There’s nothing like a prog-rockin’ power trio to bring the silent masses out of the woodwork. While very few people openly admit to loving Rush these days, the packed house at the Jones Beach Theater shows that there are closet cases aplenty. There were even several kids in attendance (there’s nothing quite like an adolescent prog infusion to speed your children down the path to true music geekdom). In their parents’ defense, Rush does retain a certain off-kilter cool: for more than 30 years, the band has managed to entertain with odd time signatures, “now-you-hear-them, now-you-don’t” melodies, and lyrics so obtuse that many a Mensa scientist has gone mad trying to decipher them. The band still thrives on these kinds of eccentrics, and what is ultimately confounding is the fact that, even with the off-kilter time signatures, melodies, and lyrics, they still rock hard.
On their last two tours, the members of Rush repeatedly thanked fans for being patient, saying that new material would come when they were ready. The band was, after all, regrouping in the wake of terrible tragedy (drummer/lyricist Neil Peart had just suffered the heartbreaking loss of both his daughter and wife in a tragically short period of time). When they did release a new album (2002’s Vapor Trails) they still held back, playing only four new songs and loading their set with classics. So, one would be right to expect a greatest hits outing this time around—a shame since their latest album, Snakes & Arrows, is one of their most solid efforts in years. But, to our surprise, we were treated to nine of the new record’s thirteen selections.
That was exciting, but what really made this show different were the older cuts, or, rather, the ones that were (and weren’t) played. The trio performed “Entre Nous” from Permanent Waves, a song they said they had never done live (it sounded great, by the way). True geeks. . .err, Rush fans, would know other rare treats, including “Circumstances” from the lightly regarded Hemispheres album and “Between the Wheels.”
It seems like a lot to cram in, but Rush is one of those rare bands that gives you your money’s worth. There was no opening act, the show started relatively on time, it lasted three hours, and 27 songs were performed. Peart’s drumming was his usual phenomenal best (he is the only drummer in rock today worth watching all the way through a nearly ten-minute solo). Alex Lifeson’s guitar work was exceptional, balancing intricate play with pure shredding. Geddy Lee’s bass & keyboard playing were solid, and it’s clear that he’s gotten more comfortable in his vocal skin (he nailed “Dreamline” perfectly).
The band’s show featured video, lasers, smoke, and song introductions by the likes of Bob and Doug McKenzie and the characters from South Park. The group’s only misstep with the later adornment came during the McKenzie Brothers’ intro for the song “The Larger Bowl.” While they offered a humorous take on the title, the song itself is about poverty and suffering, and it was disconcerting to go from Bob & Doug silliness to stark images of starved children and ravaged villages.
The appliance of choice (oh yes, there was an appliance!) for this tour was the rotisserie oven—the band’ had three set up on stage with chickens roasting inside. A roadie came out periodically in a chef’s toque to baste the birds during songs. While they were not invited to the feast that seemed imminent, the crowd did get to join in on the popular songs like opener “Limelight” and the band’s main-set closing duo, “The Spirit of Radio” and “Tom Sawyer.” Heads bobbed to the beat of “Secret Touch”; a flying dragon made a screen appearance halfway through “One Little Victory” (fire-spitting included); and the crowd let out a roar when the first notes of “A Passage to Bangkok” started—a song Rush hadn’t played live in a long-ass time. The show (nearly three hours, including one intermission) wrapped up nicely with “YYZ.”
So what if there was no “Overture/Temples of Syrinx,” “Roll the Bones,” or “Closer to the Heart”? If you weren’t at one of the last two tours where they made an appearance, tough. Beneath the humor sprinkled throughout the show, Rush are a serious band, one intent on giving their fans a massive musical and visual presentation. They cater to the hidden geek in all of us, and for that, we can only be thankful—even if we do deny our allegiance when asked by others.