When it comes to Rush, people tend fall into two groups: those who get the band and those who don’t.
When the Canadian icons played the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., on June 27, the 18,000-seat arena was obviously stuffed with fans who have been championing the band for four decades. And after watching the trio deliver a spectacular concert with lights and visuals that were just as entertaining as the music, you’re tempted to chuckle and shake your head at those who remain puzzled by the group’s enduring popularity.
Although the current R40 Live 40th Anniversary Tour is likely to be the band’s last major outing, guitarist Alex Lifeson, singer-bassist-keyboardist Geddy Lee and drummer Neil Peart aren’t curtailing their road work because they’ve lost the love of performing. All three of them, despite being in their 60s, played with the fervor of newbies who are still wet behind the ears.
The satisfaction Lee and Lifeson derived from it was evident in their frequent smiles and animated posturing, while Peart could have been mistaken for being perpetually grumpy if fans didn’t already know that his stern concentration belies the pleasure he gets out of drumming.
Despite his stoic onstage expression, Peart does share a sense of humor with his bandmates, and their famed love of comedy was evident in the video footage that enhanced the show. The opening cartoon montage (as well as the closing video) paid tribute to the album art that has become intertwined with the band’s image, like 2112‘s starman logo and the fire hydrant from Signals, while also fondly remembering the fashions and hairstyles the threesome have sported through the years.
The end of intermission was marked with a compilation of hysterical outtakes from footage the band shot for other tours (imagine Lifeson breaking character while encased in a fat suit), and fans laughed as much as they cheered when celebs like Peter Dinklage, Paul Rudd and Tom Morello hammed it up onscreen while lip-synching to the rap bridge of “Roll the Bones.”
The concert was no laughing matter though. Nostalgia was inevitable, as Rush paid tribute to the 40 years the lineup has been together by taking fans on a time-machine trip through its catalog, opening with “The Anarchist” from its latest album, Clockwork Angels, and tapping into material all the way back to its self-titled debut, in the form of classic rock scorcher “What You’re Doing.”
It wouldn’t be a Rush show unless the band pulled out “Tom Sawyer” and selections from concept album 2112 — which it did with fiery aplomb — however, that meant going lighter on songs from synth-heavy albums like Grace Under Pressure. The upside of that decision resulted in crowd-approved rarities like throbbing track “Between the Wheels” and the deeply emotive “Losing It,” where Rush broke from tradition by having another player join the act onstage: Dinklage’s brother Jonathan. He was a beautiful addition on electric violin, and added an extra charge to the song, as it was only the second time ever the group had played it live.
The band’s energy never diminished throughout the night, which contributed to its share of transcendent moments, like when the crowd spontaneously started clapping during “The Spirit of Radio” and sang the words like a revered mantra. Sight and sound perfectly aligned for “Jacob’s Ladder” when images of clouds that illustrated the song’s lyrics were intersected with fans of laser beams that turned into rainbow colors at the finale, and the messages of songs like “Animate” and “Subdivisions,” which talk about the duality of man and teen alienation, respectively, still ring true in these confusing times. Even the gaffe of crackling feedback marring the opening notes of “Closer to the Heart” didn’t affect the crowd’s jubilant mood.
There’s still time to see Rush before it scales down its touring to more select engagements, so the uncertain are strongly encouraged to take a chance on a ticket. If they don’t think their minds can be changed — well, until two days ago, many people never thought gay marriage would be the reality in the United States.