Odd Event Reviews... 'Rush' in Concert
Andy Simpkins reviews the musical oddity that is 'Rush' in concert, Wembley Arena, London, 8th September 2004
In my continuing series of concert reviews and attempts to show readers of this site that at least one of the editorial team has some comprehensive appreciation of good music, I will put pen to paper once again and recite the events that transpired when I went to see another of my favourite bands as they trod the boards for their first series of UK concerts for 12 years.
Rush have always had something of an ambivalent relationship with the British musical press. It all started in the late 1970's when the UK was in the unwelcome grasp of Punk Rock; any shoddily dressed bunch of trash that could pick up a guitar, even play the thing was being lauded as the next big thing and the successor to the likes of the Sex Pistols and their unwholesome ilk. The music press at the time picked up on their message of 'Enjoy, Destroy!' and was convulsed with anti-Fascist hysteria and embraced everything nihilistic and Left-Wing. Rush had the unfortunate timing to become known in the UK upon the release of their ground-breaking album; '2112', the first side, being a side long epic about a repressive Left-wing dictatorship in a far-flung future world where everyone must conform 'in the name of The Red Star of the Federation' and one mans efforts to bring about change. This coupled with the fact that Rush's drummer; Neil Peart, at that time was an avid reader of the Russian-American authoress; Ayn Rand, who's works include 'The Fountainhead' and 'Atlas Shrugged'. Her works all have one thing in common, that of one man or woman against a society that is repressive or desires conformity and uniformity.
The press immediately pounced upon this and branded Rush as 'Crypto-Fascists'(whatever that means) and most of the music press had their front pages emblazoned with the words; 'Canucks, go home!' and other sheep-like bleatings saying that Rush were a bunch of Neo-Nazi's who were out to corrupt an already disaffected youth of Britain. Needless to say, Rush were initially perturbed by this reaction but soon shrugged it off when they found that there was an audience waiting to hear something different and refreshing as opposed to the Punk and Disco tripe that was clogging up the charts at the time.
A brief history of Rush:All of the members of Rush come from Toronto and were drawn together by a mutual love of rock music such as Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton and rock and blues bands got together in the early 1970's. The founder members are Geddy Lee who plays bass guitar, keyboards and occasional acoustic guitar, Alex Lifeson who plays lead guitar and their original drummer; John Rutsey. Their first album releases:simply called 'Rush' was a very workmanlike affair and drew its inspiration from bands such as Led Zeppelin. This was very well received but after a short Canadian tour, John Rutsey left the band, citing personal reasons and a gentleman by the name of Neil Peart joined and this was to have a major impact on the musical direction of the band.
Neil Peart is a very well-read and extremely articulate man as well as being one of the best rock drummers on either side of the Atlantic and this became apparent as soon as the band sat down to rehearse and record their second album:'Fly By Night'He drew upon the works of Ayn Rand, J.R.R. Tolkein and other science fiction authors and infused the song lyrics with these influences in such songs as 'Rivendell', 'By-Tor and The Snow Dog', 'Xanadu', '2112' and a host of others. It was blindingly obvious that this line-up was onto something good and this has been the line-up to the present day and the concert I saw which was one of the UK dates to celebrate their 30th anniversary as a working band.
Wembley Arena, for those of you who have been up there, is a fairly large auditorium holding a capacity audience of approximately 12, 000. You will also know that the sound quality and acoustics can leave a little to be desired when it comes to rock concerts.
I had arranged to meet one of my friends at a hotel on London's North Circular Road and then travel the short distance to the venue. However, due to the ever-present traffic in that part of London and my friends delay in meeting up, he was half an hour late in meeting me in the hotel bar, where I was availing myself of a few pints. Jumping into a convenient taxi with 2 other English Rush fans and a bemused Canadian Rush fan, we crawled through the evening rush-hour traffic to arrive at Wembley Arena just as Rush were appearing on stage. We knew they had just made their appearance on stage because, even from outside the Arena, we heard an almighty cheering and the recorded fanfare and anthem they use to herald their appearance on stage was played.
