I’ll admit that at this point in my life as a Rush fan, I’m rather spoiled. I’ve been going to Rush concerts since they came to Madison Square Garden in December 1991 on the Roll the Bones tour, and I’ve seen them on every album tour since (as well as the 30th anniversary tour). And the thing is, even a mediocre Rush show is better than most bands on their best night. So for me, the sheer visceral thrill of seeing Geddy, Alex, and Neil live isn’t what it used to be.
But after sitting out the last few tours, I decided to see the band for the first time since the Snakes & Arrows tour in July 2007. I did so for two reasons — I caught a peek at some of their set lists from the tour, and I was impressed with the first several tracks I heard from the Clockwork Angels album. But before I touch on those things let me first say that as far as the band’s performance is concerned it was as tight, professional, and enjoyable as I’ve come to expect. A Rush concert is still one of the great spectacles in music today, and nothing about what I saw last night changed that for me.
OK, so let’s talk about Clockwork Angels. What I wrote about the record for Popdose is pretty much how I still feel about it. I’ve tried to get into it several times and it still hasn’t really connected with me. And I stand by my assertion that the production hampers it the most.
But when I heard the album played live last night — and they played nine of the album’s twelve tracks — I saw it in a whole new light. The songs breathed in a way they don’t on the record, and there were actual dynamics. It also helped that the guys omitted a few of the weaker songs from the album and focused on the strong material. In any case, while many longtime fans of legacy acts view new songs as bathroom breaks, I really appreciated the chance to hear most of Clockwork Angels the way it was meant to be heard.
Now on to the set list. Let me just say that while Rush’s ’80s material lacks the punch and raw excitement of their ’70s output, it’s still mostly great music and I love that they’re showcasing it once again. I swear that toward the end of the first set I thought it was 1988 all over again, and it was glorious. I think the band has spent enough time appeasing fans of “Working Man” and “La Villa Strangiato” that relatively younger fans like me deserve some love.
So ’80s Rush fans, take heart. Power Windows lives again!
What else? Well, there was a neat twist to the proceedings this time around, in the form of the Clockwork Angels String Ensemble, a group of about 9 or 10 players who took the stage behind Neil Peart’s drum kit and played for most of the show’s second half. Their presence on the Clockwork Angels songs added a great extra element to the songs, and I also enjoyed hearing what they added to numbers like “Dreamline” and “YYZ.” I loved watching one of the performers, an older guy with white hair standing stage right, go absolutely apeshit with air drumming and headbanging. Very fun and a good move for Rush to add these guys. I just hope they didn’t pull an Amanda Palmer and try to pay them in beer and hugs.
Lastly I’ll touch on the venue. This was my first trip to the Prudential Center (aka The Rock), and it’s a pretty cool building. The acoustics are definitely a cut above the mammoth concrete echo chamber that is the Brendan Byrne Arena/Continental Airlines Arena/IZOD Center. I was disappointed in the lack of any video monitors for those of us sitting to the side of the stage. There are a bunch of large-screen TVs hanging all around the arena; they could’ve at least turned those on. As it was, I had to do with the main video screen at the back of the stage, which was partially obscured by the lighting and sound rigs.
I reflected a bit last night that while I would love the experience of introducing my son to Rush at a concert, he’s not yet three years old and Rush will most likely be done as a touring act by the time he’d be old enough to bring. It’s a shame, because they proved once again last night that they’re one of the great live bands ever, and worth every bit of dedication their generations of fans have given them.
Video intro (Gearing Up)
The Big Money
The Analog Kid
Where’s My Thing? (with Neil Peart drum solo)
Video intro (The Appointment)
Headlong Flight (with Neil Peart drum solo)
Halo Effect (with Alex Lifeson guitar solo intro)
Wish Them Well
The Percussor (Neil Peart drum solo)
Red Sector A
The Spirit of Radio
2112: Overture/The Temples of Syrinx/Grand Finale
Video outro (Office Of The Watchmaker)