Live review: Rush @ Red Rocks Amphitheatre - Reverb

Live review: Rush @ Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Day 1

Note to mortals: Do not taunt Neil Peart's drum kit. Photo by John Leyba, denverpost.com/reverb.

Note to mortals: Do not taunt Neil Peart's drum kit. Photo by John Leyba, denverpost.com/reverb.

In a theatrical, three-hour throwdown, Canadian power trio Rush pulverized eardrums in Red Rocks Monday night, flaunting their pioneering tenor with the vigor of musicians a third their age.

The trio — all either 56 or 57 -– seem to be getting better with age, as evidenced by Monday night’s rollicking stomp through the band’s 19-album catalog. From the poppy, Polka-tinged “Spirit of Radio” opener through the entire 1981 “Moving Pictures” album to the labyrinthine, prog-rock instrumentals “Where’s My Thing,” “2112 Overture,” and “La Villa Strangiato,” the 42-year-old band delivered dense compositions, rife with thick bass chords and their plentiful and often deviant time signatures.

View a full photo gallery of this concert.

“So many songs. Too many songs,” said the still-spectacled and still-golden-throated bassist Geddy Lee, early in the show as he prepped his black-shirted zealots for the bombastic journey ahead.

The band’s light show was dialed way back -– almost to the point of noticeable weakness — to accommodate an ethereal video montage behind the stage. Following the opening Monty Python-inspired video featuring a fledgling band “Rash,” the screen veered from Steampunked robot drummers to trip-inducing vistas. Flickering black-and-white images of skyscraping metal workers, laboring farmers and weathered soldiers backed the lyrically-crowded “Workin’ Them Angels.” Instrument wielding monkeys –- ironical? — led the intro the highly anticipated “Tom Sawyer,” signaling the beginning of the “Moving Pictures” album. The windshield view of a car racing through meadows joined the crowd-pleasing “Red Barchetta.” New York City featured prominently during “The Camera Eye.”

No video rivaled the sheer awesomeness of the overhead shots of drummer Neil Peart, a.k.a. The Greatest Drummer In The History Of The World. Watching the master flex his percussive vocabulary on what appeared to be a 50-plus piece cockpit of drums and cymbals was the ultimate spectacle, inspiring a near tornado of air-drumming across the sold-out amphitheater.

Peart — who penned most Rush lyrics with an incisive, philosophical bent — is all business on stage. With nary a grin or even a whisper of apparent exertion, Peart fills every composition with ravaging virtuosity. During a not-even-close-to-indulgent drum solo that was heartily embraced by the entire venue, Peart’s set spun around him as he caromed through orchestral, jungle boogie, big band beats.

As an industrial-era machine — occasionally fed chickens by an aproned cart pusher — churned out sausage (seriously), Lee led Peart and often overshadowed guitarist Alex Lifeson through mirror-image presentations of their music. Lifeson looked ready to stretch his improvisational chops at a couple points — particularly during the backside of the fiery “Free Will” and “Marathon” — but corralled his urges into fleeting flourishes.

Halfway through the 37-stop “Time Machine Tour,” the band was comfortable with their never-changing set lists and always-in-step tunes. Maybe too comfortable. Red Rocks is supposed to inspire musicians to stretch themselves creatively, to dig deeper into songs as they build a connection with the stunning environment. Monday night’s show featured none of that. Only two songs veered slightly off studio versions: a barely altered acoustic intro to “Closer to the Heart” and a reggae-inspired intro to encore “Working Man.”

Could be that the adherence to the original script is a nod to the timelessness of Rush’s repertoire. It needs no improvement. Lee’s vocals still hit stunning highs. Peart’s passion for plundering percussion seems as charged as ever. Lifeson’s unwaveringly tight technique still serves a needed supporting role for Lee and Peart’s thunder.
Maybe embellishment would only tarnish the powerfully collaborative compositions that define Rush.

View a full photo gallery of this concert.

Read our review of Rush at Red Rocks, Day 2.

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Jason Blevins is a strange dancer, but that has never stopped him.

