Rush: Retire? Residency?

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 LadderXanadu and the enduring 2112), the crowd either sang along or simply roared.

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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.

Is Fox News irrelevant?

That’s what the iconoclastic Jack Shafer implies.

The reliably liberal Frank Rich appreciates better than most that Fox’s essential harmlessness. In a piece published last year in New York, he concluded more than that aside from infuriating liberals, Fox flexes little political power. The median age of a Fox viewer is 68, eight years older than the MSBNC and CNN median age, and its median age is rising. “Fox is in essence a retirement community,” Rich writes, and a small one at that! “The million or so viewers who remain fiercely loyal to the network are not, for the most part, and as some liberals still imagine, naïve swing voters who stumble onto Fox News under the delusion it’s a bona fide news channel and then are brainwashed by Ailes’s talking points into becoming climate-change deniers,” he writes.

Maybe the real problem with Fox is that it makes conversation with our parents and grandparents that much more difficult.

What Liberals Still Don’t Understand About Fox News – Jack Shafer – POLITICO Magazine.

Sunday reading list: May 17

Sharing links that would otherwise clog up my Facebook feed:

– Stress is good for you. I SAID STRESS IS GOOD FOR YOU!

– Thou shalt not bear false witness, unless you’re trying to uphold a theocracy.

– Our punditocracy (not just one network) needs more Jon Stewarts to call b.s. on them.

– I don’t like Vox trying to project doom for all other big sports events from Brazil’s World Cup white elephants, but seeing Brazil’s stadiums used as parking lots and wedding sites should serve as some sort of cautionary tale.

– We have the cure for homelessness. Do we have the will to do it?

– The 20 greatest standup specials of all time. (Well, technically, of the era since standup specials were recorded and broadcast.)

Amy Schumer and the best season of comedy ever

I once saw a really creepy guy approach an attractive young woman on the Metro. She responded as politely as she could a couple of times, then lost herself back in her headphones as he oozed slimy lust.

When it became clear the young woman wasn’t going to walk off with a creepy dude maybe twice her age once we pulled into Dunn Loring, he responded the way men so often do. “You ain’t all that.”

That’s what men do. Women’s looks are threatening. Men (OK, not all men) put themselves back in control by reducing them to body parts and facial features that are either there for men’s pleasure (if they’re great) or a slap against women’s worth (if they’re supposedly not).

So that’s one reason I’ve appreciated this season of Inside Amy Schumer, which has featured not only some side-splitting humor but some of the most provocative satire of masculinity ever aired. Last night, the entire episode was a parody of 12 Angry Men in which the men discuss whether Schumer is hot enough for basic cable.

Here’s Salon on why it’s great:

Because it’s comedy, it never loses the joke in all of its probing of toxic masculinity. It’s a masterful little trick to pull off. It goes crude and hilarious as the men trade insults about Schumer’s appearance (a “potato face,” who looks like an “uncut weiner” with an ass that makes Giamatti “furious”) and then pivots to quiet commentary on the brokenness of these men.

As the sketch progresses, men who moments before were railing against the insult of having to look at Schumer’s body, reveal the psychosexual pain that makes them hate women — and makes them believe that their attraction matters.

via Amy Schumer’s subtle brilliance: “12 Angry Men” isn’t feel-good feminism, it’s crushingly dark satire – Salon.com.

And it’s sweet revenge for Schumer on people like this idiot critic who found her film Trainwreck implausible because there’s “no way she’d be an object of heated romantic interest in the real world.”

No, in the real world, guys would fall all over themselves for her, no matter what they told their bros.

If you want a shorter dose of Schumer, try this terrific take on Friday Night Lights that turns into a jab at deeply ingrained rape culture. Yes, it’s much, much funnier than the description.

Before and after Spinal Tap — Bad News

I always enjoyed the short mockumentary Bad News Tour, which was actually released shortly before This Is Spinal Tap. It was a Comic Strip production featuring a lot of the regulars — three of the four Young Ones, plus Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French.

I had never seen the follow-up from five years later, reuniting the band for a record contract and appearance at the Monsters of Rock festival. (To film it, the “band” — I use that term loosely because there’s no evidence that Rik Mayall had any idea how to play bass — actually played at the Monsters of Rock festival.)

The result is a rarity: The sequel is better than the original. It’s longer, so there’s more time to develop the personalities. Adrian Edmondson’s Vim Fuego has delusions of grandeur only slightly dimmed by the full knowledge that his band is crap. Mayall’s Colin Grigson is a poseur who tries to hide his upper-middle class upbringing, his university studies, and the fact that he lives at home with his doting mom. Peter Richardson, the Comic Strip producer who did not join The Young Ones cast, is the most stereotypical hard-rock guy in the band, actually living the life of drug and drink excess. I’m a little disappointed in Den Dennis, Nigel Planer’s dim-witted guitarist, but his final monologue is a classic.

They also have some dead-on satire of the music biz. The record contract they sign is patently absurd. Their music video shoot is out of control. The final scene, which I won’t spoil here, has a brilliantly ghoulish take on the band’s future.

You can rent More Bad News at Amazon along with other Comic Strip features. The original Bad News Tour is also there in Season 1.

And if you want a small dose of the band in action, check out their version of Bohemian Rhapsody, which treads the line between hilarious and unlistenable.

Or just watch them lip-sync it with embarrassing results on a British talk show: