Show Review: Rush at HP Pavilion San Jose, 11/15/2012

by Gordon Elgart on November 16, 2012

Rush in Gainesville, VA, earlier on this tour. (Click to see more from this show by Flickr user Sofafort.)

A Rush concert feels like a family reunion made up of people who are meeting for the first time. Everyone dresses in their coolest Rush t-shirt and heads out to the arena, ready to air drum along to classic hits and rarely played deep cuts, and find new favorites among the new material. For unlike other bands approaching 40 years in the business, Rush fans still stay in their seats (or in the case of the floor, stand by their seats) for songs from the new albums. Tonight, Rush was bringing their Clockwork Angels tour to San Jose, and it was full of the familiar, as well as full of surprises.

I’ve personally been seeing Rush for 23 years now, and the one thing I’ve never seen before tonight is extra musicians on stage with the band. I don’t think they’ve ever actually augmented the core trio before. For this tour, however, they’re bringing out the Clockwork Angels Strings for nearly the entirety of the second set. While other bands might use this as an advertising gimmick, saying “with orchestra,” for Rush, it just happened without fanfare. I literally hadn’t heard of it, so when the lights came up for the second act, I was taken aback. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s talk act one.

Act one:

Subdivisions
Big Money
Force Ten
Grand Designs
Body Electric
Territories
Analog Kid
Bravado
Where’s My Thing? (w/ drum solo)
Far Cry

The first thing you’ll say, if you’re a longtime Rush fan (we need a name: Rushies? Rushians? Rushheads? Rushers?), is “Holy shit! Grand Designs? Territories?” This is a very ’80s deep cut heavy setlist. I don’t think they’ve played “Grand Designs” or “Territories” since the Power Windows tour. And while “Subdivisions” and “Analog Kid” have made regular appearances on setlists throughout the last twenty years or so, “Force Ten” had become a forgotten song, and its inclusion was much appreciated. They even used the old abstract animation while they were playing the intro.

The drum solo here was shorter and more analog than Neil’s drum solos have been in recent years. It seemed he was giving up the spinning drum set, orchestral, synthesized drum solos, and sticking with the basics of beating the hell out of his drums in fast, artistic ways. During the second set, though, there’d be a short drum solo that was completely melodic, using triggered synthesizers as opposed to the sound of the drums. Rather than give up the sound, he separated them into separate solos, which I found myself quite happy with.

I should mention the look of the show as well. While the Time Machine tour hinted at it, this tour goes full-on steampunk. Geddy’s set up has a brain in a jar, a popcorn maker, and lots of interesting machines that I wish I could have played with. Alex has guitar “amps” that look like old megaphones, but instead there are projection screens on them, playing projections related to, but not the same as, the ones on the main screen. Rush’s main screen, a high definition behemoth, is running a constant stream of beautifully animated backgrounds, reruns of classic Rush animations, some live close-up camera work, and what’s become tradition in recent years, Pythonesque interstitials starring Rush. And when you least expect it, there’s pyro, too. (But really, when you least expect it. One explosion had me jumping out of my shoes.)

After one of these interstitials, featuring Jay Baruchel as a tax collector needing to get receipts from some gnomes that a look like the band Rush, we were treated to nine songs from the band’s newest album, Clockwork Angels. That kicked off the second set, the setlist of which follows.

Act two:

Caravan
Clockwork Angels
The Anarchist
Carnies
The Wreckers
Headlong Flight
Halo Effect
Seven Cities of Gold
The Garden
Manhattan Project
Neil melodic drum solo
Red Sector A
YYZ
Spirit of Radio

Tom Sawyer
2112 (Intro, Priests of Syrinx and Grand Finale)

I knew that the band was going to bunch up the new material, same as they did for their Snakes and Arrows tour. It didn’t work on that tour, though, because that album, IMHO, is fairly lackluster, and suffers from the songs all having a similar feel. The new record is simply better in every way, and because of this, it was an absolute joy to listen to these songs being performed live. Of particular note was “Headlong Flight,” which is rollicking epic anthem that can stand with any material in Rush’s catalog. I was ready for them to play it again as soon as they finished it. The other standouts were “Caravan,” “The Wreckers” (augmented by some very cool lighting that it made it look like it was raining on stage), and “The Garden.”

