Paul Roy and Charlie Farrell
Tuesday 3rd August, Nissan Pavilion, Bristow, VI, USA
Wednesday 8th September 2004,Wembley Arena, London, UK
Rush' 30th Anniversary in the US
Rush may not be my favorite band in the world (top-five though), but they are most definitely my favorite band to see in concert. I have seen Rush in concert only four times, with the Grace Under Pressure, Counterparts, Vapor Trails, and 30th Anniversary tours, mostly because I was stationed overseas for eight years throughout the 80's and 90's. I probably would have seen them about twenty times if it wasn't for that. For every Rush concert that I have attended, I have been no less than blown away. The 30th Anniversary tour was no different. It was, quite possibly the best rock concert I have ever attended - even better than the Vapor Trails concert. These three Canucks somehow keep besting themselves each and every tour, even after thirty years.
The Rush '30th Anniversary Tour' finally hits Europe
It was about 7:35 PM when the PA system went quiet and the giant center video screen came alive. Unfortunately it was still light out, VERY light out, as the setting sun was shining right in my face. Damn, that pissed me off! I was sitting dead-center, but more in the rear half of the covered seating area of the venue. Nissan Pavilion has a seating capacity of about 10,000, with room for another 15,000 on the lawn. This was a little farther than I would have liked, but the view was still excellent, especially since they have two giant video screens on each side of the stage, for the poor lawn dwellers. The opening video consisted of a brilliant animated segment which took you through all of the unique Rush album covers, with some hilarious animated transitions between each. The best was when the suited man from the Hemispheres album cover tosses his top-hat down to the naked guy, from the same cover, just in time to cover his "member" as he is turning towards the crowd. This all concludes with the three spheres from the Hold Your Fire album cover changing into three eggs that hatch baby dragons who start singing Rush's trademark Three Stooges intro, "hello, hello, hello". This surprisingly transitions into a bizarre segment starring Jerry Stiller (yeah, George's dad from the Seinfeld show), who appears to have awoken from a bad dream, and is wearing a Rush concert tee-shirt. He eventually starts yelling for the band to take the stage, calling them by their nicknames Lerxst, Dirk, and The Professor. This is when the magic really started.
The concert, just like with 2002's Vapor Trails tour, was divided into two long sets, each approximately 80 minutes long, with a 20-minute intermission between sets. That's two and one-half hours of jamming there folks! - and I haven't even mentioned the three song encore yet. Does Rush appear to be tiring after 30 years? I say thee nay! Here is a rundown of the setlist with some brief comments on each performance:
INTERMISSION - Rush takes a deserved 20 minute break. Before taking the stage again, the video screen starts showing the same dragon scene that started last year's tour, and then suddenly goes to static, and switches to the dragon sitting in a recliner, eating popcorn, and channel surfing the TV with his remote control. All of the programs are dragon related and he eventually stops on a show featuring the hilarious Rush bobble-head dolls that they were selling with their other merchandise. The show was very retro-Thunderbirds looking, and featured the bobble-heads in a spaceship fighting off the dragon, who is threatening to burn up all of their merchandise. This was laugh out loud funny. Set two then gets underway with:
- Medley - This was one of the genuine highlights of the concert. The band played short instrumental versions of several of their best 1970's-era songs, including Finding My Way, Anthem, Bastille Day, Passage To Bangkok, and Cygnus X-1, all while a montage of cool images of the band during various stages of their career were shown on the video screen.
- The Spirit Of Radio - What needs to be said? One of their best songs, and always a concert favorite. Awesome performance to boot.
- Force Ten - One of the few good songs from the Hold Your Fire album. They skipped that album in its entirety on the Vapor Trails tour, so it was nice to see it represented here.
- Animate - My favorite song from the Counterparts album. I think a lot of the crowd were unfamiliar with this song, but Rush turned in a great performance. This was the only song played from that album.
- Subdivisions - An awesome song from the awesome Signals album. They skipped it last tour, so I was glad to see it played this night, and so was the rest of the crowd. Their great performance was accompanied by some cool satellite image video describing vast suburban sprawl.
- Earthshine - All of the Vapor Trails songs that were played during this and the last tour sounded much better than the album versions, thanks to the terrible production quality of that album.
- Red Barchetta - Now we're talking! I had picked this song to open their second set, for a contest Rush had on their website. Ahhh, who needed front row seats and backstage passes anyways. I figured that they had to play this great song this tour, since they skipped it last time out. This was one of the best performances of the night, and the crowd simply ate it up.
- Roll The Bones - This has been a concert staple since the album of the same name first came out. Great performance, with a cool animated skeleton video, but there were many songs I would have preferred over this one (see my closing comments). Maybe it's time to give this one a rest.
- Bravado - Another song from the Roll The Bones album that I could have lived without, since I heard it last tour. How about just skipping that album altogether for a couple tours.
- YYZ - (-.-- -.-- --..) Hey, that's Morse code, and I used to have to copy that shit in the Navy. Only the best rock instrumental EVER, and these guys outshine themselves every time they play it. This is always the showstopper, and this night was no different.
