Friday, July 31, 2015

A Farewell to Rush?

Tomorrow—August 1, 2015—marks the end of an era…probably. Rush, the reigning gods of progressive rock, will play the last show of their last major tour at the Forum, in Los Angeles, California. At least they are saying this is their last major tour. I, like many diehard Rush fans, are hoping they’re lying through their Canadian teeth. But, if the last 40 years of the band’s public life have proven anything, it’s that Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart are not like your typical egomaniacal, blustery, self-promotional rock stars—in other words, they’re probably telling the truth.

On July 27th, I was fortunate to see Rush for the 12th—and likely, final—time in my life. I attended the concert at US Airways Center in beautiful, sunny Phoenix, Arizona—or as Rush proclaimed our city on a giant screen before they came on stage, “Vitamin D capital of the universe.”

The band was in top form and Geddy seemed to be hitting notes I don’t think I’ve heard him hit since the late 90s. This was particularly impressive considering it was the third to final show of a 35-show tour that started back in early May. And Neil and Alex were none too shabby either. On that note, I feel compelled here to say a few words about Alex Lifeson.

Rush is one of the few major bands in which the guitarist is the least talked about member. As the band’s affable, extroverted singer and bass player, Geddy Lee is Rush’s “front man” and often the focal point of major screen and print interviews. Rolling Stone ranked him #4 on a list of their greatest bass players of all time. As the band’s intellectual, introverted lyricist and drummer, Neil Peart has developed a mythic persona among Rush’s rabid fans. Rolling Stone ranked him #3 on a list of their greatest drummers of all time. (A ranking that most Rush fans were probably mortally wounded by.)

But what of Alex Lifeson, the band’s stalwart guitarist? Ranked #98 on Rolling Stone’s list of greatest guitarists, Alex, with a sardonic wit that often leaves his bandmates paralyzed with laughter, seems to revel in his role as third fiddle. In the 2010 documentary about the band, Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage, there’s a great scene in which Geddy and Alex are eating in a small diner. When the waitress recognizes Geddy, she excitedly comes over and asks for his autograph. As Geddy graciously signs for the woman he points to Alex and tells her who he is. The waitress politely smiles and nods and focuses her attention back on Geddy, completely ignoring Alex, who happily continues to chomp on his sandwich undisturbed. You can see that he’s fine with being left to his food while the attention is heaped on his bandmate—in fact, he somewhat relishes it.

Yes, Alex is ignored, but oy vey, can this man play. I spent a large portion of the concert staring in amazement at the hands of this 61-year-old, heavyset man, as he completely shredded on his guitar.  The set list started with songs from their most recent album, Clockwork Angels and proceeded to go back in time, album by album (although four albums were skipped) until they ended the show with “Working Man,” from their 1974 self-titled debut album. And Alex played like a madman every step of the way. Having seen him eleven times previously, this didn’t surprise me, but I always like to be reminded of the virtuoso skills of Rush’s least heralded member.

A Rush show is more than just a concert—it is an epic theatrical experience. It not only features amazing musicianship, but also psychedelic lasers (see below), comic video interludes featuring the likes of Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Peter Dinklage, Jay Baruchel, and Eugene Levy, and lots and lots of geeky, middle-aged men head-banging in unison. Indeed the intermission of a Rush show is one of the few places on the planet where the line to the men’s room is significantly longer than the line to the women’s room.

If this past Monday’s show was, indeed, the last time I will have seen Rush live, I have to say they left me happy. They couldn’t possibly play every one of my favorite songs of theirs since that would take them the better part of seven hours, and their show was only three, but they did sneak some hidden gems into the set along with their more popular stuff. In fact, one song, “What You’re Doing” was played for the first time since 1977—nine years before my first show!

So with that, I now wish Rush a fond farewell. But Geddy, Alex, and Neil, please take note—if I ever become a billionaire, I will pay you handily to do one last show…which will last seven hours and contain a set list handpicked by me, personally. Here’s to hoping I get to show number 13.

Photos by John Jones