Geddy promised after the new album, they would go back to playing their “funnier music.” I guess if you consider a song about the making of the atomic bomb funny, or perhaps one about surviving in a concentration camp. Oh, those Canadians and their sarcasm! These two songs started the finishing kick, which boiled over during the string filled “YYZ,” which was the happiest, bounciest version of this classic instrumental I’ve ever being involved with. It really was needed after the heavier themes of the previous songs, and it led the show toward its stunning conclusion, a “HEY!”-filled rendition of the juicier bits of “2112” that closed out the show and was also the only song played from the ’70s, meaning they did one track from their first six albums combined.

I’m sure they’re saving those oldies for their inevitable 40th anniversary tour in 2014. I’ll be there. See you all then!

Gordon Elgart

A music nerd who probably uses that term too much. I have a deep love for bombastic, quirky and dynamic music.

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

G November 16, 2012 at 9:55 am

Nice review, I agree with many of your comments. I sit this morning listening to “Caress of Steel” and finding my balance after enjoying the new material from last night’s show. Many of us spoke afterwards about how the 2010 tour was more oldie-focused and they are in album-promo-mode, so perhaps the tilt in the set list is not a surprise – and more importantly, about how the new album is pretty strong and how these guys are not afraid to move forward, experiment, evolve creatively, etc. Their catalog is so gigantic that it is tough to please everyone and as an old fan I could have used more old stuff. However, I continue to discover new gems in recent albums, and always enjoy seeing these guys jam. Great stuff. Thanks!

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SlipryNoodle November 16, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Gotta love a situation where songs from the mid-80s aren’t considered oldies. ; ) I personally loved revisiting Show of Hands last night. New album is great and came away with a stellar appreciation for The Garden.

Awesome show, awesome review.

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JtRocker November 16, 2012 at 12:28 pm

Gordon, I agree with your review. 5th time seeing Rush for me – starting with the ’79 and ’81 tours and then a couple more times over the years. My wife was seeing them live for the first time and I was very pleased by how much she enjoyed the show too. She even wore my concert shirt from the ’81 tour.

Geddy’s voice is starting to show some age, but other than that – they really rocked. The new album (IMHO) is one of the better ones in quite some time so I didn’t mind having a fair number of songs from it, but I did really long for some of the older music. Closing with 2112 was a great way to appease some of us longtime fans.

The mix was good. I personally would prefer a little less bunching of the new material, though I understand why they do it. And the range of songs they played led to some good post-concert conversation with our friends about the transition of Rush through the years and the migration from the core 3 piece Blues based heavy metal band sound of the first couple albums to the broader based sounds and increasing use of the synthesizer of the albums through the ’80 and then to the more guitar centric of the albums in the ’90s through today.

And you are not the only one who jumped out of your shoes with a couple of the pyrotechnics.

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Joe November 16, 2012 at 12:31 pm

Unbelievable Show. Great solos, visuals, non-stop music.
Funny video, my girlfriend and I enjoyed immensely.

🙂

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NS November 16, 2012 at 1:26 pm

I am rare fan who grew up listening to the mid 80’s stuff, so I loved the fact that they played all these songs from PW and HYF. I loved the “deep cuts”, but did notice a bewildered look all around me of folks who seemed to not know any material after 1982. I have the new album and prepared for the Clockwork onslaught, which I kind of feared would tune out everybody. But the fact they saved their high tech stage show for it, made it interesting to hear those 40 minutes of new music. The complex animation sequences in the background, the overhead dancing monitor, pyrotechnics, backup string band made it all worth it. The particular sequence during Seven Cities of Gold was pretty good stuff.

