Rush played their R40 tour at the Maverik Center in West Valley City (a Salt Lake City suburb, for all you non-Utahns) last night, performing what everyone now understands to be a run of farewell shows for a band that has been together since 1974.
Really, that’s 41 years, but “R41” just doesn’t have the same lilt to it as “R40,” does it?
It’s a shame that these three musicians, friends, and good people (Bassist/Vocalist Geddy Lee, Guitarist Alex Lifeson, and Drummer/Lyricist Neil Peart) are basically wrapping up what has been a storied career, capped in 2013 by induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after fourteen years of eligibility (and the first year that fans got a vote…. just sayin’). They have so much energy left, as they demonstrated throughout the show.
Trying to fit that much music into a show that would please not only their fans but themselves and their own diverse performance wants was a problem whose solution has long been the “Evening with Rush” format, a 3 hour, no opening act, 20 minute intermission marathon of musical excellence.
And last night at the Maverik Center was no exception: 2 sets, 2 intermissions, and seemingly a hundred songs.
But last night was different, too. Instead of their normal mix of new and old songs, from the very beginning Geddy told the crowd that they wanted to go back in time.
And so they did.
Pay attention, all you bands just starting out, or maybe getting to the point where you might want to think about hanging it up: you might learn something here.
First, let me acknowledge my musical co-pilot for the evening:
My daughter, whose ambition to be a photographer (concerts, mostly) is due in no small part to her love of live shows. A love I can only hope I contributed to by taking her to her first “real” concert back in 2010:
Rush’s “Time Machine” Tour.
And the Big Wheel spins.
Meanwhile, in 2015, Rush is busily working their way through all 4 decades of their musical history as only they can do: in 7/8.
Sorry, I meant chronologically, in reverse. Because, you know, that’s so much more conventional.
Beginning with 3 songs from their recent “Clockwork Angels” album, they played
at least one song from every single album [tracks from nearly every one of their albums, but it seemed like every album!] as they rolled back the clock.
Not only musically, but from a stagecraft aspect, as well.
Beginning with the stage setup from the “Clockwork Angels” tour,
their coverall-wearing crew continuously reshaped the stage to reflect the eras as the music flowed.
Alex’s horns slowly transformed into amps, and Geddy’s machinery slowly become dryers,
both eventually becoming huge stacks of amps, just like the “old days.”
But then, as the clock continued to roll back, through hits like Tom Sawyer, The Spirit of Radio, Jacobs Ladder (!), a Hemispheres/Cygnus X-1 medley, and a goodly portion of 2112, the stage set actually began to contract, reflective of where they were during those early albums.
Finally, Rush became what Rush has always been at its core: 3 guys playing music.
Long gone is the elaborate laser light show, the huge projection screens, the pyrotechnics. A couple of amps, a simple lamp pole on either side of the stage.
Finally, then, they make the journey complete, and even that is too much.
A couple of amps set up on school chairs, a disco ball hanging from the ceiling, and Rush is playing in the gymnasium of “Rod Serling High School” in 1974.
And with all the stagecraft stripped away, without all the bells and whistles, the audience is left with a guitar, a bass, a simple drum kit, and the music that has touched each of them across the years.
And it is good.
A creative way to respect both your music and the fans who love it still, without being cheesy or cliched.
That’s why these 3 guys are among the classiest in the business.
In typical Rush fashion, there is a short movie after the final number, which in this case shows the band being ignominiously kept out of their dressing room by all of the various characters from their albums: the puppet king, the fire juggler, the Permanent Waves girl, etc. As the band walks away, they are left with nothing but the question that they themselves may not even know the answer to at this moment: