Thursday, June 14, 2007

“Living on the lighted stage approaches the unreal"

Posted by T. Ballard Lesemann on Thu, Jun 14, 2007 at 4:24 PM

Touring behind the new studio album, Snakes & Arrows, Canadian rock veterans Rush performed at the HiFi Buys Amphitheatre in Atlanta last night. An old band friend from Athens called me from the show during the band’s rendition of “Circumstances” (off the album Hemispheres). I caught about 45 seconds before the call ended — it was all fuzzy and distorted, but the Geddy Lee voice cut right through.

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I will gladly admit it: I’ve been a dedicated Rush fan for over 20 years. My dad bought me my first snare drum the same year Canadian prog-rock trio Rush released their finest album, 1981’s Moving Pictures. I was still fiddling around with paradiddles and flams, trying to figure out the best way to grip the drumsticks when the album’s three major hits — “Tom Sawyer,” nostalgic and tuneful “Red Barchetta” and elegant “Limelight” — were landing on the rock radio airwaves.

Rush sounded heavy and serious. Lee’s crackly, high-pitched voice worked in extreme registers and was frightening and earnest. Alex Lifeson’s guitar and Lee’s bass grinded simultaneously. It sounded like a machine, devoid of superfluity. Most important to my impressionable ears, Neil Peart’s fiery drumming was a study in precision, dynamics and control. I dove head first into the Rush catalogue and, by age 13, had

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acquired everything from the Sabbath ’n’ Zep-sounding 1974 self-titled debut (with original drummer John Rutsey) and the over-the-top sci-fi fantasy album Fly By Night to the deadly-serious concept album 2112 (based on the writings of Ayn Rand … and other weird stuff, from the looks of the Chinese silk robes they were wearing on the back cover, see pic at left), and the musically adventurous A Farewell To Kings and Hemispheres.

Of course, Rush’s triple-album pinnacle — Permanent Waves, Moving Pictures, and Signals — coincided with the whole post-punk/new wave movement that was happening in the U.K. and the States. The trio never quite fit into any of it, despite main lyricist Neil Peart’s “futuristic” tales (new technology, Cold War apocalypse, a society subdivided, etc.), additional keyboards and synth sounds, and a curious new element of reggae-tinged pop. Even Lee’s new skinny ties and Lifeson’s new surfer haircut (circa ‘82 or so) looked awkwardly unfashionable. No matter. The songs, hooks and solos were all there, intact and as effective as ever.

Through the late ’80s and ’90s, their material fluctuated in quality and sagged with excessive sound affects and low energy, but by 2000 or so, they stripped things down and went all rock trio again. I caught them in Atlanta and Charlotte recently and thoroughly enjoyed both shows. Damn, I wish I was there last night.


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