I first heard Rush when I was 11 years old. A relative of mine introduced me to their Signals album and I listened to it over and over. Some time passed and the more I got into prog, the more I started searching for Rush’s music. Then I formed a prog band and all of us happened to be very much into Rush, which might have showed a bit in our music.
The point with Rush is that they aren’t a band for everybody. Though, ironically, they have been one of the highest selling bands in the world. Since their self-titled debut album in 1974, they became a cult band that went through several different musical phases, yet retaining an undeniable identity, based upon the musical prowess of its three members: Geddy Lee (bass, vocals, keyboards), Alex Lifeson (guitars) and Neil Peart (drums). Each member is an instrumental virtuoso, with the distinguishing touches of Geddy’s high pitched vocals and Peart’s intellectual lyrics to hallmark them.
I had to wait 24 years to see them live for the first time, and this happened in Frankfurt during their “Time Machine” tour, in May 2011. The excitement after that experience was such an everlasting one that, as soon as a new tour for their latest album, Clockwork Angels, was announced, I ran to get my tickets for their two German shows on the tour: Cologne on June 4th and Berlin on June 6th, 2013.
So the time came and I flew to Cologne, where the weather was really nice, in contrast to the rainy Eastern part of Germany, where many cities suffered flooding. I made my way to the Lanxess Arena and met there with two facebook prog friends I could meet in person that day. We were among the first to arrive and were very near the entrance. It was around 6:30 pm and the show was scheduled to start at 8:00 pm. This was 2 ½ hours of not being able to go anywhere, for the fear of losing the spot, so no drinks, no bathroom, no food, just background music and conversations with other Rush fans. There were people not only from Germany, but from the UK, Japan, Holland, all brimming with excitement and anticipation, all gathered together to celebrate the band which has taken a solid foothold in their hearts and souls.
Punctually at 8:00 pm the lights went off and a projection began. Since Rush’s concerts are not just about the music, but are full-rounded shows, these projections get us in the proper mood for some hours of awesomeness. We could see in the projection how the guys were getting ready to come out and play: a deflated Alex being inflated while releasing “gases”, Geddy warming up his voice via the stretching of his neck by machines and a disassembled Neil being assembled while remarking that his head must not be forgotten. This moment of laughter serves for the crew to remove the covers from the instruments and other stage devices, and then the guys come to the stage to everyone’s delight.
Then ensued some of the happiest hours of my life. They started their show with Subdivisions from their Signals album. An absolute surprise to me to listen to my favorite Rush song right away! The first part of the set focused on their 80’s era, playing The Big Money, Force Ten, Grand Designs (never played live before), Middletown Dreams (a song they played only during their Power Windows tour and one of my very favorites from that album), Territories, The Analog Kid and The Pass. The band was in top form, moving across the stage and playing like lords, mesmerising the audience with this nostalgic start to the show, the many visual enhancements only adding to the full effect. After these first songs, a keyboard sound came from one of their pedals and Geddy started playing a short bass solo, until Alex introduced some familiar chords, thus starting the instrumental Where’s my Thing? from their Roll the Bones album, then came the time for Neil Peart’s signature drum solo. Neil showed once more why he remains one of the most influential rock drummers ever, with his dexterity and use of samples that make the solo a spectacle in its own right. The band rejoins the stage to finish the piece and then start playing Far Cry, from their Snakes and Arrows album, a leap in time. With this very energetic song, accompanied by pyrotechnics, the first set of the show came to an end. Geddy announced that, since they are too old, they need a break, but would be back soon. I bet many people would love to be as old and vital as the three of them!
During the break, I was surprised to see the crew placing chairs and music stands behind the drum kit. Could it be that they were going to have a string section? I’ve never heard of Rush having guest musicians with them on stage, so this was a first. Indeed, a string section took these seats while some strange sound was coming from the background, with an image slowly forming on the screen. After some more minutes, the sound was taking form and a new projection started. This time we could see the Rush guys as Gnomes bullying a bureaucrat who wanted to talk to “Mr. Watchmaker”. So the band returned to the stage and started a set focused on songs from Clockwork Angels, accompanied by the “Clockwork Angels String Ensemble”, as announced later by Geddy. They started off with Caravan, also complemented by amazing pyrotechnics on stage. Then came the title song Clockwork Angels, The Anarchist, Carnies, The Wreckers and Headlong Flight, where Neil was left playing a solo on stage again, this time a shorter one. After this song, Alex started playing an acoustic arpeggio intro which led to Halo Effect, then came Wish Them Well and the last song from this album, The Garden, an absolutely beautiful highlight where Alex even plays some piano. The Clockwork Angels set was finished but the string section remained in place to accompany the band on the next songs. They played Dreamline and, afterwards, Neil started yet another drum solo, this time focusing on the most electronic part of his drum-kit. This solo was an intro to one of my favorite songs: Red Sector A, from their Grace under Pressure album. The mixture of strings and electronics served for some goose bumps. Then the instrumental YYZ was interpreted and the band interacted greatly with the String Ensemble, earning a loud ovation. To wrap it up, the Ensemble left the stage and the band interpreted “The Spirit of Radio” to a happy audience.
The band said goodbye and exited the stage until they returned for the obviously expected encore. Tom Sawyer and an abbreviated version of 2112 (Overture, The Temples of Syrinx and Grand Finale) signaled the end of an unforgettable concert, when another funny projection showed us the Rush Gnomes having fun and dancing, while the security guys made sure we would start to get away from the stage.
Two days later I was at the o2 World in Berlin seeing them again and experiencing the happiness that this band brings to many people: German, Italian and Polish fans, among many others, were there expectant. I had front row and resisted once again all this time without sitting, drinking or eating anything, or going to the bathroom. Once Rush are on stage, one forgets all about these human necessities.
This time the setlist was a little different to the one from Cologne. On the first part, they played The Body Electric instead of Middletown Dreams and Bravado instead of The Pass. Neil’s drum solo and their energy during Far Cry amazed me once again. On the second part of the show, they played Seven Cities of Gold instead of Wish Them Well and Manhattan Project, a song which suited the String Ensemble pretty well, instead of Dreamline. One thing to remark about Rush’s concerts is that nowhere else you’ll see so many air drummers together. People have heard these songs so much that they know when Neil does all his typical drum fills. During Red Sector A I could even spot their manager, Ray Daniels, to one side of the backstage playing air drums and enjoying himself. And this is a man who has heard these songs millions of times! The rest of the setlist remained the same as on their show in Cologne: energetic renditions of YYZ, Spirit of Radio and the same encore. I can’t think of a better Rush song to finish than the Grand Finale segment of 2112, where the band really gives everything they have and leaves the audience exhausted and happy.
I went back home with a smile on my face, having experienced two Rush concerts in one single week. This band has been around for over 40 years and they still deliver like the very first day. Their recent induction to the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame was just an acknowledgment for a career that isn’t close to being over. I’m sure they’ll keep on releasing albums and touring as long as they have it in them.
If you have never experienced Rush live, it is an experience not soon forgotten, a must for any rock music fan.