AKRON, Ohio — For nearly four decades, the Canadian rock trio Rush has built up a very loyal and obsessive global fan base by doing its own thing.
The band inspired many dudes and dudettes (OK, mostly dudes) to take up air drumming (you’re miming Neil Peart’s famous Tom Sawyer roll right now, aren’t you?) despite never being considered particularly cool, hip, trendy or part of a scene, and suffering more than a few slings and arrows from critics in the early years.
The band has been eligible for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since 1999 — its self-titled debut came out in 1974 — but may never get its just due from that institution; a longtime rock hall ceremony scribe told me several years ago that one of the voters declared that as long as he lives, Rush will never be inducted. But nearly four decades in, the band still fills arenas around the world.
Its eighth concert film/DVD, “Time Machine 2011: Live In Cleveland,” recorded in April, featured the band’s 1981 classic “Moving Pictures” album played in its entirety. The band purposely chose Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena as a thank-you to area fans, who welcomed the band on its first American tour in 1974 after WMMS-FM became one of the first radio stations to play “Working Man” in regular rotation.
“We realized that we’ve recorded almost all of our DVDs abroad,” Rush bassist/singer Geddy Lee recently told Rolling Stone.
“And we had never done one in America, and we noticed we were doing Cleveland on the last leg of the tour. We thought it was an appropriate choice seeing as Cleveland’s such an important town in our history. It was the first city that was ever warm to us. We thought it would be kind of apropos to come full circle and do that particular show there,” he said.
On the DVD, the Cleveland audience is suitably excited and directors Scot McFadyen and Sam Dunn get plenty of good crowd angles showing just how diverse Rush’s audience has become, with plenty of shots of teens, ‘tweens and seemingly every female in the arena jamming to classics including “Spirit of Radio,” newer songs from 2007’s “Snakes&Arrows” and two songs, the heavy “BU2B” and “Caravan,” from the band’s upcoming 19th studio album, “Clockwork Angels.”
The DVD, like the show, is split into two sets, introduced by funny vignettes called “The ‘Real’ History of Rush,” starring the band in ridiculous costumes and makeup and showing the silly side that all nonfans and many longtime fans didn’t know the group had. Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson particularly chew up the scenery with accents.
Musically, Rush is unsurprisingly in fine form, with the first set leaning heavily on material from the late ‘80s and ‘90s albums, “Snakes&Arrows,” and the rockin’ “BU2B.”
For any fan who already owns more than one Rush live DVD, the primary draw of “Time Machine” is watching the band perform “Moving Pictures.” Sure, much of the album has been a part of Rush sets since its release, but the band hasn’t performed the 11-minute side two opener “Camera Eye” live since the early ‘80s. Hearing and seeing the album played in sequence is a quick reminder of why it is considered by many to be the band’s defining record.
The stage setup isn’t too fussy, with stylish but unobtrusive lighting, several “time machines,” the occasional bit of pyro and a huge screen showing videos. But the visual focus is definitely on the band, with frequent overhead shots of Peart working his 360-degree drum kit (acoustic in front, electronic in back for the requisite solo “Moto Perpetuo”). It’s evident that the camaraderie is stronger than ever and the band appears to be having a lot of fun. Even the usually passive-faced Peart smiles and makes the occasional goofy face at his bandmates.
The bonus features are scant but include some outtakes from the “‘Real’ History” skits, some ancient footage of the song “Need Some Love” from a show in the early 1970s (with original drummer John Rutsey, who died in 2008) and a black-and-white version of “Anthem” with Peart from the “Fly By Night” tour in New Jersey.
The world may not have been clamoring for another live DVD from Rush, but “Time Machine 2011: Live in Cleveland” with the inclusion of “Moving Pictures” does offer fans something unique.