Every rock show has its defining moment. Sometimes it’s a band’s biggest hit, or sometimes it’s their most obscure B-side. Sometimes it’s a medley, sometimes it’s an arc of songs that worked really, really well together.
When Rush took on a mostly packed Pepsi Center on Friday night in Denver, the defining moment for me was as understated as it was grandiose. Yes, the vaunted prog rock trio from Canada is known and loved for its intricate musicality and frighteningly intelligent lyrics, but what stood out to me the most was frontman Geddy Lee’s groove.
Lee finding his groove only seems to happen three or four times a show, but when he falls into that trance-like space, it’s a beautiful thing.
It goes without saying: Lee is as proficient a frontman as any rock ‘n’ roller out there. He manages his bass and keys and vocals with a gentle ease; The only strain you’ll see him express is his high-arching eyebrows when he’s hitting those scary-high notes. He also knows how to work the stage, nodding a cue to drummer Neil Peart here or going over to jam with guitarist Alex Lifeson there.
But when Lee finds his groove, he jumps into it and feels it with his entire body. It starts in his head and moves down his lanky frame. It’s not so much a back-and-forth rock as it is a bounce — but it’s the kind of bounce that propels his basslines forward, and before long it seems as if an entire arena full of people are feeling the bounce, sunk in the groove, lost in the music.
And that’s a special feeling, getting lost like that with 15,000 other people.
Lee found his groove at least four or five times on Friday night, and the band benefited from the syncopation with the crowd. With a start that focused on night-opener “Subdivisions” and grew to a potent “Force Ten,” a less-memorable middle of “Clockwork Angels” material (this being the Clockwork Angels Tour) and a closing with the expected combo of “Tom Sawyer” and “2112,” fans showed the most love to the band early and late.
Sure enough, even though Lifeson stretches out with some tasty guitar work on the “Clockwork Angels” material, it didn’t hold the crowd’s attention as much as the more familiar songs. And the band anticipated that, compacting the new album’s material into a tightly gathered core that acted as a bathroom and beer break for many.
Of those familiar songs, “Limelight” was slotted surprisingly early into the set and jumped off the stage with the most immediacy of the evening. The “Moving Pictures” favorite still clicks with its many rhythmic switch-ups and melodic vocal lines. Can Lee still handle those high notes? Absolutely, and while the Pepsi Center isn’t the ideal venue for any band that places such a focus on the quality and crispness of its sound, Rush sounded better than most bands choosing to play the venue.
John Leyba is a Denver Post photojournalist and regular contributor to Reverb.