- The Trees - The classic from the Hemispheres album. Alex broke out his acoustic for the opening segment and then finished it off with some ferocious electric guitar - even interjecting a little bit of Day Tripper in at the end. I never tire of this song. Amazing!
- The Seeker - The first of the Feedback cover songs. I wasn't that crazy about most of the songs on that album, but their live performance of this Who classic was fantastic. They Rushified it real good.
- One Little Victory - The lead off track from the Vapor Trails album, which was given the same treatment as on that tour. The main video screen showed the monstrous animated dragon approaching from the distance, and, as it arrives, lights up a cigar with its flaming breath. It then breathes a huge stream of fire towards the screen as real flame throwers nearly engulf the entire stage, as the band kicks off the song. You've got to see it to believe it. Hey, you can. Check out how they open the second set on the awesome Rush In Rio DVD.
ENCORE - When Rush took the stage again, they first went over to the two clothes dryers, which were leftovers from last tour's stage props, and removed the clothes that had been spinning in each dryer. They then tossed them out into the very appreciative crowd. I was too far away to tell what exactly they were. Probably tour tee-shirts. The encore began with:
- Tom Sawyer - What a way to start the second set. It is now almost completely dark out and the spectacular Rush stage show can finally be fully appreciated. People sure seem to go crazy for this here little song, and I can understand why - because it frigging ROCKS!
- Dreamline - OK, so don't skip Roll The Bones altogether, because this song kicks ass! Not only was the performance incredible, but they totally blew their wad with the laser and light show on this baby. I have never seen a laser show that looked so awesome, and the way they synched it with the synthesizer riffs was incredible.
- Secret Touch - Another great song from Vapor Trails, and as I pointed out before, much better than the album version.
- Between The Wheels - Awesome! They usually always play Distant Early Warning, from the Grace Under Pressure album, but they decided to dust off this gem of a tune instead. It is one of my favorites from that album and contains the classic lines; "now you know how that rabbit feels, going under you speeding wheels...bright images flashing by, like a windshield towards a fly".
- Mystic Rhythms - One of the best songs from Power Windows. A slower paced, beautiful song that is even more majestic sounding live. No Big Money this year. Crap.
- Red Sector A - Another classic from the Grace Under Pressure album that they never seem to leave off the set. Probably because it is always amazing live.
- Drum Solo - Neal is still "The Professor" - trust me. Almost identical to his solo on the last tour, which means it was incredible. My drummer friend who was with me, about lost his mind watching his idol do his thing.
- Resist - While Neal takes a break, Alex and Geddy take the stage with acoustic guitars to perform the acoustic version of this song, which they had arranged for the last tour. I like this version much better than the album version.
- Heart Full Of Soul - The Yardbirds cover from the Feedback album, and Geddy and Alex keep the acoustic thing going. Neal joined in on drums about half-way through the song. Once again, this version topped the album version, which I wasn't too crazy about to begin with.
- 2112 (Overture, Temples Of Syrinx, Finale) - When the opening, futuristic, synthesizer riff blared across the speakers, the crowd literally went nuts. They just take this classic to a new level when they perform it live, and it sounds better ever time I see them do it.
- La Villa Strangiato - This is Alex's tour de force. Quite simply an instrumental-rock orgasm, almost as good as YYZ. The past few concerts have featured a breakdown in the middle of the song where Alex does some strange noodlings on the guitar, and then rambles incoherently about some strange subject. (Last tour was some avant-garde jazz, followed by "Jazz is cool!"). I can't remember exactly what he rambled about this year, but I remember it was funny. Geddy was standing over by Neal and they were both grinning at him like "this guy is a complete loon!" He ended up playing some ferocious blues-rock licks and ended by saying "that shit is easy!".
- By-Tor And The Snow Dog" - That silly little song from the Fly By Night album, which they dusted off for this and their last tour. I never was crazy about this song, and wish they would have played Fly By Night, the song, instead.
- Xanadu - Rush's magnum opus. Prog-rock the way prog-rock should be. The original song is over ten minutes long but unfortunately they cut it down to about six minutes this night. I was just happy to hear it at all, since they skipped it last tour. One of my top-five favorite Rush songs.
- Working Man - No better way to end the concert than with this classic rock-fest from their very first album. This song always smokes, and this night was no different. They even improvised a little bit, mixing in some reggae licks toward the end.
After Rush finally left the stage, for good, most of the crowd stayed and continued to cheer, hoping for another encore. Greedy bastards! Eventually, the video screen came back to life and there again was Jerry Stiller amusingly admonishing the remaining crowd, "What? Thirty songs weren't enough for you!? It's Over! Go Home!" This was a fitting end to a spectacular show.
- Summertime Blues - This was one of the better songs from the Feedback album and Rush once again made it pale in comparison to this smoking live version.
- Crossroads - This version totally "out-muscled" Cream's version of this Robert Johnson classic. This was my favorite performance on the Feedback album, and the boys simply rocked-out on this one.
- Limelight - A killer song, featuring one of Lifeson's best guitar solos ever. I expect to hear this one every time I see them. No excuses! A fitting way to send everyone home - completely satisfied.
