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.
Where’s My Thing? (w/ drum solo)
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.
Seven Cities of Gold
Neil melodic drum solo
Red Sector A
Spirit of Radio
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!