Rush In No Hurry This Time Around
by Paul Hanson
It might have been tempting for Rush to short-change their fans on this tour. After all, a band of their status could figure that most in the audience have seen the band before so, hey, they've had their night, let's not play all the songs people want to hear - - that way they'll come back. Rush resisted that temptation Friday, November 1, 2002, when it landed its current Vapor Trails tour at the Hilton Coliseum in Ames, Iowa. Rush fans gathered for what could be called a business meeting. The agenda? Three hours of progressive rock and roll with the purpose of making their fans happy.
At precisely 8:00 PM, the house lights went down and a black and white image of the Three Stooges displayed on the giant screen behind the stage, introducing each member of the band, including guitarist Alex Lifeson as Brad Pitt. The screen went dark and drummer Neil Peart began the familiar hi-hat/snare pattern that begins "Tom Sawyer." The crowd erupted. Bassist/keyboardist Geddy Lee took his position on the right side of the stage while Lifeson set up shop on the left side.
It almost can go without saying that Rush is an experienced band. "Tom Sawyer" was released over 20 years ago and the band played the song as if they had been playing it for 20 years. The fills by Peart were dead-on, the bass guitar rhythms were syncopated and locked in with Peart and Lifeson's guitar solo captured the magic of that song. Rush then set off into "Distant Early Warning" and "New World Man," the audience singing along with Lee during the entire song.
The essence of a Rush concert must be that Rush understands why people will pay $47 (my ticket for my 1st balcony seat) to see them. They understand that their fans consider them legends. Parents walked around the arena with teenagers. People that looked like they would have been 16 when the band's self-titled debut was released in the early '70s mingled with people that looked like they only had discovered the band with the Vapor Trails release.
There is an understanding between Rush and the fans that worship their musicianship as if it was a deity. Musicians in the audience have tried to mimic their songs in their practice room, guitarists spending hundreds of hours learning the intro to "The Spririt of Radio." There have been bassists around the world spending hundreds of hours learning the bass groove to "Driven." Drummers have spent hundreds of hours learning the time signature changes in "Limelight" and trying to cram just one more drum or cymbal within their reach in the desire to play a drum set that encircles their drum stool. Each musician on the stage that night has created their own space within the songs they have written for their instrument to merge into one. No one instrument ever overpowers the importance of the next.
Watching a band like this, a living, breathing legend, is inspiring. During the complex instrumental sections of "La Villa Strangiato," Lee and Lifeson didn't look at each other or at Peart. Instead, as one machine, one persona, they knew where each member was going to accent, syncopate, or pause. Lifeson catered to the left side of the crowd almost exclusively, air guitars in full action. Lee smiled the most, receptive to the crowd's applause and politely thanking the audience for coming out to see them. He started the concert by declaring that they had way too many songs to play and then launched into "Roll the Bones" which featured a skeleton on the screen doing the rap parts of this song.
Rush delivered two or three song-bursts of musicianship before pausing mere moments before jumping into the next song, and tastefully used the giant screen to compliment their performance. Missing from the performance were the standard "crowd relation" tricks that almost every band attempts. We've all heard the familiar "How the hell are you tonight
heard you are some rowdy people in this town so we thought we'd come and party with you!" to which the crowd screams, "Oh yes, we're so glad you came to party with us." That whole scenario is absent from a Rush concert. There were rarely any moments for the audience to get involved, save for some chants of "Hey!" Instead, audience members were treated to a business-like delivery, most evident by the performance of drummer Neil Peart.
Peart, who has suffered tremendous losses in his life with the passing of his wife and daughter, took on a stone-serious face, cracking a smile only twice: at the end of his monstrous drum solo when every drummer (and wanna-be drummer) cheered their approval, and during the hilarious spontaneous spoken word antics by Lifeson during "La Villa Strangiato". Lifeson told the crowd, "School sucks, but stay in school. These guys," motioning towards Lee and Peart, "did and look at them. They don't work." Peart, along with everyone in the arena, found Lifeson's comic relief hilarious. The rest of Peart's performance was as serious as a symphony percussionist, concentrating on hitting every note beyond perfection. During "Red Sector A," his set rotated on its platform so he could play his electronic drum set and during "Limelight," he nailed every time signature change with a sledge hammer.
The band ended their first set with "Natural Science" and began the second with "One Little Victory," complete with fire shooting up in the back of the stage. They then launched immediately into "Driven" which showcased Geddy Lee's dexterity on the bass guitar. Peart's drum solo, complete with triggered horn effects and black and white clips on the giant screen of classic big bands, was a definite highlight, as was the acoustic "Resist" with Lifeson and Lee sitting on stools and playing acoustic guitars. Peart returned to launch the band into the "Overture" and "Temples of Syrinx" movements from "2112," followed by a massive instrumental showcase trio of "Limelight," "La Villa Strangiato" and "The Spirit of Radio." The band then ran off stage to wait to be called back for an encore.
Some people actually started leaving the concert at this point. Good grief. What else could Rush do to please the crowd? They played just three more songs, ending with "Working Man," one of the two songs heard on rock radio that doesn't feature Neil Peart (original drummer John Rutsey plays on the recorded version of this song). This song's massive guitar riff rejuvenated the crowd and got a loud reception. Finally, Geddy Lee stepped to the microphone, thanked us for coming out, and stated that he hoped he would see us all soon.
Distant Early Warning
New World Man
Roll the Bones
The Big Money
Between Sun and Moon
One Little Victory (with pyrotechnics and all)
Red Sector A
Leave That Thing Alone
The Rhythm Method (Drum Solo)
Resist (Acoustic performace by Geddy and Alex, Neil left the stage)
2112: Temples of Syrinx
La Villa Strangiato
Spirit of Radio
By-Tor & the Snow Dog