Now I will do some nitpicking of the set list if you don't mind. Where the hell was Freewill, Natural Science, Analog Kid, New World Man, The Big Money, Show Don't Tell.....blah, blah, blah. OK, so they played most of these during the last tour, but I (how do you emphasize "I" when it is only one letter?) want to hear these songs every time I see them. I didn't really need to hear three cover songs, although they were good. Two would have been plenty. Same with Vapor Trails. Lose Bravado and By-Tor, add more Signals and Permanent Waves songs, and now we're frigging talking. Oh, just listen to me bitch, after almost everyone nearly wrote these guys off when they took a five year hiatus (like a lot of bands do routinely), they came roaring back with two incredible tours, a couple of decent albums, and an awesome DVD. I'll be first in line again for tickets to the next tour.
When it comes to the music of Rush, I have to admit that I'm an unashamedly
Old-school fan. That is to say that, while I was a fervent fan of their
music throughout the 1970s, up to and including the Permanent Waves album,
my interest in their music waned as they moved away from producing the sort of
epic tunes which fired my imagination as a teenager.
That being said, once they had lost me with Moving Pictures, I pretty
much gave up on checking out the music that they issued during the 1980s, so it
was something of a shock to receive Rush in Rio as a Christmas present
and to find that I had in fact missed out on some pretty good music. When the
European leg of the band's '30th Anniversary Tour' finally became
reality, nostalgia was not the only reason for buying a ticket for the show
at Wembley, though the fact that they had decided to play at Wembley certainly
made me delay the actual purchasing of the ticket.
Though I believe that it certainly should be possible to mount a large scale
show with good sound, in this huge concrete shed, my experience told me otherwise
and the memory, in particular of a KISS performance that was marred by
terrible sound, meant that I took my seat with my fingers crossed. In actual fact
the quality of sound was above my expectations, though reports varied, I suspect
depending upon the audience member's position in the auditorium. From my seat
facing the stage at the far end of the venue, however, the view and the sound was
quite decent and reasonably well balanced.
The next aspect to strike me was the visual part of the show which has moved on
a huge way from the few slide projections that I remember seeing as part of the
band's show, during the Permanent Waves tour. Both the lighting and the
use of the video screens were very impressive, as was that of the prudent use of
lasers later in the show. Even though the figures on stage at the far end of the
venue didn't appear to be that tiny, the light show was so impressive that one
had a tendency to admire the changes of colour and back projections and rather
forget the musicians responsible for making all the noise.
By the time that I got inside the venue the band were well into the first half
of the set and were playing Earthshine. The tunes which followed, including
Red Barchetta and Roll The Bones sounded pretty good, and though
the crowd was clearly enjoying the spectacle, the level of excitement didn't
reach fever pitch until they moved into YYZ and the video screen showed
Alex, Geddy and Neil one by one in huge close up views. Things then got even better
with a rendition of personal favourite The Trees - which only served to
confirm that this was the era of Rush that I really loved.
With such a long show, the break was welcomed by the crowd, and no doubt by the
band itself. 20 minutes or so later, the second half of the show began with the
That Darned Dragon cartoon which has the intrepid trio saving some big city
from some Godzilla-like Dragon. The closing music links neatly with the intro to
Tom Sawyer and the return of the heroes on stage. From there, the band
moved into playing a string of tunes from their albums that they produced in the
1980s and 1990s. Though I loved the music, and accompanying video, for Red
Sector A, the other songs didn't really grab my attention.
I guess each Rush concert features a Neil Peart drum solo, and while it
was momentarily interesting to see his rotating kit, the overall performance
seemed to rely as much on electronic assistance as it did on the array of
percussion with which he surrounded himself. Then while Neal took a break,
Alex and Geddy returned to the stage, sat down and entertained us with a
couple of tunes, performed on acoustic guitars.
The slight lull in the proceedings was then blown away as the trio returned
to their usual instruments for a rousing run through the 'old classics' to close
the second set. There was a shortened but still excellent 2112, a fantastic
La Villa strangiato with Alex Lifeson's always orgasmic solo sounding as
good as ever, By-Tor and then the wonderful Xanadu, all of which
took me back to a time when I was leaping about my bedroom practising my sir
guitar moves. Working Man brought the second set to a close, neatly
reminding us that these guys have been at it for 30 years, though I'm still
not sure about the reggae ending they use.
Of course there were a couple of encores, but halfway through the final tune
it was time to beat the rush and the traffic, to head home. Overall I found the
show to be a fantastic visual and sonic experience. I was pleased to see the
band for the first time in almost 25 years and I think that every Rush fan will
find something in the show that will justify the price of the tickets. Over 3
hours of great musical and visual entertainment from one of the finest rock
bands ever. If this turns out to be their swansong, then this show is a very
fitting one indeed.
'R30 Overture' (medley):
Finding My Way
A Passage To Bangkok
Cygnus X-1 (Prologue)
The Spirit of Radio
Roll The Bones
One Little Victory
Between the Wheels
Red Sector A
Heart Full of Soul
2112 (Overture/Temples of Syrinx/Grand Finale)
La Villa Strangiato
By-Tor and the Snow Dog