The few pints I had in the hotel bar an hour or so earlier needed to make an escape and I shuffled to the nearest Gents as the band launched into a medley of songs as their opening number. Much refreshed, I took my seat as the band finished the medley which comprised of segments from 'Hemispheres':a conceptual album release in 1977 dealing with the ongoing struggle between the Dionysian and Apollonian halves of the personality and the only UK chart single they have had over here:'The Spirit Of Radio', a song immediately recognisable to rock music fans, even if they haven't heard much Rush in the past, which harks back to an earlier, untarnished time when radio was used as a means of entertainment and enjoyment before it was used as a medium for advertising , hence the line:'. now it echoes with the sound of salesmen, of salesmen. '
Being in a bit of a hurry, getting home from work, getting showered and changed before going out, I did not have time to pick up a pen and paper to list all the songs played. However, I had my trusty mobile phone on me and had to use the text message writing function to key in the songs played. Good job I didn't press the 'send' button as one of my friends could have received an annotated list of Rush songs in place of a friendly message or an endearing pleasantry.
In the 30 years that Rush have been together, they have built up a formidable back-catalogue of albums and they dipped into that, from their first offering:'Rush' which I have already mentioned to their latest offering:'Feedback', which is an affectionate tip of the hat to the bands that inspired them in their early days, ranging from artists like Cream, Eddie Cochran to the The Who and Blue Cheer.
Rush do not go in for a lot of stage effects when they are playing live. Apart from the usual lighting, they also had a large projection screen mounted over the back of the stage which served a dual purpose, that of showing clips of film footage from their videos and other such film clips, it was also for the benefit of those poor, benighted souls like myself who were near the back of the auditorium, what was going on up on stage.
I will not give a complete track listing but will point out the highlights of the show and those songs which stuck in my mind during and after the concert. 'Red Barchetta' from the album 'Moving Pictures' is a song they normally play whenever they tour and deals with the subject of those halcyon days when motoring was a pleasure and not a chore, when machine and man worked in tandem to produce feelings of elation and giving a much-needed adrenaline surge. 'Animate' concerns the need to reach inside oneself and get in touch with the anime, or feminine side of ones character and the song; 'Subdivisions' deals with the various youth cultures that arise in the suburbs of any major city and how the outsider is ostracised and told to'... conform or be cast out... 'and how it is all too easy to be stuck in a 9-5 rut.
All throughout the first half of the show, Alex Lifeson, Geddy Lee and Neil Peart showed us what consummate musicians they are. Alex maintained a solid presence stage left while playing lead and rhythm guitar while Geddy switched easily between playing bass guitar, playing keyboards and triggering Taurus pedals to start playing pre-programmed keyboard sections when he was busy playing bass guitar. Neil Peart is easily one of the best rock drummers in circulation today and has a wide range of influences to draw upon, from straightforward rock drumming through Jazz chops to African and other ethnic rhythms he has picked up over the years.
An old song which got a very welcome airing was 'The Trees' from the album 'Hemispheres' which deals with a titanic struggle in a forest between the Maple trees and the Oak trees over who should get more sunlight. I cannot help but think that this song has more political overtones as the Maples might represent Canada and the Oaks are England, not that the two countries have had any squabbles recently... This was followed by a song called 'Roll The Bones' from the same titled album which concerns the random dice rolls of fate and all we can do is hope that we roll a double six from time to time. There is a spoken 'rap' section in the middle of the song delivered up on the stage screen by a grinning skeleton who urges us all to '... get out there and rock and roll the bones...'
