After 30-plus years of existence, it is abundantly clear that Rush has mastered its craft. The long-lived Canadian prog-rock trio’s impressive three-hour performance in Oklahoma City was flawless, providing a touchstone by which to evaluate other live bands. The band visibly enjoyed itself too. (Rush still does not merely show up for work.) To be sure, live rock music does not, and likely cannot, get any better than this in terms of sheer musical proficiency and precision.
Rush is experiencing a rush of sorts these days. The band is in the middle of its second round of dates in support of its latest studio album, 2007’s Snakes & Arrows. Moreover, the band recently released a live album that has, according to May’s Rolling Stone, sold 20,936 copies in its first week. At this point, it is doubtful that the band will ever hold a farewell tour: Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and the indomitable Neil Peart are all reveling in too much creative and technical excitement. Aside from Vegas, don’t expect Rush to be playing the casino circuit. One can soundly envision this band playing live, and playing well, for years into the future.
In addition, the band’s new material is formidable. This is not a “greatest hits” tour; this is not a “reunion” tour; this is not a goodbye to romance. This is, rather, a bona fide record-promoting tour. The band confidently performed several songs from Snakes & Arrows. In fact, songs from the latest album formed the basis of the set, which was atypical because the band’s last few tours have featured a dearth of new songs.
Some of the several songs played from the new album included “Far Cry”, “Workin’ Them Angels”, “Armor and Sword”, “Spindrift”, and “The Larger Bowl”. Guitarist Lifeson was magnetic and masterful as usual during these new, reflective ditties; his enthusiasm was tangible, and his unmistakable guitar-punch omnipresent. At times, though, Lifeson’s amplified guitar sound rendered Lee’s vocals moderately incoherent. (And this interference is my one minor quarrel with the performance.) It was something of a change, however, to see Lifeson playing various instruments—he juggled acoustic and electric guitars—and pushing various pedals with the same amount of rigor that he evinced later on such classics as, for example, “Tom Sawyer” and “The Trees”, among others.
Bassist and vocalist Lee and drummer Peart both performed the new songs excellently; Peart’s later drum solo, too, was as preternatural as it was expected. But Lifeson’s untamed guitar and restless movement tended to award him more attention, and deservedly so. Lee is not as intriguing live. His voice isn’t as high-pitched now, if still immediately recognizable. Probably the best new song was the Buddhistic “The Larger Bowl”, during which Lee stressed the line, “Such a lot of pain on the earth.” Also during this song, visuals juxtaposed scenes of various institutions to highlight class discrepancies; footage of human suffering was also shown. The song “Workin’ Them Angels” was reasonably decent. But the heavier “Far Cry” had more force, functioning as it does as the closest link to younger prog-rock bands such as Tool. Overall, the band’s new songs came across well and the audience appeared appreciative.
As to the rest of the show: one commendable thing was that the group used few gimmicks; those used were mainly for comic relief or for emphasis, including visuals depicting scorching fire. Tonight’s show began, for example, with a fake-scandalous visual of Lifeson and Peart in bed together (Melville’s Moby-Dick must have had a lasting impression on the band). After this, the band tore into “Limelight” from their 1981 release, Moving Pictures, with Lifeson working the song’s unique riff with ingenuity. Another skit introduced the signature “Tom Sawyer”. This visual wittily featured South Park characters pretending to be Rush and attempting to play “Tom Sawyer”—only this mock-group gets the lyrics horribly wrong.
While pyrotechnics were employed as well, the band devoted most of its energy to the songs themselves. Highlights included “Red Barchetta”, “Subdivisions” with its largely synth-based sound, and, of course, “The Spirit of Radio”. During these, the band became more festive and active: Lifeson and Lee smiled at and moved closer to one another, and Lifeson could be seen flirting with fans in front of the stage when not dancing in an intentionally corny fashion. During “The Spirit of Radio”, Lee raised his hands up and encouraged the crowd to clap along, garnering it more attention from both band and audience than any other song. There were, however, some forgivable negatives, as naturally several major songs had to be cut from the set to accommodate the wealth of new material. These included “Working Man” (which sounds massive live), “Closer to the Heart”, and “Fly by Night”. The band’s cover of “Summertime Blues” would also have been nice as well.
Rush’s recent song “Far Cry” may be, in part, a lamentation about the lack of perfection and justice in the world, a song that acknowledges a certain imbalance and discord. One of its key lines goes, for instance, “It’s a far cry from the world we thought we’d inherit.” Such a pointed reminder of existential injustice doubtlessly applies to the world stage, but concerning Rush’s concert stage, these sentiments simply do not apply. As Rush demonstrated in Oklahoma City, there is indeed some inkling of perfection and justice on earth, but it is limited to the concert hall—with Rush running the show.