By the way: SPOILER ALERT – if you don’t want to know what the band is playing on this tour, stop reading, because that is the main focus of this post: the setlist.
Rush live is so amazing that it’s challenging to write about their shows. It comes down to little things like, how was Geddy’s voice? How was the mix? How was Neil’s solo? They never suck live, never have a bad night that isn’t better than most every other band’s best performance. So seeing Rush live really comes down to the setlist – what the hell are they going to blow our minds with?
The last few tours have been great dives into the past. Certainly the 30th anniversary tour was a celebration of the band’s whole repertoire, and the Time Machine tour was as well, with the band playing all of Moving Pictures for the first time ever. But now it’s time to focus on the present, and the excellent new Rush CD Clockwork Angels. After all this tour is supposed to promote that album, so I expected a lot of CA songs. And I got that. But I got more. A lot more.
Rush’s set list on this tour is really out there. I think this is a ballsy set list move on Rush’s part, for two reasons.
First of all, if you are a fan of 70s Rush, forget it – you got nothing except the encore of 2112. If you dig 90s Rush, same thing – you get The Pass and depending on the night, Bravado or Dreamline (more on this in a sec). If you dig 80s Rush and their new CD, you are in for a treat. The band this week played two songs from Signals, two from Grace Under Pressure, one from Hold Your Fire, and, brace yourself – four Power Windows songs (Big Money, Grand Designs, Territories, and Middletown Dreams). They add a fifth every other night - Manhattan Project.
So, the first set is another Time Machine tour, but back to the 80s. Second set is heavily the new album. The gems squeezed in between represent different eras, but Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures are notably absent, as is every album from the 70s for the most part!
OK, and then dig this: For the first time, the band is rotating numerous songs in and out of its setlist every other night. In the past there have been one or two tunes like Vital Signs that they have swapped in and out, but this move almost makes them seem like the Grateful Dead – on Rush’s terms of course!
Dig it: they have a list of about seven songs (Middletown Dreams, The Body Electric, The Pass, Bravado, Manhattan Project, and two songs from the new album – Seven Cities of Gold and Wish Them Well) that they are swapping out every night. So that’s interesting.
And a big change for Neil – he had two (three perhaps) drum solos. In the first set, he did a pretty solid, improvised run around the acoustic kit for a few minutes. Brilliant. Then in set two he did another solo, which was on his electric kit and more focused on triggering sounds and setting soundscapes. The ‘third solo’ was really a very extended drum break in the new song Headlong Flight that lasted about a minute. Very different and neat way to feature Neil without a seven minute spot.
So, here was the setlist:
The Big Money
Where's My Thing (with drum solo)
Headlong Flight (with drum solo)
Halo Effect (with guitar solo intro)
Wish Them Well
The Percussor (drum solo)
Red Sector A
The Spirit of Radio
2112 Overture/Temples of Syrinx/Grand Finale
Yep you read that right – set two starts with nine (9) new songs in a row. Hope you bought that new album! Most of the songs are great with two or three exceptions. But any way you cut it, after an 80s-fest of a first set, they are really asking their audience for a lot of patience. When the band finally got to the final four songs of the night starting with YYZ, the audience unleashed two hours of pent-up energy and the place went mad.
Still, the band understands that its loyal fan base is tired of the same songs over and over again. So they have rightly been varying it up over the last 10 years. This 80s focused set lit is a surprise, but one I dig. I got into Rush in the 80s and my first show was Grace Under Pressure. So to see more half of Power Windows live again was killer for me. Yeah I missed Red Barchetta, Stick It Out, Freewill, Limelight and The Trees. But I’ve seen those songs a lot. Glad to check out some fresh stuff!
The band was joined for the second set by a seven-piece string section who augmented the band nicely and probably freed up Geddy from playing more keyboards and triggering samples. I could take or leave it, but it was cool. When the strings left and it was just back to three guys, the energy took off.
The stage set was sweet as usual, and the videos before and after the sets were also funny as usual. The sum total though was that the band gets better every time I see them. Geddy’s voice was strong, especially on all of those high-assed 80s songs. The guys just had a ten-day rest, so I am sure that had something to do with it. This set list is more song-focsed so there were less Alex Lifeson freakout jams, and I did miss that a bit. But I have to say, once the started Analog Kid, I thought to myself – the drive is already worth it! Here are some snaps: