Confession time: I was a teenaged Rush fan.
I got into them in the late ’80s, just before Presto came out, so I had just enough time to get well and truly indoctrinated into the Cult of Syrinx before seeing them in Greenville, SC, on the very first date of the Presto tour. I’ve seen them a couple of times since, on the Counterparts and R30 tours, and enjoyed myself thoroughly. When they came through Seattle last year, on the first North American leg of their Clockwork Angels tour, I missed the show… or more accurately, I decided not to go. Honestly, I don’t have a good reason. I usually cite them as one of my favorite bands, but I hadn’t actively listened to Rush for a long time, so I may have just assumed I wasn’t really into their music anymore, and that missing the show wasn’t really a big deal.
And then I picked up a copy of Clockwork Angels, and was absolutely blown away by the album.
And then I talked with someone who raved about the Seattle show, and began to have serious misgivings about giving it a miss.
And then, my wife Megan and I watched Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage.
The point at which Megan (who cordially dislikes Rush’s music) turned to me and said, “I still don’t like their music, but they’re awesome!” was the point at which I fully realized the depth of my error of judgment.
A couple of months later, mercifully, the band decided to add some more dates to the tour, which gave me one more shot at making things right. The show was about three hours away, in Ridgefield, WA (just north of Portland, OR, which is how the show is listed on the schedule), and on a Sunday night, which meant that Meg really wouldn’t be able to make it. My daughter, on the other hand…
A brief side note: my daughter’s musical tastes are, like any seven-year-old’s, mercurial. She likes Selena Gomez and Joan Jett, Arvo Pärt and The Clash, High School Musical and Leonard Cohen. There are things she doesn’t like, to be sure, but she’s pretty amenable to trying anything at least once. (Would that I could say the same about her taste in food.) She had never heard Rush before, but when I discussed the idea of taking her to the concert with me, she allowed as how that sounded like fun. So, I started playing Clockwork Angels and the 2-disc Chronicles set for her.
She loved them.
And thus it was that the Girl and I ventured south from Seattle to take in one of the final shows on Rush’s Clockwork Angels tour.
So, here are some of my takeaways from last night’s Rush concert:
- The three guys in the band are phenomenal musicians, of course… but they’re also genuinely sweet people. Their camaraderie and charisma onstage was infectious, and made this one of the most genuinely fun shows I’ve seen in years. Also, funny. No, I mean it: they may be the funniest prog rock band out there. (Intentionally funny, I mean.)
- Not that this is news, but Neil Peart really is the best drummer on the planet. His first drum solo (yes, first, of three) was impressive, of course, but the drum solo where he essentially turned his entire kit into a sequencer and demonstrated that he can play electronica—something between Amon Tobin, Moby, the Future Sound of London, and older Daft Punk—was a whole ‘nother level of face-slappingly awesome.
- The oddest thing about the show, from a fan perspective, was the setlist. Half of the set was drawn from Clockwork Angels, which wasn’t much a surprise… but the other half being from the ’80s Rush period—derided by critics and some fans as kind of a “dork age”—was very much a surprise. Even more surprising was the song choices from that period: short on obvious “hits,” long on more obscure tracks, and a grand total of four-count-’em-FOUR* songs from their “classic” (pre-Signals) period. This had the curious effect of forcing a kind of critical reevaluation of those songs, and those albums. However much some folks may deride the albums between Moving Pictures and Presto (or Counterparts, or wherever you draw your “they’re back!” line), it’s clear that the band themselves don’t see them as anything to be ashamed of. This pleases me, both on their behalf and because I quite like that period of their career, myself.
- Under most circumstances, I’m morally opposed to rock bands playing live with orchestral backing; it smells too much like the worst excesses of pretentious prog. With that said, Rush is allowed to have a string section. Why? Because the Clockwork Angels String Ensemble was the most rock’n’roll string section I’ve ever seen. Their playing was tasteful and not intrusive, and watching them rock out behind the band was delightful. They played on songs from the new album, of course, but where they really impressed me was on their playing on some of the older songs (“Manhattan Project,” “Red Sector A,” and “YYZ”). Seriously classy stuff, kids.
- There were a lot of kids at the show. As a parent, that was nice to see. All the kids I saw were really well-behaved. As a parent, that was even nicer to see.
- My daughter looked utterly charming rocking out in her Clockwork Angels tour shirt… but, more importantly, looked utterly transported during the show, and is now clamoring to go to their next show. Conversion successful. 😉
So, yeah. A nice Sunday evening out with Rush, their string section, mumblety-thousand fellow cultists, and my daughter.
* Unless you count “2112 Overture/The Temples of Syrinx/Grand Finale” separately, that is, which I don’t. YMMV.