There is something about Rush, even forty years on, that inspires grown, adult men to act like school kids, wailing on their air guitars, head banging and whipping into a wide-eyed frenzy at the first few chords of a recognizable hit like “Tom Sawyer” or “Closer to the Heart”.
Indeed, what keeps Rush shows from feeling like a nostalgic attempt to transport the audience back to a previous moment in time is the madcap fun stirred up by the legendary band and their army of long-time fans. Never has that been more evident than during their latest hometown tour stop at the Air Canada Centre, where they played the first of two shows on Wednesday night (the second show takes place on Friday night). On a tour celebrating their 40th anniversary and amidst widespread talk that this could be a farewell tour, the band eschewed any serious or emotional tone in favour of simply having some fun.
As per their usual M.O., Rush opened and closed the show with funny, celebrity cameo-filled video skits, getting “I Love You, Man” co-stars Paul Rudd and Jason Segal, Peter Dinklage, Jay Baruchel, Eugene Levy, the Trailer Park Boys and even Tom Hanks to play along in silly, irreverent video clips that got things going with less of a bang and more of a chuckle. On stage, there was the now-familiar sight of several commercial dryers, a quirky Rush signature used to mock the typical wall of amps used by most bands.
Rush’s Neil Peart behind his drum set. (Image: Wikimedia)
From there, lead singer Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart rollicked through a 26-song set played out over three hours, leaving plenty of time for a pair of Peart drum solos and a 30-minute intermission. Coming out of the break, Rush wasted little time getting momentum back on track, launching right into “Tom Sawyer”. While that certainly picked the show up, it was an explosive “The Spirit of Radio” that really got the air guitars flying, reaching top gear when the whole crowd began clapping in unison.
Over the course of the night, Rush deployed an interesting “continue in reverse” tactic that bridged their newest stuff into their old classics. The unique set list approach served to keep many of their biggest hits for later while also showcasing their changes in sound over time.
The only thing lacking from Rush’s performance was any real indications that this was their homecoming show. That shouldn’t surprise anyone who has regularly followed the band, whose lead singer isn’t particularly loquacious. Outside of some thank you’s and a generic “it’s great to be home”, the only clue that the show held a special place along the Rush 40 tour was the presence of a camera crew filming show footage for an upcoming DVD, prompting Lee to jokingly urge fans to “smile and look pretty.”
If this is the way that Rush is going out, it is clearly on their terms. They can still draw a capacity crowd of 16,000 fans to their shows and are about to make their long-awaited debut on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. More power to the trio if they decide to leave while still at the top of their game, but something tells me we haven’t heard the last from Geddy, Alex and Neil.