One small criticism having heard many live versions of some of these 80’s songs, was maybe the slower pace or a little less energy on Subdivisons, Manhattan Project and Force Ten. These songs just sounded beefier, faster in previous live albums.

And yes, Neil missed that little cymbal crash thing on the first verse of Bravado. Yes, we Rushheads notice those things.

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Ala November 16, 2012 at 3:09 pm

Yeah, great review, spot on. I was on disappointed by set list because I could not make the previous tour. If I had, I would have appreciated the change more — but I missed a lot of songs they did play last time that I would have wanted to see. They were in fine form, though Geddy seems a bit strained during the beginning and end of the show. The new material is STRONG. Great album. I was surprised I liked the string Octet. Rush pulled it properly — unlike many bands — and it fit right in. Those 8 f-ers ROCKED in every way.

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Ala(n Miller) November 16, 2012 at 3:12 pm

Oh, also wanted to mention the brilliant f-er in the stadium seats to the right of band about half-way up during the first set. He was air drumming with bright orange glow sticks, and was spot-on much of the time. I watched the glow sticks almost as much as the band.

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G November 16, 2012 at 3:22 pm

Love the glow-stick comment. Next time let’s all dress like Neil and bring our glow sticks! Anybody want to volunteer as color coordinator? (P.S. this only works well if you actually know what you are doing – and who among us can really pull this off properly? – show of hands, please? ok, I see exactly 1. haha)

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Gordon Elgart November 16, 2012 at 3:35 pm

Great comments so far, thanks! I’m glad I wasn’t near the glow stick guy. Skill or no, I’d find that pretty distracting when I’m trying to watch The Professor do his thing.

I agree that Geddy doesn’t sound as good as he once did, but is anyone a fan of Rush BECAUSE of his singing voice?

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Jeff Archer November 16, 2012 at 3:39 pm

What an incredible show last night! There is every other band in the world… and then there’s RUSH!!! Admittedly, the new album has taken longer than most to grow on me. However, after experiencing it live and giving a thorough listen today, I am full-on hooked. It’s like they took the darker sound of 2112 era stuff and melded it w/the, shall we say prettier, sounds of Snakes n Arrows (which I actually loved, by the way). Anyway, spot on review. I always get a kick outta how Rush-ish all the fans are… which is what made the string section so cool- as they were obvious “Rushies” too!

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David November 16, 2012 at 4:22 pm

I enjoyed the show but was appalled at the sound mix. It was muddy as hell. Too much low end and shrill highs. I could barely make out the strings. What happened?

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drumset lowcost November 16, 2012 at 4:39 pm

Thank you I think it is good drum

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RJ November 16, 2012 at 6:53 pm

I can see where folks who haven’t been to many shows over the years would be bummed by the lack of “hits” such as Limelight, Red Barchetta, The Trees, etc. Though as someone who has seen these performed on multiple tours, I was quite happy with the ’80 focus. Territories and “Where’s My Thing” – woo-hoo!

A few thoughts from Section 116 (stage right – Alex, 20 rows up)…

Being on the side of the stage had some advantages:

Sound mix was good and clear (at least as good as it can get at the Shark Tank), but a buddy in the upper bowl said the sound was muddy.

My seats were dead in-line with the first row, so I was also entertained by the two head-banging blondes in the front row that Alex was having some flirty fun with. Speaking of Alex, he was in usual fine fun form being goofy with all sorts of facial expressions – and at one point he “chastised” some folks for toking up.

Enjoyed the heck out of the string section – cool view of them from my angle – they indeed rocked it! Dang – how cool would it be to be them?!

A nice perch from which to watch Neil work…

Downside of my seats:

Not being able to fully appreciate the floating video panels. Checking out some of the pics over on c-x1 – wow!

Being on the opposite from Ged, I never even saw the floating brain, nor any good views of his bass work, save the video screen images. A bummer for me as a fellow (though quite lousy) bass player.

