A Farewell to Kings: 40 Years of Rush

Rush (00)

Author’s note: I’ve assembled a Spotify playlist containing the songs that Rush performed during the concert. For the optimum experience, please feel free to listen to the music as you read.

I’ve written about my love of the band Yes a few times on the blog. However, my appreciation for Rush predates my head-first dive into the intricacy of progressive rock by some years. When I started listening to music specifically to hear interesting bass guitar work, Rush was the most accessible. Their formula was simple:

bass + drums + guitar = rock

Yet, this apparent simplicity turned out to be just one layer of a complex musicality that kept me coming back over and over again. This appreciation was solidified into true fandom when I saw Rush for the first time during the Snakes & Arrows Tour (August 26, 2007 in Noblesville, Indiana). I went with my brother, and the experience was transcendent.

When I heard rumblings that the 40th Anniversary tour would probably be their last major tour, I knew that I needed to see the band one more time. So I snagged a moderately-priced ticket for their Phoenix show (July 27, 2015 at the US Airways Center). I’m immensely glad that I did. I had a blast!

The theme of the concert was celebrating 40 years of music by travelling backwards through time. The setlist reflected the theme perfectly. They kicked off the night with songs from Clockwork Angels and methodically worked their way through notable songs and deeper cuts from all but a few of their albums. There were a few songs that I would have liked to hear, “YYZ” and “Limelight” being chief among the absences (sadface). But I wouldn’t have traded the night’s sweltering performance of the entire “2112” saga for anything. All things considered, the setlist was an extraordinary overview of the band’s expansive discography.

Rapidly moving through Rush’s body of music only substantiates the unprecedented success of their career. Rush has never released a bad album. For forty years, the trio has managed to remain in touch with modern music of each era of rock, while retaining the distinctness of the Rush sound. They are iconic, and this 40-year-long concert confirms it.

In terms of raw musicianship, Rush left nothing to be desired. I think someone must have forgotten to remind them that they’re in their 60s. They played with all the furry and power of a band in their prime. Geddy Lee’s bass work is as solid as ever. Neil Peart’s drumming was as close to perfection as humanly possible. That drum solo at the end of “Cygnus X-1” was marvelous. The underrated Alex Lifeson showed no signs of age with his guitar sweeping deftly from  atmospheric texture to blistering guitar leads and back again.

The stage design of the show was an apt reflection on the history of Rush as well. At the beginning of the concert, the band was backed by gears and machinery to match their most recent album. But every few minutes, a crewmen in red jumpsuits would remove a piece of gear and replace it with something else. After a quarter of their set, we had been transported back to their Rush in Rio stage setup, complete with washing machines and toy-topped guitar amps. After the intermission, the band returned with a wall of amps just in time to celebrate Moving Pictures with “Tom Sawyer” and a fantastic deep cut “The Camera Eye.” Over the course of the next hour, the wall of sound was slowly stripped away one piece at a time. They band ended the show just as they began their career: playing a high-school dance with the mirror ball casting a sparkling wash of light over the entire hall.

The combined effect of sound and vision forged a strong emotional narrative. It was as if the band, having come to the end of their career, was being pulled back to the beginning (and taking us along for the ride). The nostalgia trip seemed a fitting farewell for one of the greatest bands in rock and roll history. Rush is leaving on high note… just as you would expect from Geddy Lee’s signature falsetto.

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