By: Dennis Cook
Rush :: 08.09.10 :: Shoreline Amphitheatre :: Mountain View, CA
Walking up to Shoreline Amphitheatre with an excited pack of Rush fans, someone asked innocently enough, "Who's opening for them?" Peels of laughter was the response. It's hard to imagine what band could possibly take the stage before this incredibly long-lived, incredibly singular Canadian trio. Despite being around 42 years – yes, you read that right – Rush has countless admirers but not many imitators. Few have the skill, tenacity or sheer moxie to stride the ground they've terraformed over four decades. Rush is the antithesis of the get-rich-and-famous-fast ethos and wholesale dumbness of today's mainstream music. They have fought for and insisted upon complexity and inquiry in all aspects of their craft, even as they've sharpened their pop instincts since the mid-80s. More simply, Rush is serious business and there's not many able to pull up to their table.
Besides, this is a group that needs all the stage time they can get. As bassist-keyboardist-lead singer Geddy Lee remarked early in the first set, "We've got about 400 songs to play for you. I hope that's alright." It sure as hell was given how remarkably well maintained and musically robust these three aging dudes still are. Outside of Geddy's voice faltering during the latter part of the show and at key junctures on some of the helium-high parts of signature numbers, Rush was practically ageless. They've never played to anyone's sensibilities besides their own, so the songs, despite jumping back & forth across the years, possessed an internal continuity and integrity that's largely unmatched in the rock world. There are a handful of peers who've done their level best but most of them have far more flubs and embarrassing, baffling decisions in their wake than Rush, who've achieved gargantuan success by adamantly going their own way.
To wit, a packed Shoreline for a band that hasn't put out a new studio album since 2007's Snakes & Arrows. However, the lure for many last night was the chance to hear 1981's Moving Pictures performed in its entirety, something Rush had never done live prior to the current Time Machine Tour, which has great fun in filmed clips, cheekily chosen intermission music and other sepia-toned stage design that embraces clocks, calendars and the like. Rush's smarts has always extended past their music to their stage craft, merchandise, etc. and this current tour only accentuates those positives while actively throwing a bone like Moving Pictures, their best known and likely best loved release, not to mention digging deep late in the second set to pound out a section of prog-grail 2112 and an encore of the finger-knotting "La Villa Strangiato" and their first hit single "Working Man." The amount of affection for these tunes on and off the stage was something you could feel if you just reached out your hand. Few stadium rock acts have figured out how to bridge the distance between the musicians and audiences like Rush, who again and again found ways to insert humor and intimacy into a normally impersonal shed.
A good deal of the fun of a Rush show is seeing their intro clips, accompanying videos and what actors and fellow musicians they've hooked into their hyjinx – no one who saw the tour with Jerry Stiller throwing the horns on the screen behind them will forget it. Rush's willingness to laugh at themselves and the culture they inhabit has defused any overt artiness to what they do. This tour's kickoff involves a polka band and Geddy Lee in a fab costume. Beyond that I'm not ruining it for potential attendees except to say that the care they use in selecting animation, lighting, pyrotechnics, etc. is incredibly successful. The music is resolutely the central focus but in order to effectively play to crowds of this size a few tricks and an aptitude with spectacle are required. But there's nothing lazy about Rush, who detest fat and fluff and never allow the music to meander despite the atmospherics and carefully constructed builds. At least that's how their sound unfolded at Shoreline and every other time I've caught them since I first got the bug for them in the early 1980s.
|Alex Lifeson's Time Tour Amps|
Beginning at sunset, the first set was a survey of things old and new. Opener "Spirit of Radio" was an instant winner that shamelessly tickled the crowd in a most classic rock way. We got a glimpse of their forthcoming Clockwork Angels album (due Spring of 2011) with the first set's hard-edged "BU2B" (Brought Up To Be) and second set's stunning, giant sized "Caravan," which both hint that Rush may have another classic record in them. Staples "Time Stand Still" and "Freewill" held their charm and potency in the first set, and Neil Peart's drum exhibition in the second set after Moving Pictures was surprisingly swinging, right down to a big band rave-up finish with drum pad triggered horns and some Buddy Rich style stick work. They are playing the same set every night, and a detailed breakdown can be found here. And honestly, if you don't loose your mind a bit during "Limelight" (as the vast majority of us did last night), I have to wonder if you really love rock.
Given the contemplative nature of this tour, I found my thoughts spiraling outwards and inwards throughout the night, pondering what it is that makes Rush so damn good and so deeply beloved by their fans. I think it has something to do with love being the baseline value in their songs. Skeptical of authority (though not fully rejecting of all forms), Rush trucks in healthy dubiousness. But that doesn't extend to love, which they recognize has the power to heal, shelter and positively inform humanity in ways religions, governments, etc. simply can't. There's a strongly etched sense of personal responsibility discussed in their tunes that nudges one past their own doorstep and maybe makes one open their eyes a little wider in viewing their neighbors and families. It's kinda hippy thinking but wedded to very un-hippy music, and the juxtaposition is often dazzling and emotionally stimulating; a movement "Closer to The Heart," if you will.
Anyone who doubts that rock 'n' roll can change and better folks' lives need only have stood on the lawn with me as the stage lights played off the wonder filled faces singing along to every selection. Sure, rock might not change the world but how will you know if you never try? Thank goodness Rush has made the effort for so long and shows little sign they'll be giving up anytime soon.
Check out our Saturday Eye Candy video salute to Rush from last year!
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