Despite penning several classic rock radio staples, and selling out arenas for decades, I like to think of 2010 as the year that Rush — over 40 years into their career — finally took a well-deserved victory lap.
This year the band was celebrated on the silver screen in documentary filmmaker Sam Dunn’s “Beyond The Lighted Stage” which featured loving tributes from inspired musicians and obsessive fans (of which there is a great crossover). The film also showcased the band at their best musically and personally. For all the sneering claims of pretentiousness by critics in the past, Rush proved to be quite the opposite: a trio of goofy friends who, it just so happens, can play the hell out of their instruments.
They have succeeded thanks to perseverance and the admirable determination to always do things their own way. Rush currently ranks third (behind only the Beatles and the Rolling Stones) for the most consecutive gold or platinum studio albums by a rock band. 2010 was also the year that the band received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and were inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame despite a baffling omission from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
With their current “Time Machine Tour,” bassist/keyboardist/vocalist, Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart have, deservedly, invited fans to take that victory lap with them. Not only are they presenting their most popular album, 1981’s “Moving Pictures” — the pinnacle of prog-metal perfection — in its entirety, they are performing an array of tunes, past, present and future, from their deep catalog.
For those same fans, it doesn’t take mainstream acceptance to confirm what they’ve always known: Rush rocks! And they especially rock at Red Rocks — as Lee graciously called it, “The most beautiful venue in North America.”
Familiar show opener “The Spirit of Radio” started things off in grand scope last night, the second of a two-night stint at the venue. Following, the group powered through some well-chosen nuggets, highlighted by 1988’s “Time Stand Still” (in which Lifeson took a rare spot behind a keyboard to trigger vocal samples); the melodic title track to 1989’s “Presto” and two numbers from 1991’s “Counterparts:” the grungy “Stick It Out” and funky instrumental workout “Leave That Thing Alone,” which Lee punctuated with elastic bass work.
Both “Faithless,” from 2008’s “Snakes & Arrows,” and “BU2B,” from the band’s forthcoming release “Clockwork Angels,” provided strong looks at the band’s current, heavy sound. Closing out the first set were a trio of fantastic numbers: fan-favorite “Freewill,” in which Lifeson fired out searing guitar leads; the driving “Marathon,” a true gem from 1985’s “Power Windows,” highlighted by jaw-dropping drum work from Peart; and the band’s enduringly wonderful paen to suburban alienation and non-conformity, 1982’s “Subdivisions.”
Rush was clearly performing in top form, perhaps to make up for some of the technical glitches that plagued them at their Monday night show. The band also illustrated their goofy humor via several video segments both during and in between songs (including a riotous closing segment following up on last year’s shout out in the Hollywood bromantic comedy “I Love You Man”).
As promised, the second set began with the performance of “Moving Pictures” in its entirety. Though buoyed by the triumvirate of hits “Tom Sawyer,” “Red Barchetta” and “Limelight,” the biggest cheers came for hotly anticipated deep cut “The Camera Eye,” a progressive keyboard-driven rocker that the band hasn’t played for years.
“Caravan” provided another look at Rush’s upcoming release and was followed by a well-textured and flawlessly executed drum solo from the always-impressive Peart.
The trio wrapped up the evening by dialing their time machine back to the ’70s for “Closer To The Heart,” a blistering take on “Overture/ Temples of the Syrinx” from their anthemic sci-fi masterpiece “2112,” and an encore of the multi-themed instrumental “La Villa Strangiato” and “Working Man,” which they began as a reggae number before tearing into its classic Sabbath-like guitar riffs and amazing fretboard fireworks by Lifeson.
Though Rush and their fans spent the evening moving through time, it seemed the perfect evening where everyone truly wished time did stand still.
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Michael Behrenhausen is a Denver-based writer, musician and occasional Reverb contributor. He actually knows that By-Tor was the bad guy in “By-Tor & The Snow Dog” and the good guy in “The Necromancer.”