Rush is returning to St. Paul, Minn., this week after playing there last fall. Does the band check September’s set list to avoid too much repetition? Heck, no.
“Once we’ve established what the set is for the tour, it stays that way,” Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson said recently during tour rehearsals in Puerto Rico.
For this leg of the tour, the Canadian rock trio has “dropped a couple of songs and put a couple of others in. We’ve changed a bit of the video stuff that goes on behind us,” Lifeson said. “Other than that, it’s pretty much the same as it was on the first half of the tour,” even though half the cities will probably be repeats.
Preparing a set list requires balancing radio favorites with album tracks and material from the current CD, “Snakes & Arrows.”
“There’s always the core that we have to do, like `Tom Sawyer,’ `Spirit of Radio,’ those songs,” he said. “And then it’s really what we all bring. We all e-mail each other with suggestions so we’re prepared when we go into rehearsal. This tour, we decided to do nine songs from `Snakes & Arrows.’ which is quite a bit. Normally, we do four or five from any new album.”
(If you’re really dying to know the set list, go to http://rushtour2008.blogspot.com.)
Sometimes, the Toronto trio will have to relearn old songs. On their 2007 trek, the guys played “Entre Nous” (from 1980’s classic “Permanent Waves”) for the first time in concert. “It was going back and trying to recall what you did in the studio when you played it,” Lifeson said. “A lot of it has to do with muscle memory. You go through the song once or twice and you can’t quite remember what position your hand was in. Then suddenly everything clicks.”
He added that singer-bassist Geddy Lee has a TelePrompTer onstage just in case he needs to be reminded of a lyric. (Drummer Neil Peart is the band’s principal lyricist.)
These days, Lifeson, 54, thinks Rush is in a groove.
“In so many ways, we’re playing better than we ever have. We’re enjoying touring better than we ever have. There’s so many things about it that seem to give much more pleasure at this stage of our lives. We don’t feel tired or bored or at the end of it. Everybody feels excited about the future and making another record and being on the road again.”
If any Rush fans have forgotten anything about September’s show, they can check out the new concert CD “Snakes & Arrows Live,” taken from the tour. Are the band members afraid that a live document will give away too much about the current tour?
“With us, I don’t think it matters,” Lifeson admitted. “Rush fans know everything all the time anyways.”
Over 35 years, Rush has developed one of rock’s most devoted cults. Because the band is either loved or hated (especially by critics), the fans have “this badge of honor,” said Lifeson, who occasionally reads fans’ rabid postings on the Internet.
He thinks the fans are more upset than the band members about Rush never even landing on the ballot for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“They feel really slighted by it,” he said. “I’ve read those postings. For us, it really, really doesn’t matter. It’s like the Grammys; if we get nominated, we think, `There goes our credibility if we win a Grammy.’ Fortunately, we never do.”
Perceptions of rock’s most enduring cult band, however, may be changing. Apparently, Rolling Stone magazine has taken an unexpected interest in Rush recently, dispatching a reporter to spend a whopping four days with the trio in Canada.
“They’ve never been much in the way of fans of ours - in fact, totally the opposite of that for the longest time,” Lifeson said. “There’s been quite a bit of friction between them and us. It was odd to us to get this request to do this big interview with them. I’ve yet to see how it turns out. If they want to do a cover story on Rush, then something’s changing somewhere.”
Maybe Rolling Stone is starting a Canadian edition, eh?