John Leyba is a photojournalist for The Denver Post and regular contributor to Reverb.

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  • Guest

    I find it more than a little amusing that you describe the song Workin’ Them Angels as “lyrically-crowded” in one breath, and then in another offer up “Peart’s passion for plundering percussion”.

    Also, if you’re going to write a review, and get paid for it (making an assumption here), would you please at least get all of the song titles correct? They did not play “Where’s My Thing” (Roll the Bones). They played “Leave that Thing Alone” (Counterparts).

    Lastly, there was nothing “ironical” about the monkeys (actual primates, not the 60s band) playing Tom Sawyer. Rush makes fun of themselves with vigor. Their virtuosity is matched only by their ability not to take themselves too seriously.

    Now, having kvetched about that, I have to say your review otherwise captured the concert quite well. :)

  • Jim

    They didn’t play “Where’s My Thing: Part 4 of the Gangster of Boats Trilogy” they played “Leave That Thing Alone” from Counterparts…

  • Jackie Lomibao

    I guess it’s true that time really does wait for no man. Oh well, loved Leyba’s pictures.

  • Groovemachine

    I have not missed Rush since Signals back in the ninth grade. I was sitting up high Monday night.
    The opening video at the begining of the show had audio video sync issues to the point the band stopped the video to apologize.

    Then sound was never consistent the entire night. The ending video was so loud, I am embarrassed for who ever was running the sound board Monday night

    First Rush show I have attended that was not perfect. Now I will say there were many great moments that night. Head to toe goose bumps occurred several time through the night.

    I will get over it, Red Rocks, was expecting it to be the best show ever and it just wasn’t.

    Solution? Heading to Dallas 9/26 for REDEMPTION!

  • Guest

    I am surprised that no one has yet noted how off Lifeson was during the last half of the show – to the point I was actually worried about him. In particular, he horribly flubbed the solos for Tom Sawyer, La Villa solo #2 and Working Man, and made numerous other out-of-character mistakes throughout many other songs. He even looked a bit disheveled after the intermission, with his hair wildly mussed in the back.

  • Timm

    Sounds like show #2 was free of the technical glitches that were had on Monday’s show that I was at. The crowd was absolutely electric where I was though, and Neil was wrong in the closing video. It was much more than 7 women in the crowd – definitely a record for Rush!
    Some additional photos of the show can be found here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=10825&id=100001096632620&l=2fdd21f186

  • Guest

    Were you at the same concert? There was only one flub, and that was Lee’s, and he and Lifeson looked at each other immediately after, and Lee rolled his eyes at himself. There were no errors in the solos. Solos are improvisational, even if the have a very strong base from what was originally played on the album. The mistakes I think were in your mind and perhaps you are one of those pretentious music listeners that looks for things about which to be critical. I don’t know, but obviously you were not at the same Monday night August 16 Rush concert at Red Rocks that I attended.

  • Guest

    I have been to 8 or 9 Rush concerts. In every concert prior to this one, Alex did a great job. This concert was a huge departure from what I’m accustomed to hearing from him. I’m glad you were able to enjoy the show more than I was.

  • Groovemachine

    I was thinking maybe it was just me but it wasn’t. Amazing how they were so amazing then out of the blue Alex just seemed to fall apart to then quickly recover and finish strong. To me this was extremely disappointing. Im headed to Dallas in a month to see them again. I will re-critique and let ya know how things go. I have been such a loyal fan and just had the rug pulled from under a bit. Caught me off guard completely.

  • Groovemachine

    I counted many flubs. People in front and around me noticed as well. Alex seemed to have troubles for what ever reason. I was in row 59 center and It was pretty obvious all night. I went to the show to enjoy RUSH as I always do. Not to be a pretentious listener. Never had any reason to be pretentious at a RUSH show. Ive been going to RUSH concerts for over twenty years. Mistakes in my mind, NOT! I expect nothing but perfection from Geddy, Alex and Neil. Even RUSH is not perfect I know. Like I said Im heading to Dallas for the