Speaking of Ged – his t-shirt in the second set – was that of Neil in a graduation cap?

Two words: No Lasers (?) I enjoyed the pyro, but I gotta have more lasers!

Lastly – my wife complained about the higher percentage of women than usual… she actually had to wait to get into the Women’s Restroom (!). She always jokes that the loneliest place at a Rush concert is the Ladies Room 🙂

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Factualmitos November 16, 2012 at 11:01 pm

I’ve got to second a. Miller. I was in 114, row 5. The kid with the glow sticks was ripping it up. I found myself switching from watching Neal and him. They were in perfect sync 90 percent of the time. It was amazing. Not distracting at all, it was a form respect. This wasn’t some ass waving glow sticks around attention. He was spot on.

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Perry November 17, 2012 at 8:31 am

Nice review Gordon. I will be catching them in Vegas for the umpteenth time. I will disagree mildly with the comment about Geddy’s voice. One of the reasons RUSH is the best is because of Geddy’s voice. It’s so different from everybody else’s. Not the generic “Cookie Cutter Singer”!

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mgrey November 17, 2012 at 9:36 pm

You have to remember that last tour’s was all of Moving Pictures. I’m thinking they are done (not tired) but it’s OK’, we’ve need to show another era.
Thursday was that. 8 songs from the new album(whcih I am still trying to grasp) but listening to the Power Windows and Signals, etc,. It came back to They are more powerful, stronger, and more up front than the 80’s albums.

Maybe that’s it?

None the less, I’ve seen several concerts at the “the tank”, the sound was the best.

Mgrey

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MysticMistress November 18, 2012 at 12:35 am

AWESOME SHOW!

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Greg Wilson November 18, 2012 at 11:07 pm

Agree with all of the comments and add the base drum was amplified too much for the main kit. When Neil change to another kit for some songs I enjoyed it more.

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JW November 19, 2012 at 1:59 pm

My 14yos first Rush show…he couldn’t wait to hear SoR, and was stoked when the conversion finally came. But post-intermission slog through new songs was brutal, owing about 5% to the fact that we weren’t familiar with them and 95% with the fact that the sound was absolutely worthless. Worthless sound at a Rush show?? Come on, isn’t that a Class A felony or something?!We had floor seats but moved up to vacant seats in lower 109 behind the sound board so he could see and we could hopefully hear better. Still terrible. Was fun overall, particularly to hear my faves “The Analog Kid” and “The Body Electric,” but the operative word is “hear.” I guess my obvious takeaway is that turns out hockey stadiums don’t have sweet acoustics. Sound was second only to Cal Expo as Worst Ever, and we will never see another show at HP Pavilion.

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AFSGTSAM November 20, 2012 at 1:52 pm

Great Review this was my 6th show…first one was in HS back in 1985 on the Grace Under Pressure Tour. My wife and i splurged for main floor 3rd Row seats and it was so worth every dime! I loved the show with a passion and the new music and strings were a great change. This was the first time we drove from Sacramento to San Jose (we stayed overnight at the arena hotel) and the only downside was the terrible acoustics at the Pavillion. I am so pumped up I cant wait the their sure to happen 40th anniversary tour in 2014…lets name it R40!

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Thunder November 20, 2012 at 3:10 pm

Fantastic show but I’m surprised that there aren’t more comments about the horrible sound in the arena. I was in an ideal listening location in floor seating, middle, 30th row and the sound just melded together without any separation. The three best instrumental rock performers of our generation and I couldn’t differentiate between any of the instruments until they had solos.

I’d be interested to hear if anyone out there has similar experiences with other concerts at HP. I’d love to see Rush again in a different venue if I knew the sound quality would improve 10 fold.

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Alan Miller November 21, 2012 at 9:20 am

I saw Peter Gabriel there recently and the sound was much better. Black Sabbath many years back and the sound was muffled but not as bad as Rush. I too was at a primary location, and the sound was mud. If I didn’t know the songs they would have been difficult to follow.

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