Monday, June 15, 2015

No "Fly By Night" Enterprise: Rush Amply Celebrates 40+ Years, in Reverse -- Chicago Concert Review

Concert Review

United Center
June 12, 2015

Given their ability to continuously fill arenas since the late '70s--in Chicago they played 3 nights at the International Amphitheatre in December 1978 and largely packed the United Center this past Friday--the truth is that, relatively speaking, a lot of people really like Rush.

But from some of my closest friends with whom I see several concerts each year, to seemingly every woman on the planet, a lot of people really don't.

Especially compared to the latter category, I'm avowedly in the former, having enjoyed the music of the Canadian power trio since I first heard it (circa 1980) and having now seen them 9 times in concert, with 7 of those in just the past 13 years and 4 in the last 5.

But whereas I might be a 9-on-a-scale-of-10 Rush fan compared to the general population, whenever I see the band I feel I'd be about a "3" compared to Geddy Lee's, Neil Peart's and Alex Lifeson's legion of rabid followers.

This was again true Friday at the UC.

Which always makes it tricky to review their concerts, because my @@@@@-based rating is awarded predominantly in regards to my own personal enjoyment--rather than some more objective judgment of "technical merit"--accompanied perhaps by an explanation of my fandom going in, satisfaction vs. expectation and any mitigating factors, such as sitting in the very last row of the highest level opposite the band, as I did Friday.

In that regard, I believe @@@@ is appropriate, as it denotes a concert I found to be excellent, was glad to have attended and would expect other Rush fans--however avid--to enjoy, but not one likely to convince non-fans or that emotionally enthralled me from beginning to end.

But if I was a considerably more fanatical Rush devotee, who knew and loved every song across the band's 20 studio albums dating back to 1974, it's not inconceivable that this could have been a @@@@@ show.

And if it was to you, that honestly delights me. There is nothing better than going to a show by one of your favorite artists and being absolutely blown away.

Certainly, into their 60s, on the R40 tour that may be the band's last of this scale, Lifeson, Lee and Peart did nothing to suggest they aren't still incredibly adept musicians who put their all into every performance.

Even from the last row, beginning with "The Anarchist" after a fun animated video depicted their chronology--Rush is much more humorous and self-effacing than detractors may think--the music truly sounded great.

And unlike, say, The Who, whose current shows feature 6 touring musicians augmenting Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey, the only true members of what had been a 4-piece band, it is admirable and somewhat astonishing that the thunderous music Rush makes onstage still comes solely from Peart's drums, Lifeson's guitar and Lee's bass, keyboard and vocals.

It's also cool that Rush is decidedly fine with being uncool, still employing lasers, pyrotechnics and other remnants of "arena rock."

I will never tire of hearing--and acting unabashedly like an effervescent teenager when doing so--"The Spirit of Radio," "Tom Sawyer," "YYZ," "Subdivisions," "Distant Early Warning," "Closer to the Heart," the "2112: Overture" and other Rush classics.

Which isn't to suggest I'm only a low-hanging-fruit kind of Rush fan. I own about half the studio albums (plus some of the myriad live ones) and welcomed such relatively deep reaches as "Far Cry," "Animate," "Roll the Bones," "Natural Science," "Lakeside Park" and "Xanadu."

As I like when each city's show is somewhat unique, I also appreciated that Rush varied some setlist slots from what was played at recent tour stops. (See Rush's United Center setlist on

Most notably, after Geddy Lee uttered "I understand it's still hockey season" in reference to the Chicago Blackhawks' Stanley Cup pursuit, the band launched into "One Little Victory" (from 2002's Vapor Trails).

"YYZ" and "Natural Science" were a couple other songs seemingly not steadfastly slotted.

So much less so than in 2013, when I saw Rush play their then-new Clockwork Angels album in full, complemented by relatively few songs I really loved, this isn't a review where I brazenly bash the setlist and rue the band for overdoing the esoteric.

Conceptually and theoretically, I thought the concert's concept of running backward through Rush's career was a pretty cool one.

Yes, I could have done with fewer than the three Clockwork Angels songs that opened the show--or at least would have preceded them with something overtly crowd-pleasing like "Limelight" before beginning the present-to-past timeline--and missed choice cuts from some albums that were skipped, like Presto, Hold Your Fire and Power Windows.

And in the encores, after the stage set also had proceeded backward to simulate the sparsity of early club shows, I would have loved if Rush--perhaps touring for the last time--played their long-ignored first hit, "Fly By Night," which they haven't since 1978.

I don't say this simply because it's a song I love that I haven't ever heard live over 31 years, but because given my preference for the material from 1980's Permanent Waves and 1981's Moving Pictures, the chronologically reverse order setlist was a bit bell-shaped, and such an old chestnut would have helped end the night a bit more gleefully (though "Lakeside Park" and "Working Man" were fun to hear).

In other words, to have 5 of the 6 most deliriously pleasing songs of the night--for me, at least--played in order, mid-show, kind of threw off the pacing of the generous 150 minutes the trio was onstage.

Though undoubtedly, more devoted Rush fans around me appreciated extended, late-show "prog-rock" excursions like "Cygnus X-1" and "Xanadu" a bit more than I did, even if I I'm glad I got to hear them simply to admire the band's instrumental chops. (Peart is clearly one of rock's greatest-ever drummers, Lee an astonishing bassist and Lifeson a terrific guitarist.)

Anyway, I will end by saying that I am glad to have been a Rush fan--to whatever extent--for most of the 41 years they've been a recording entity.

As with times past, I'm glad I again saw them live in concert, and if there's to be a next time, I look forward to it.

And if there's not, I sincerly say:

"Thank you, Geddy, Neil and Alex."

I won't apologize for liking some Rush songs, and albums, more than others and thinking that--along with expanded personal familiarity--some different selections and better pacing might have merited this more than @@@@ worth of enjoyment on Friday in Chicago.

But Rush are who they are, and much more than not, I'm happy to be among those who love them.

No comments: