WEST VALLEY CITY— Double necked guitars, Neil Peart’s drum kit circa 1981, explosions, lasers, stacks of Marshall amps, three hours of music spanning a 40 year career.
All that was really missing were the kimonos. (And maybe the giant inflatable bunnies that came out of the top hat from the Presto tour).
Monday night at the Maverik Center, Rush and more than 10,000 of their diehard fans gathered both to say goodbye and to join in a celebration of the music that for most in the audience represented the soundtrack of their lives.
The legendary Canadian trio have announced that their current tour will be the last of its magnitude and that if they tour again it will be on a much smaller scale for select markets. Most Utahns interpret that to mean large markets like Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Toronto, but not places like Salt Lake City or West Valley City.
Because of that, many went to the concert believing it could very well be the last one in their home state.
But rather than a feeling of melancholy, Monday night was a joyous celebration of four decades of music and touring memories by both the band and audience.
And it totally rocked.
Rush took the crowd on a trip back in time, starting with songs off their most recent album, Clockwork Angels, before hitting the rewind button and delivering a set list that progressively moved backwards chronologically through each era of the band.
Gems from the band’s most recent albums like “Headlong Flight,” “Far Cry,” “One Little Victory” and “Animate” were early highlights. But it was when the band got into their material from about 1980 to 1991 – which was also the period of their biggest mainstream success – that generated some of the biggest cheers of the evening.
“Roll The Bones” followed by Rush classics “Distant Early Warning,” “Subdivisions,” “Tom Sawyer,” “Red Barchetta” and “The Spirit of Radio” had the entire arena on their feet and a small army of air drummers waiving their arms wildly.
The band – all three members now in their early 60’s – has stated in interviews that part of the reason they’re scaling back on touring is their bodies are simply wearing down (arthritis, tendonitits). But one would never know it by watching the trio on Monday.
Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart have always been known for their high level of musicianship, and Monday was no exception. The trio looked as fit as ever. Geddy’s voice and playing prowess were both in top form, particularly considering the band was digging deep into their older material. Peart was amazing. His lightning fast rudiments and solos left the crowd awestruck. Ditto with Lifeson and his solos.
The band’s stage set up began with the odd assortment of props they’ve been using for the past couple of tours, including a popcorn making machine. Even the large digital screens flashed clips of the band’s original music videos, such as from “Subdivisions” and “Distant Early Warning,” bringing back memories for many of seeing those for the first time.
But the true brilliance of the stage show was how the props casually morphed backwards to tours of years past to correspond with the songs. Stagehands dressed in jumpsuits would casually walk on stage as the band was playing and remove bits and pieces of the stage props, replacing them with other, older props. Before you knew it, Geddy was flanked by his washing machine props from a couple of tours ago, and Lifeson had a stack of ’80s rock Marshall amps behind him.
Even the band’s instruments followed their journey back in time. By the time Rush played 1977’s “Xanadu,” both Lifeson and Lee had the double-neck guitars out. It was also fun to watch Peart, who typically is surrounded 360 degrees by drums on a riser that spins, play on a more 1980’s kit.
My favorite Peart solo is still from “YYZ” off the Exit…Stage Left live album. Maybe it’s because that’s about the time I had my own drum kit and was both amazed and discouraged at the same time by listening to the album. I was in complete awe that someone could play that fast, and highly discouraged knowing I’d never be able to duplicate it.
So it was fun to see Peart show off his skills on a “smaller” drum set during the second half of the show while playing the band’s older songs. The kit even included the full-sized orchestra chimes for “Xanadu” and “Closer to the Heart” which returned to the set list after being absent for the past few tours.
The energy level remained high during the first pumping and simultaneous chants of “Hey!” during the “2112 Overture.” And while a small number of people started heading for the parking lot to beat traffic after “2112,” the overwhelming majority stuck around for the encore when Rush dug deep in their 20 album catalog, going all the way back to the beginning with “Lakeside Park,” “Anthem,” “What You’re Doing” and “Working Man.”
Once again, Rush’s humor was on display as the band had several funny video montages before, between and after their main sets. The pre-show cartoon showcasing the band’s entire history, complete with inside jokes, was fantastic. And I never get tired of seeing the South Park clip leading into “Tom Sawyer.”
Over the past several years, Rush has pick up nearly every possible accolade in the music business, including their long overdue induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
But it wasn’t awards or peer pressure to see the “hip band of the moment” that drew fans to the arena on Monday. Rush fans have shown their undying support for decades. They have been coming out to see their heroes even when Rolling Stone magazine wouldn’t give them the time of day. Back when being a Rush fan meant you were a part of some type of nerd club that wore 3/4 length concert T’s and recited your favorite Peart lyrics to whoever would listen, the same people who were at Monday night’s show were proudly at those shows in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. Rush fans are among the best for wearing their allegiance on their sleeve, or their head or their chests. T-shirts, hats and other Rush swag representing 40 years of touring were in high display Monday. There were even families that showed up with every member wearing a shirt from a different tour.
Rush has played outdoors during the past several tours when visiting Utah. And yes, Monday’s sound mix was a little rough at first as the music bounced off the steel beams and cement of the Maverik Center roof, though it did make for loud pyrotechnics (how in the world can Peart continue playing and not miss a beat when essentially a bomb is going off right behind him???) And I’m sure fans can also make an entire set list or two of the songs that weren’t played that they would have liked to hear.
But if this truly was Rush’s last visit to Utah, they are going out on top. This wasn’t a band that was performing as a glimpse of its former self. This is a band that can still play like they have another 40 years left in them.
Thank you to Rush for all the great touring memories.