When I was a teenager I was obsessed with Rush. I was a drummer, so of course I was obsessed with them, but their lyrics and challenging song structures also appealed to me in the way that drew a lot of shy nerds.
The arrival of Nirvana on our small-town radio dials drew me to grunge and away from prog, and soon I didn’t listen to Rush much at all. I must have sold most of my CDs since the only albums in my MP3 collection are Moving Pictures and the live concerts. And I had to look this morning to even know that.
Since I moved to Toronto I’ve had plenty of chances to see them live — a chance I would have died for growing up — but by then I’d moved on. Recently, though, they began the R40 tour (that’s their 40th anniversary tour, kids…forty goddamn years) and rumours abounded that this tour would be their last, so I figured I shouldn’t wait anymore. I figured I owed them an in-person thank you for all those years. So I bought a ticket. Just one; Nellie would rather have punched herself than watch Rush live.
The time on the ticket said 8pm; normally that would be my signal to not show up at a concert until at least 9pm, but something told me this would be different. I got to the ACC at 8:05 and to my seat at 8:10, just as the lights fell and they walked on stage (so I missed their traditional opening video montage).
By the way, what you’ve heard about Rush shows is true: 98% dudes, mostly middle-aged. I did see some younger guys there with their dads, which surprised me until I realized that this is the same scenario as me going with my dad to see Dylan. The music that was important to him, which also had staying power and said something, meant something to me. It was like that for these dudes too. I liked that.
Anyway, the setlist (courtesy of Cygnus X-1, a Rush fan site which makes me realize HOW MUCH NERDIER I would have been about Rush if I’d had an internet connection growing up):
- The Anarchist
- Headlong Flight
- Far Cry
- The Main Monkey Business
- How It Is
- Roll The Bones
- Between the Wheels
- Losing It
- Tom Sawyer
- The Spirit of Radio
- Natural Science
- Jacob’s Ladder
- Cygnus X-1 Book Two: Hemispheres – Prelude / Cygnus X-1 Book One: The Voyage – Prologue / Drum Solo / Cygnus X-1 Book One: The Voyage – Part 3
- Closer To The Heart
- 2112: I. Overture / II. Temples of Syrinx / IV. Presentation / VII. The Grand Finale
- Lakeside Park
- What You’re Doing
- Working Man
As has been their pattern on this tour, they worked backward through their career. So, as a lapsed Rush fan, I didn’t know the first five songs at all. Gotta say, though: the first two were pretty bad-ass. Thoughts on the rest:
“Roll The Bones” is is pretty much where I left Rush, partly because of the rapping (!) on this song. When they began playing it I was fully dreading that part, but they found a good way to deal with it: the main video screen behind the band showed a number of actors performing the rap bridge: Jason Segel & Paul Rudd (kind of like an encore to this?), Jay Baruchel, the Trailer Park Boys, Peter Dinklage (!), Tom Morello, Les Claypool, and Chad Smith. Very fun. Nicely done.
“Losing It” was one of my favourite songs from Signals (it was the first time teenaged me I really acknowledged that one day I’d get old) but I never ever thought I’d get to hear it last night. It was the first time they’d ever played it live, and they brought out Ben Mink — who’d played the electric violin on the original — to play it again. 33 years later, never played it live, and I saw it at my first concert. Amazing. That, followed by “Subdivisions”, reminded me why I’d spent so much on a ticket.
The second set was all the classic Rush everyone craved. I knew we’d hear “Tom Sawyer” and “Spirit Of Radio” and “Closer To The Heart”, but layering in epic pieces like “Natural Science”, “Cygnus X-1”, and most of “2112”, plus unexpected ones like “Jacob’s Ladder” and “Xanadu” were all I could have hoped for. Well…maybe “La Villa Strangiato”, but we didn’t have all night. By the way, it turns out my lizard drummer brain still knows every single drumstroke in Sawyer, YYZ, Subdivisions, and Syrinx. Every. Single. One.
The apocalyptic ending to the 2112 suite would have been a perfectly good finale for me, but they still had a couple of albums left to cover (after a Eugene Levy video clip spared us from the clap-until-they-come-back-out encore cliché). Closing with “Working Man” with the image of a high school gym projected behind them seemed the right monument to their blue-collar-by-way-of-nerdvana body of music, and tribute to their origins.
I’m glad I went. I’m glad I got to see them paint some of the masterpieces that soundtracked my adolescence. I’m glad I got to see one of my musical heroes play a solo that left me shaking my head.
I’m glad there’s still a Rush, even if it only turns out to be for a little while longer.