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When Rush (the progressive rock trio from Canada) comes into town, I buy a tickets and go see ’em. I just can’t say no…what can I say? Yes, they are one of my favorite bands, and as a devoted fan, I buy a lot of their product. You know, CDs, DVDs, books, hats, key chains, t-shirts, bike jerseys, and even boxer shorts. So, you can see that I’m more than just a casual fan who say “Yeah, they’re a pretty good band. I have a few of their albums and they’re cool.” And no, my love of the band is not as bad as the guys in the movie I Love You, Man, but let’s say Rush is in high rotation on my iPod — especially when I’m riding my bike.
I’ve seen Rush quite a few times, and my first concert was during their Moving Pictures Tour in 1981 (I was either at the June 5th or 6th show at the Oakland Coliseum), and being at a new school (It was my second high school and, yes, it’s tough to move mid-year), I was offered a ticket to see the band by some guys who were trying to make friends with me. I went to the show only knowing a couple of their songs, but came away a huge fan that night.
Oddly enough, I didn’t see them again until 1994 when I kind of reconnected with the band in a more overt way. It was the Counterparts Tour and I went to see the band with a friend. Good show, but it was kind of sterile. The band seemed to be going through the motions and while I enjoyed the show, there was something missing from their performance. Little did I know that the band was a point in their career that they needed a break from each other. So, Rush took time off (2 years) to kind of cool their jets. I saw them again in 1996 for the Test for Echo Tour, and while that show was better than the Counterparts Tour, the band was touring behind a so-so album, so getting into the new songs was kind difficult at times. But they redeemed themselves by playing 2112 in its entirety – which was pretty amazing.
Flash forward to this current tour. Clockwork Angels is probably Rush’s most ambitious album since the Permanent Waves/Moving Pictures era. The songwriting has matured to the point where they can tackle a subject without sounding too preachy, and they have done so in the format of a concept album. The songs alternate between aggressive and subtle, and the lyric writing is much more accomplished. It’s clear the band is proud of their achievement, and took the risky move of showcasing most of the new album in the second set of the concert. I found it refreshing that they did this. They tried it when Snakes & Arrows was released and made the mistake of featured many of the weakest songs on the album. Clockwork Angels is far and away a better record than Snakes & Arrows that the songs they did feature really demonstrates that Rush is still at the top of their game. Here’s the Clockwork Angels set list:
(Intro movie featuring the band as Gnomes who give a tax collector a hard time)
Seven Cities of Gold
Except for “Seven Cities of Gold,” I think it’s a pretty solid list. And the band was in great form, looked like they were having a good time, and even brought in a string section for the second half of the show — well, most of it, anyway. It’s always amusing to watch the audience at Rush concerts because it’s a convergence of freaks and geeks. The stoners that you went to high school with are there — but are in their 50s now. There was this one guy who had the classic high school stoner look when I was in high school: jeans, leather jacket, and a denim jacket with the sleeves cut off and over the leather jacket. Tons of patches from his favorite band (and it wasn’t Rush. Rather, it was Iron Maiden), and, yes, long hair in a ponytail. Then there were the air drum geeks who would just air drum to all of their songs. My favorite was a guy across the arena keeping good time with his glow sticks. But I think the guy who took the prize with the most random outburst was a mid-50s looking Silicon Valley programmer/engineer type who sat pretty quietly throughout the concert, but when Rush did “The Garden,” he leapt from his seat with his hands stretched to the sky singing the chorus. Then he started to wilt back into his seat while still singing and ended with his hand cupped over his face — like he was a flower closing its pedals at night. Brilliant!
After witnessing that wonderful interpretative dance, I had to wonder: “Is this is my tribe?” These are the people who know every note, every drum fill, every lyric of the band, a reflection of the inner me? Am I that spastic geek in Section 98, row 6, seat 4 who’s air drumming, but looks like someone in an autistic trance? Am I that stoner who wears his tribal marks proudly (and without any irony) for the world to see? Am I the guy doing the interpretative dance because I’m so moved by the music? Am I the person whose love of “math rock” makes me want to identify the time signatures of the songs? One part of me says “Jesus, I hope not.” But another part of me likes the passion these people bring with them. And I guess that’s why they (like me love Rush). The band is passionate about getting better as musicians, about growing as artists, and being dedicated to a kind of music that is precise, thoughtful, and complex. That’s what Rush brought to the nearly packed house in San Jose and why people keep showing up to their performances. Yeah, they are getting old (Peart is now 60), and it’s not clear how long they can do these marathon concerts (almost 3 hours of playing). But their reputation of putting on a terrific show has spread outside the insular world of Rush fans and into the wider popular culture. And because of that, there was a more diverse crowd in attendance at the San Jose show. Many more women, families with young kids, and teenagers who were in groups. Oh, make no mistake: Rush is still has a white male dominated fan base. But last night’s show make clear that if Rush decides to hang around a few more years, they may actually get a much more diverse audience coming to their shows.