The first half of the concert came to an end amid rapturous applause. This was Rush's first UK tour for 12 years as the band have had to stay on the North American continent for a number of reasons. The primary reason was the fact that Neil Peart has had a number of personal tragedies to deal with over the past several years. His teenage daughter was killed in a car crash in 1997 on the same day that Diana, Princess of Wales was killed, and then 2 years later, his wife died after a long battle with cancer. Needless to say, the band put all activities on hold while Neil took time out to try and piece his life back together. Fortunately, this tale does have a happy ending as Neil has since met someone and remarried. A song; 'Ghostrider' that was written for the 'Vapour Trails' album deals with this period in Neils life where he spent a year or so riding around North America and Canada on his motorcycle experiencing and trying to iron out all the emotional highs and lows that he was suffering at that period.
After a break of some 20 minutes, the lights dimmed again to usher in the second half of the show. To get the crowd in the mood, a short piece of film was shown on the screen showing the 3 members of the band portrayed as 'Thunderbirds' style characters saving a city in peril from a giant dragon that was on the rampage. This was all very tongue-in-cheek and helped to get the audience in the mood for the second half of the concert. The opening drum solo of 'One Little Victory' from the aforementioned 'Vapo(u)r Trails' album sounded out. This song is all about the minor triumphs that we all experience at some time or other in our lives and this song was accompanied by video footage of the aforementioned dragon contentedly puffing away on a cigar and flourishing a Rush back-stage pass at the audience before flying off in a huff and waving a white flag at the relentless rock music being played on stage.
This was quickly followed by 'Tom Sawyer' from the 'Moving Pictures' album. This song tells us all to adopt a carefree attitude towards life and not to be swayed by authority figures and what they tell us.
'Earthshine' from the 'Vapo(u)r Trails' album is all about the heavenly luminesence that is the Moon and how its push and pull on the seas and in our blood can exert an influence on all of us. Along the same lines is 'Mystic Rhythms'and how the power of music and of primal music and its tempo can '... capture our thoughts and carry us away. 'Red Sector A' from the album 'Grace Under Pressure' is one of the bleakest songs in Rush's back catalogue as the song deals with life in a futuristic concentration camp; a subject all to familiar and painful to Geddy Lee's parents as they were prisoners in a Nazi death camp and the song is suitably harrowing in its content
After this section of songs finished, Alex and Geddy took a break as Neil Peart started to demonstate his drumming skills using traditional snare and tom-tom drums and use of the cymbals, halfway through his drum kit revolved to show another kit which comprised electronic drum pads and other sound sampling equipment which could be triggered by hitting the drum pads. This he used to full effect and produced a selection of drumming styles from African to big band effects complete with accompanying synthesised brass and woodwind chops all accomplished by triggering drum pads and trigger pedals. He is not known as 'The Professor' for nothing and he always likes to show case his drumming skills whenever he can while up on stage.
He concluded his solo and waved the audience a temporary farewell as two stools were brought out on stage as Geddy and Alex made a reappearance and started a slow acoustic rendition of a song called 'Resist' where there are times when you have no choice but to fall in line with your instincts at the cost of your better judgement.
After they finished this, Neil reappeared on stage and some old classics were given a welcome airing again:'2112', 'By-Tor and The Snow Dog', 'La Villa Strangiato' and 'Xanadu' from '2112', 'Caress of Steel', 'Hemispheres' and 'A Farewell To Kings' respectively.
Upon that crashing crescendo, the band waved their farewells and left the stage but it was only a matter of time before they came back on stage to give a well-received encore consisting of 'Working Man' from their eponymously titled first album 'Rush' and a couple more offerings from their covers album 'Feedback':'Summertime Blues' by Eddie Cochran and 'Crossroads', formerly recorded by 60's British group Cream.
Wishing to avoid the crush of the crowds when coming out of a concert, I made an early departure as I needed to get back to Wembley Park underground station before the hoards were released, so to speak. Taking one last look back at the stage as I made my way out, the band had launched into a stirring rendition of 'Limelight' from 'Moving Pictures'. All the members of Rush are now in their 50's and if they decide not to tour the UK again before they call it a day, I will always have that last sight of them embedded in my mind of them up on stage, giving the audience what they want and having a damn good time in doing so.