What do you do with a band full of guys in their 60s who keep getting better?
I saw Rush for the sixth time (I think — I may have lost count) last night, and it was the best Rush show I’ve seen. I can’t think of a better concert I’ve seen, period.
The hook for the R:40 (40 years since their only personnel change) tour is that they go backwards through their catalog. They have been rotating a few songs, but the basic structure starts with three songs from Clockwork Angels, their most recent album and one of their best.
By the time those three songs were done, I turned to my friend and perennial Rush concert companion and said, “They seem especially on tonight.”
I think the rest of the crowd felt it, too. As the band went back through its catalog to all the rock-radio staples (Tom Sawyer, The Spirit of Radio) and prog-rock anthems (the rarely played Natural Science, the even more rarely played Jacob’s Ladder, Xanadu and the enduring 2112), the crowd either sang along or simply roared.
The show is clever, too. While the band is playing, a crew clad in red suits disassembles and reassembles the stage props to re-create what they had on different tours through the years. By the end, when they’re playing songs from their first three albums, they look like they’re playing in a high school gym.
And they have star-studded videos. Paul Rudd and Jason Segel, known for their Rush fanaticism in the film I Love You Man, pop up to lip-sync the infamous “rap” section in Roll The Bones. A blooper reel of videos from past tours includes Jerry Stiller. Eugene Levy pops up in character as one of his old SCTV guises, introducing the band as he might have done in 1975. (If you want a few glimpses, check this review with videos.)
But nothing overshadows the band. Geddy Lee continues to be a modern miracle, hands fluttering over the bass while his voice exudes power, holding several notes for the crowd’s appreciation. Alex Lifeson plays guitar with such easy motions for such complex parts. Drumming icon Neil Peart had a shorter drum solo than usual, but I thought it was one of his best. The retro drumkit with the tubular bells was a nice touch.
It’s astounding to think how long they’ve been doing this. My buddy and I had spent part of dinner laughing about our aging. We’re in our 40s, and we’re falling apart. These guys have passed 60, and they’re flying through a dazzling rock concert. Peart powered through the double-bass drum part on One Little Victory. They even busted out the monstrous 1970s double-neck guitars for Xanadu. The Canadian health care system must be really good.
But Peart has said plenty of times that what he does requires a certain amount of athleticism, and now he’s battling tendonitis. Lifeson’s typical lead-guitar grimaces might be worse than usual, given the arthritis in his hands and feet.
So this might be the last full-scale Rush tour. And that would be a pity, given the form these guys are in.
What other band compares? Who else has released such strong albums nearly 40 years into their career? Other bands of their era may still tour, but they’re no longer the creative forces they were. Some bands don’t even have that many original or even “classic” members — Yes is set to tour for the first time without bassist Chris Squire (get well soon), and lead singer Jon Davison wasn’t born when Yes released its first couple of albums.
Touring is a grind they can no longer maintain. Even apart from the effects of aging, Peart is more interested in family time than travel time — especially understandable given the remarkable regeneration he has had since losing his wife and daughter in the 1990s.
I’ll toss out a novel suggestion: A residency.
That concept is no longer just for Vegas acts, thanks to Billy Joel and Madison Square Garden. Imagine a monthly Rush show in Toronto and/or near Peart’s Santa Monica home.
No need to truck everything around. They could adapt the venue to have complete control over the lights and videos.
Plenty of time to recover between gigs. And plenty of reasons for Rush fans to visit Toronto. I’d definitely make the trip at least once.
Plenty of time at home for the guys and their extended families.
We can’t ask anything more of these guys after 40 years of sustained excellence. But if we can find creative ways to keep them around, everybody wins.