Last Friday night, 9/7, I had the good fortune of seeing Rush on the opening date of their new tour in Manchester, NH. Now, before I give my review of the concert, here is a little something to let you know about my perspective: Rush is my favorite band, so forgive me if my praise of them is a little over the top.
As regular Rush concert goers have by now come to expect, the band begins each set (and ends the concert) with slickly-produced, humorous yet very odd videos. This was no exception, featuring gnomes (pronounced 'guh-nomes') played by the band in heavy makeup.
The opening song is probably my least favorite regular concert track: "Subdivisions" from 'Signals'. Great song but I'm a bit sick of it by now. Little did I know, the opening track set the stage for the the rest of the first set--it was very heavy on the 80s albums, but was the only disappointment I felt all night.
From there they went into "The Big Money" from 'Power Windows'. That was one of four tracks they covered from that very melodic yet synth-laden album. The others being "Grand Designs", "Territories" and "Manhattan Project". In the first set we also heard the following 80s tracks: "Force Ten" from 'Hold Your Fire', "The Body Electric" off 'Grace Under Pressure', "The Analog Kid" also from 'Signals'. The lone songs from their 90s albums were 'Roll The Bones's "Bravado" and instrumental "Where's My Thing?" which went into a short drum solo. "Far Cry" from 'Snakes And Arrows' was the last song of the set.
The band sounded as tight as one would imagine. Other than Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart looking a bit portly, the band does not easily show their age. Geddy Lee cannot hit as many of those high notes as he once could and the incredible drumming workout Neil puts himself through makes me wonder how many more years he can keep it up, but musically the band sounds as good as they ever have. That said, I'll allow for the fact that it seems the band has relied more and more on backing tracks. For example, in the past when you heard keyboards it was because Geddy was playing it with his hands or on foot pedals. Now, you sometimes here synths and Geddy is wandering around the stage.
The only technical failure during the show was saved by Alex. Geddy's equipment was not working, so to kill time Alex told a joke. As soon as the joke ended and the crowd roared, Geddy's bass came to life and "Manhattan Project" began.
The second set was a thrill because for the first time in the band's history, they had other instrumentalists on stage with them. Rush brought out a full string section to accompany them on several songs from their new 'Clockwork Angels' album. Over the past three months I've become very familiar with the new album in anticipation of the show, so hearing them played live for the first time with live strings was very exciting. From 'Clockwork Angels' they played the title track "Caravan", "The Anarchist", "Carnies", my favorite "The Wreckers", "Headlong Flight", "Wish Them Well" and the mellow "The Garden". The new album tracks largely fit into the musical space Rush have been dwelling since 'Vapor Trails': heavily-produced often hard-driving melodic rock. The synths are low in the mix, if at all present.
For that reason, and knowing how averse to the 80s synths Alex was, I was surprised to hear so many synthesizer tracks in their set list. The second set was rounded out with another 'Grace Under Pressure' song "Red Sector A", the classic instrumental "YYZ" from 'Moving Pictures', and "Working Man" from their 1974 debut.
Neil did fit another short drum solo in the second set. This is a different pattern from his usual single long solo that always accompanies aspects of every drum solo he has done previously. This second solo was completely different from others. Still great.
The band's artistic director Hugh Syme continues to outdo himself. Every song is accompanied by beautiful high-quality images as well as creative lighting and/or pyrotechnics.
The encore covered their two signature songs "Tom Sawyer" and "The Spirit Of Radio". Something odd happened to Alex during the guitar solo for "Tom Sawyer" in that it appeared he lost control of his fingers. He quickly recovered and seemed to just shake it off.
From my perspective, I would have appreciated if they dropped a song or two from the 80s albums and replaces them with 90s tracks for balance. However, I was pleased to hear 'Power Windows' songs I thought I'd never hear them play in concert before.