MY SUMMER VACATION (PART III): RUSH
This is my summer vacation (Part III).
WHERE: Frank Erwin Center — Austin, Texas
WHEN: June 12, 2011
It’s been 28 years since I last saw Rush live in concert. I became a convert right around the time Moving Pictures came out, loved Signals, but moved on to heavier music (ie. Metallica/Slayer/Megadeth/Exodus/English Dogs) by my first year of college. Over the years I became less enthralled with Rush, but always respected their commitment to excellence in rock music. When I heard they were coming back through Texas this summer on their seemingly never-ending “Time Machine Tour” and would be playing Moving Pictures, front to back, in its entirety, I decided a nostalgia trip was in order.
My Old Fart bones were already exhausted from catching Mötley Crüe on Thursday and KEN mode on Friday, but the Saturday respite seemed to re-energize me. Besides, the guys in Rush are a collective 172-years old and choose to travel tens of thousands of miles to entertain poor sods like me. How hard could it be to drive one hour to Austin and stand on my feet for a few hours to catch one of the greatest bands on the planet? Not hard at all.
I won’t bore you with the inanities of trying to gain entrance into the Erwin Center or how freakin’ hot it was outside standing in the Texas heat. I will tell you, however, that I had fun talking to some of the fans outside the venue who seemed to be following in the footsteps of Deadheads and Phish-phans in their devotional worship to the hard-rocking Canucks. Once inside I also spoke to a couple on the front row, directly in front of Geddy Lee’s stage set-up, who had paid more than $500 apiece for their tickets. It was the man’s fifth time to see Rush on this tour and he couldn’t have been happier; even if he was about to foreclose on his home just to be there. Luckily, I was allowed access into the photographer’s pit for the first three songs, as is evidenced by the photos (and video) taken on my iPhone.
As a former artist manager and record label owner, I love checking out all of the behind-the-scenes action. I especially appreciate inspecting the stage set-up. Rush’s crew did a great job of keeping you guessing. All that was visible onstage were Geddy Lee’s keyboards, a few small wooden boxes, and some scaffolding, where I spied at least six spotlight helmsmen. That was it. Everything else was covered in giant sheets.
Within ten minutes of my arrival, the house lights went down and a Star Wars-like scrawl appeared on a jumbo screen directly behind the stage. A goofy, but funny short film unspooled which documented the story of the band RASH, with an “a.” Here’s the video if you’re interested. Oh yeah, it also includes “The Spirit of Radio”:
And that’s how it went for the next three hours. Flawless musicianship, Geddy Lee occasionally straining to hit some of those outrageously castrato notes, but kicking ass most of the time, Neil Peart encased inside his two drum kits, and Alex Lifeson grinning from ear to ear while never missing a single note.
Unfortunately, I missed about twenty minutes of the set while attempting to find a good friend in the labyrinthian bowels of the Erwin Center. Thankfully, it was during a stretch of less well-known material (“Faithless,” “Leave That Thing Alone,” etc.) that I wasn’t really there for anyway. Once I was able to get my buddy situated, we were able to sit back and watch these masters rip through three familiar cuts that included “Freewill,” “Marathon,” and “Subdivisions.”
It was time for a quick break for the band, as this was the end of Act I. An ancient clock, seemingly straight out of Time After Time, graced the big screen as the band exited for their Old Man Break. The countdown was on for the year 1981. Fifteen minutes later, when that year popped up on the big screen, the audience roared and Rush ambled back onstage.
Time for Moving Pictures.
I was especially ecstatic about seeing the band play their huge American breakthrough album in its entirety. Way back in the day, I had killer tickets for the Moving Pictures tour in Houston, but instead opted out for a weeklong skiing vacation with my then-girlfriend. Skiing was incredible, but as a music lover and a huge fan of Rush, I felt like I truly missed out on a wondrous life experience. Making up for it 30 years later.
It’s hard to do a Rush concert justice in print. They are not bombastic. There are no naked girls up on stage. It’s not about pyrotechnics. It’s simply about a band of men, performing as a cohesive unit, yet each of their instruments simultaneously takes on lives of their own that can be fully appreciated apart from the confines of a single song. As such, a Rush audience member usually finds oneself in one of two states: either enthusiastically screaming out Neil Peart’s impossibly poetic lyrics of life, love, loneliness, and technology; or, watching in an almost stoned stupor at the brilliance of musicianship unfolding before your very ears and eyes. The beauty of Rush during this era, for me at least, was that they were able to display their impressive chops, yet still managed to reel you in with excellent songwriting. Moving Pictures is not about self-masturbatory OTT wankfesting. Sure, “YYZ” is on there, but the beauty of the band’s oft-imitated instrumental is that non-musical types can fully appreciate its technicality after they get sucked in by the incessant groove that powers the song.
And you know the songs — “Limelight,” “Red Barchetta,” “Tom Sawyer,” the aforementioned “YYZ,” “Vital Signs.” But for me, the highlight was hearing those opening doom-laden guitar chords and horrified crowd yells at the beginning of “Witch Hunt.” I’ve never heard it live before and I was in awe listening to how dark and ominous these three natural born comedians could come across using the simplest of sounds. Fucking awesome!
The band did not take a break after completing Moving Pictures. Instead, they immediately jumped into a newer song, “Caravan,” which is one of the heaviest tracks they’ve recorded in years. Good song. It was followed by Neil Peart’s amazing drum solo, the Ode to Jazz one he’s been doing for awhile. Of course, it killed. It had a little bit of the “YYZ” live solo, combined with electronic drums, and triggers that fired off showtune brass. Meanwhile, on screen behind him were videos of great jazz drummers of days gone by (Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, etc.). It sounded and looked a little bit like this:
Rush concluded Act II with sterling renditions of “Closer to the Heart,” “2112 – I: Overture,” “2112 – II: The Temples of Syrinx,” and “Far Cry.” The satisfied band left the stage, grins a mile wide, with another completed job done well.
You would think that by the nearly three hour mark this Sunday night crowd would have been exhausted, as would have the band, but you would be wrong. The audience screamed its approval for nearly five minutes and the band trotted out one last time. Rush launched into “La Villa Strangiato (An Exercise in Self-Indulgence),” the first entirely instrumental track of their career, which was featured on 1978’s Hemispheres. They shut down the arena with the album closer of their self-titled debut record, “Working Man.”
As I myself needed to work the following morning, I decided to skip out early to beat the traffic, drove home for an hour, and think about the incredible event I just witnessed. Rush is no mere legacy act. Sure, the highlights were all of the old songs, but I dug a lot of the newer material as well. More importantly, the fire is still in their eyes all these years later. They are not simply onstage to collect a paycheck so they can afford motorcycle trips around the world or nice things for their kids. No, Rush is still in it for the love of the composition. The camaraderie of fellow musicians. The happiness they bring to their fans. They are true working men.
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© 2011 – First video and all photos by Corey Mitchell
Corey Mitchell is a best-selling author of several true crime books and is currently helping Philip H. Anselmo write his autobiography.