Rush / Sept. 8, 2007 / Tinley Park, Ill. (First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre)

Rush favors odd time signatures, tricky solos and pretentious lyrics, but for the better part of the past three decades, the venerable Canadian groups' relationship to prog has been tangential at best

Rush favors odd time signatures, tricky solos and pretentious lyrics, but for the better part of the past three decades, the venerable Canadian groups' relationship to prog has been tangential at best. In truth, the group is no more prog than its early heroes in Led Zeppelin, albeit more technically proficient. Perhaps that's what's helped the trio weather these past 30-plus years with nary a downswing in their popularity or creative powers.

Nonetheless, the complexity of Rush's songs necessitate a certain degree of precision, and for this reason spontaneity has never been the band's strong suit. Part of the fun is watching Rush get everything right, from Neil Peart's 'round the kit fills to Alex Lifeson's death-defying guitar runs (still far weirder and more creative than a lot of people give him credit for).

Yet at the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre outside Chicago, there were pleasures to be had watching how the group subtly changed things up for both the audience and themselves. Songs rarely played were rotated back into the setlist, with the likes of "Circumstances" satisfying fans of the group's screechy early days and "Digital Man" and "The Mission" aimed at those who favor Rush's synth-y era. Hailing from Rush's most popular early '80s era were songs such as "Natural Science" and "Witch Hunt," contextual counterparts to classics such as "The Spirit of Radio" and "Tom Sawyer."

During the latter two oft-played songs you could see singer/bassist Geddy Lee adding little licks to the arrangements, clearly key to their ability to still have fun with those classic rock staples. As for Neil Peart, still one of the few drummers whose solo draws people back from the beer lines, looking like he's not having fun is in fact part of the fun. Bt eagle-eyed air-drummers could see not just the way his deceptively monster set has in fact become more compact and economical, but how the way Peart has approached playing that set has evolved.

Rush's latest album "Snakes & Arrows" is its best in years, which explains the decision to downplay selections from other recent ('90s and beyond) releases in favor of two blocks of tracks from the new one. The first chunk was great -- the instrumental "The Main Monkey Business" in particular made a strong addition to the set. The second set not so much, as the hoary "The Way the Wind Blows" withered compared to the likes of "Far Cry."

All ended on an up note, though, with the dusting off of "A Passage to Bangkok" (whose absence from the band's 30th anniversary tour was something of a running joke) and the instrumental "YYZ," which had audience united as one: air drummers, air bassists and air guitarists alike.

Here is Rush's set list:

"Limelight"
"Digital Man"
"Entre Nous"
"The Mission"
"Freewill"
"The Main Monkey Business"
"The Larger Bowl"
"Secret Touch"
"Circumstances"
"Between the Wheels"
"Dreamline"

Intermission

"Far Cry"
"Workin' Them Angels"
"Armor and Sword"
"Spindrift"
"The Way The Wind Blows"
"Subdivisions"
"Natural Science"
"Witch Hunt"
"Malignant Narcissism"
Drum Solo
"Hope"
"Summertime Blues"
"The Spirit Of Radio"
"Tom Sawyer"

Encore:
"One Little Victory"
"A Passage to Bangkok"
"YYZ"