrumentals plus the drum solo.
And yeah, I had read this elsewhere but Neil’s drum solo was totally different. He didn’t repeat anything from previous tours and it was far less flashy and more jazzy. He even wrapped up the solo by playing along to a pre-recorded jazz track. It was more like a Buddy Rich solo, minus the swearing. And of course it was jaw dropping, but that is a given.
Again, you expect a certain level of excellence from Rush and you always get it. I’ll tell you though, the one stand out for me was Geddy’s voice. Even as far back as the 80s I sensed he could not hit the high notes anymore, but tonight it was insane. He hit them all, with the exception of the verses to Passage to Bangkok, which he sang a bit differently from the album version. But that was the last song he sang all night and his voice must be tired. Also – YOU try and sing it. It’s supersonic screech for the whole song.
But the high verse in Freewill and the chorus of Circumstances in particular gave me chills he hit those notes so well. Not sure how you are making that happen Ged, but keep it up.
I also sensed fewer pre-recorded backing tracks this time around. Every tour over the last decade they seem to use less, and I say good. On the Presto tour in 1989, I remember being as disillusioned as I ever was with Rush because I felt like they were just playing along to backing tracks and there was more pre-recorded stuff than live stuff.
The pendulum has swung the other way and there were only a couple of songs where I heard instruments that no one was playing. I am not including the keyboard patches and such that they trigger on Taurus pedals with their feet – I am talking about backing tracks that seem to add complete instrumental parts throughout the whole song, as if there were a fourth and fifth member of Rush playing from under the stage.
I am also not talking about backing vocals, because there were numerous pre-recorded Geddy Lee vocal parts and harmonies layered on all of the new songs. They have been doing this for years and I got used to it, even though I think it’s ‘cheating.’ My remaining gripe in this department is that they need to get rid of Alex’s mic, which is clearly not even on. And when he sings into it and you hear seven Geddys, you know it’s a ruse. But whatever. He’s been doing that for years, so I guess I should just deal with it.
Alex had some very nice acoustic guitars mounted on stands so he could switch back and forth from acoustic to electric in the same song, a la Steve Howe from Yes. His 12 string work in Entre Nous was gorgeous.
I love the fact that Geddy played a Fender Jazz bass all night (except in Bangkok, when the Rickenbacker came back out – wow!), and Alex is mostly on Les Pauls.
Funny note – Geddy’s backline was thee large Rotisserie chicken roasters (since he plugs his bass into the PA direct, he does not need amplifiers and he started putting random stuff behind him instead a few years ago – like clothes washers and candy machines).
This brings up another point, which is that these guys have a great collective sense of humor and there were a lot of funny video clips of the band doing all sorts of things as intros to some songs. Two that stand out are Geddy dressed up like a Scottish dude called “Harry Satchel” trying to get the band onstage (think Groundskeeper Willie from The Simpsons), and a video of the South Park kids as a garage band trying to play Tom Sawyer, where Cartman has a wig on, screws up the words and says to the other guys, “I’m Geddy Lee dammit and I can sing whatever I want!”
It’s so great to see these same three guys after more than 30 years and 19 studio albums still playing with passion, integrity, precision and yes damn it FUN. They clearly love what they do and are very concerned with delivering their best, always. Name another band around even half this long that has toured behind every single one of their studio albums and has done so much for their loyal legion of fans. I for one will go see these guys every time they come through town. They have my word.
But next time they can skip Subdivisions and Limelight and add Jacob's Ladder, M'kay?
--The Main Monkey Business (instrumental)
--The Larger Bowl
--Between The Wheels
--Workin' Them Angels
--Armor And Sword
--The Way The Wind Blows
–-Malignant Narcissism (instrumental)
--The Spirit Of Radio
--One Little Victory
--A Passage to Bangkok
Oh and P.S. – A big thanks for playing BOTH Seattle and Portland. Normally bands these days choose one over the other and I have to drive three hours each way to see ‘em because they choose Seattle.
Yeah and P.S.S. – So psyched the Clark County Amphitheater provides free parking instead of the $20 I had to pay in Oakland for Roger Waters. Even thought it took and hour to get out of the parking lot last night. Ce la vie.