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Concert Review: Rush

It's hard to believe I used to not like these guys. Back when I was a kid, my best friends were all aspiring rock musicians (I was too for a while). And if you were an aspiring rock musician in the late 70's/early 80's, you just had to be into Rush. I think I was mostly just trying to be different, but I resisted all attempts by my friends to get me hooked on the band. Then I went to college and met this very nice girl — who was totally into Rush. Well, geez, once a girl is involved everything changes. (And seriously, how many girls are really into Rush?)

I caved.

I spent most of my college years getting acquainted with their back catalog, listening to them while I shelved books at the Crerar Science Library. I think I ended up being a bigger fan than even the girl who finally turned me onto them (turns out I married her).

So, with that background out of the way, Vera and I travelled down to White River Amphitheater to check out Rush on their latest tour in support of the Snakes & Arrows album. It was quite the ordeal to get down to the venue on a Friday night, heading through some of the worst congestion in the area. Adding to the fun was the weather, which had turned rainy and nasty — thank god we didn't have lawn seats. So by the time we finally got there, three hours after I left to pick up Vera from work, we were really hoping it was going to be worth all the effort.

Thankfully, if there's one thing you can count on, it is an awesome show from Rush. The opened on a decidedly crowd-pleasing note with "Limelight", followed by "Digital Man" and the first surprise of the evening, "Entre Nous". With a catalog as deep as these guys have, it is always a great pleasure to see them not just play the same greatest hits each tour. This time around was especially cool because they ended up playing fully 2/3 of Permanent Waves, which is definitely one of my favorite Rush albums. Another surprise from the first half of the concert was hearing them play "Circumstances" from Hemispheres, another classic I hadn't seen them play live before.

The high point of the first half of the show (or was it the second half?) was definitely "Subdivisions". I can't get enough of that one. Watching it live you are able to really see each band member contribute to the overall song (especially since they had three giant screens above the stage that would often split their focus one for each band member so you could watch them play). This time, I was particularly struck by just how exquisite the drumming is in that song. It is so fundamental to the pacing and urgency of the music and yet it really is quite intricate. I still get chills just thinking about it.

Another high point of the first set was "The Main Monkey Business", the new instrumental from Snakes & Arrows that gave everyone in the band a chance in the spotlight. Finally, they closed the first half with "Dreamline" off of Roll the Bones (another personal favorite) and left for a 25-minute intermission.

I noted to Vera during the intermission that they had so far only played a couple of tracks from their new album. They must have heard me mentioning it, because when they picked up again after the intermission, they immediately launched into 5 straight songs off of that album. I was particularly struck with how concert friendly they all were. They all had great hooks and kept the crowed interested, even though I suspect that a lot of people weren't yet that familiar with them. In particular, "Far Cry" was a great opener for the second half, and "Spindrift" rocked.

After all that new material, the band decided to trot out of a couple of classics that I don't think they've played as much recently. First, we got an incredibly intense rendition of "Natural Science" from Permanent Waves, which was the closest we got last night to any of their monumental multi-part songs of the 70's (yes, there was no "2112" or "Xanadu" in evidence). And then we were treated to a nice pyrotechnic opening to "Witch Hunt" from Moving Pictures, which was an unexpected but welcome surprise.

Neil's drum solo was next. Having heard many of the same bits and pieces over the years in concert and on live albums, I was expecting it to be pretty uneventful. Thankfully, I was wrong. It was pretty much a completely new set and further elevated my opinion of his awesome abilities. When you watch him (or any of the guys in the band) play, it's hard to believe they're all 50+! After the drum solo, Alex got a chance to solo by playing his new piece "Hope" from Snakes & Arrows on acoustic 12-string.

Heading into the final stretch, we got "Distant Early Warning" from Grace Under Pressure with an awesome light show. And then you knew that "Tom Sawyer" was coming on to finish things up, but we got an unexpected and hilarious opening to that song thanks to the kids from South Park. (I suspect that must have come about due to Geddy and Alex playing "O Canada" for the South Park movie.) For an encore, we got "One Little Victory" from Vapor Trails, followed by another surprise, "A Passage to Bangkok" from 2112, and then "YYZ" finished things off.

In the end, it was over 3 hours of music. The band was having a great time playing together, and sounded incredible. The crowd was really into it. Sure there were some songs I would have loved to see them play (one guy on the bus back just wouldn't shut up about them not playing "Working Man"), but at the same time I can't think of anything from the show I would have wanted them to leave out. You can tell these guys are complete pros who know how to put on a great show.

Oh, and since I complained about poor merchandise in my last concert review, let me state that these guys got my money. In fact, there were so many cool designs it was hard to pick just one. I could tell by watching some of the other people that I was not alone in this opinion. :)

Overall, a truly awesome experience.