Live: Rush, Houston
An alignment of the stars led to two tickets in our hands, to a Rush concert at Houston’s Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion. I never have been a big fan of the Canadian prog-rock trio over the years, but I came away from Saturday evening’s performance with a respect for these great musicians and performers.
This is the band’s “Time Machine” tour with a handful of the band’s classic songs, a smattering of instrumentals, two new tunes from an upcoming album, and a complete performance of the three-decades-old Moving Pictures album. Released in 1981, Moving Pictures was Rush’s most successful album, certified quadruple platinum with some of their best-known songs and radio favorites “Tom Sawyer,” “Limelight” and the Grammy-nominated instrumental “YYZ.”
But they kicked off the show Saturday (9/25) with “The Spirit Of Radio,” which found bassist/singer Geddy Lee vocally not quite on the mark. By the middle of the second tune, “Time Stand Still,” though, he seemed fine. The first set included the rarely-heard-live “Presto,” and one new song from the upcoming Clockwork Angels. “BU2B” (shorthand for Brought Up To Believe) is a guitar-heavy rocker that almost sounds like 1970’s heavy metal but with some of Rush’s trademark deep questioning in the lyrics. That segued nicely into the radio hit “Freewill” and the first set ended strong with “Marathon” and “Subdivisions,” Lee playing synthesizer and bass pretty much simultaneously.
These boys are supremely talented musicians, and the show was designed to spotlight each member’s distinctive talents. Guitarist Alex Lifeson played acoustic and electric guitars and even broke out a lute for one song, Lee plucked through his share of bass solos (and even led the band on the funky instrumental “Leave That Thing Alone”) but the most astounding spotlight was on drummer Peart. Seated behind his massive drum kit (“The roadies must hate putting that together every night,” observed my son), Peart began his solo like all others, tapping out some polyrhythms while his bandmates took a smoke break. But after a few minutes his drum riser spun around, and he launched into an exploration of rhythm on some electronic drums and finally it wound up with a jazzy big-band swing tune, complete with synthesized brass.
Lifeson took a spotlight on a 12-string guitar and his strumming introduced “Closer To The Heart,” another favorite, and finally the whole shebang wound up with a couple instrumentals from 2112, “Overture” and – in the encore – “La Villa Strangiato.” To wrap the encore, Lee faked everyone out with a reggae version of “Working Man” that mercifully evolved into its more familiar, more rocking incarnation. Very good show – I would say Rush won me over, but seeing them live is much, much different than merely listening to their albums, the best of which are decades old.
The only problem I had with the concert was with the three overlong filmed set pieces that opened the concert, introduced Moving Pictures after intermission and which wound up the show after the encore. Each movie featured the band members playing characters (with lots of prosthetic makeup and fake facial hair) and featured different versions of the band (one was a trio of chimpanzees) playing weirded-out versions of Rush songs.
Ever self-effacing, Lee suggested that maybe the band was a little “self indulgent,” and I’d say those movies were just that. But those are easily forgotten, especially when the music from these three great musicians starts to rock. A three-hour show with a near sellout crowd under the Houston harvest moon and the planet Jupiter? Can’t beat that!
YouTube: “BU2B” by Rush