With a gap of more than 12 years separating the 1992 Roll The Bones and 2004’s R30 tours, the main surprise of tonight’s show is that Rush are returning to these shores after such a short period of time. But the release of their critically acclaimed latest album ‘Snakes and Arrows‘, and the obvious enjoyment the band gleaned from their last outing, seems to have prompted a substantial world tour. The retrospective direction of the 30th anniversary tour was never likely to be repeated in my view, so it was no surprise this show was more of a standard Rush affair, heavily influenced by the new offering. As the house lights dim, a huge roar from the crowd erupts and, onstage, the video screens flicker into life playing the expected humorous intro tape. However, what I hadn’t expected was such a dynamic stage show, as well as the three videos projected across the width of the arena, together with a massive lighting rig which fills the roof equipped with several, umm, ‘flying pods’, that float above the band, as flames leap skyward, and lasers bounce off every wall! Quite a visual feast, but what about the music? Fortunately for everyone who hadn’t bought the album, the set starts with an old classic, ‘Limelight‘, from the 1981 album ‘Moving Pictures‘. Even a few sound gremlins (Geddy Lee seems unable to hear his vocals through the monitors) can’t spoil a great opening track. ‘Digital Man’ follows, then Alex Lifeson dons his acoustic guitar for the first time, for a slightly laid back ‘Entre Nous‘. ‘Mission’ from ‘Hold Your Fire’ starts matters rocking again, before a storming version of ‘Free Will‘, with its finger blistering bass runs and Lifeson’s soaring lead break bringing the house down. With all the songs from the 1980s so far, the band are treading a well worn path, ensuring the audience are pleased, but Lee then enthuses “it’s time for some new material - this is the MAIN monkey business”, and the audience are left in no doubt this tour is about promoting the latest album. Two new tracks follow, with the instrumental atmospherics of ‘The Main Monkey Business’ swiftly leading into ‘The Larger Bowl‘, and both songs are very well received. ‘Secret Touch’ from 2002‘s ‘Vapor Trails’ seems to be making an impact as a good live track, and bridges the new/old gap nicely. But as is the way with any rock show, the more familiar the audience are with a track, the better they respond - so it is that ‘Circumstances‘ from the much maligned Hemispheres (1979) album proves the point. Up tempo favourite ‘Between The Wheels’ is rolled out next, and quickly followed by ‘Dreamline’ from 1992 release ‘Roll The Bones’ which offers another chance for the audience to practice their synchronized nodding as lasers bounce off every wall in the arena, providing a good, solid end to the first set.
After a half hour interval, the band take to the stage for a serious assault on ‘Snakes And Arrows‘, and five consecutive tracks lifted from the new album show just how highly Rush rate the latest songs themselves. ‘Far Cry‘, the album opener starts the second set, followed by the excellent ‘Workin’ Them Angels‘. ‘Armor And Sword‘, ‘Spindrift’ and ‘The Way The Wind Blows’ complete the quintet. All the tracks come across superbly, and will no doubt give the band a real dilemma which ones they should drop for the next tour. By now, the audience are ready for some more oldies so, with impeccable timing, live favourite ‘Subdivisions’ is unveiled. This is merely a warm up for a brilliant version of ‘Natural Science’ from ‘Moving Pictures‘ - its blend of mellow atmospherics and sing/clap along sections making it a real crowd pleaser. The haunting ‘Witch Hunt’ follows, leading into the new instrumental, the fantastically titled ‘Malignant Narcissism’ (a title apparently borrowed from a phrase used in the film ‘Team America: World Police‘), culminating in Neil Peart’s show stopping drum solo. Always an acoustic treat, the addition of video technology enables you to witness the virtuoso ability of the greatest rock drummer around today, which you have to see and hear to really understand, and is guaranteed to bring the house down, without fail. ‘Hope‘, yet another instrumental, sees Lifeson alone on stage with his acoustic guitar, delivering another great new song. At this point on the American leg of the tour, the band play a version of ‘Summertime Blues’ taken from their covers album, ‘Feedback‘, but when you’ve such a hugely impressive back catalogue, why the need for a cover? Fortunately, at least from my perspective, they choose to play ‘Distant Early Warning’ from 1984 album ‘Grace Under Pressure’, and from the reception it receives, many others agree it’s a good choice. The opening riff of ‘The Spirit Of Radio’ echoes around the arena and Sheffield erupts - well, the venue does; if a song epitomized early Rush then this is surely it, with Lee’s high pitched vocals riding over a driving rhythm, accompanied by some searing guitar and pounding bass hooks, and topped off with complex timings and drum fills. Heaven! Next, the lights dim, and the video screen comes alive to the sound of…Li’l Rush…Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s hilarious, ‘special’ South Park creation. Eric Cartman and pals version of ‘Tom Sawyer’ just has to be seen - “and a one and a two, and a one two three, one two three” counts Cartman on screen which the real band use as a countdown to the real version of ‘Tom Sawyer‘. Genuine genius, unless you’ve never seen South Park, of course! Thus concludes the second set. A fair amount of screaming later, the trio return to the stage for three encore songs. ‘One Little Victory’ sees Rush’s pet Dragon take to the video screen to deliver a ferocious wall of fire behind the amps - damned hot from where I was, never mind onstage! ‘A Passage To Bangkok’ is the earliest track to make the set list, and taken from 1976‘s ‘2112,’ arguably the bands most famous album, it harks back to the days when Lee’s vocals were delivered with venom at an incredibly high pitch. However, those days are long ago, and unfortunately it does show a little, though amazingly his half spoken, half sung approach just about works, and doesn’t detract from the song. But I suspect he was glad the encore ends with an instrumental, ‘YYZ‘, another track from ‘Moving Pictures’, with yet another chance for the band to show off their musical prowess. Up tempo and intricate, but delivered with such precision, it’s easy to see why so many contemporary bands cite Rush as a major influence in their songwriting. The band then exit stage left to rapturous applause, the house lights come up, and the show ends. All in all, a fantastic performance - three hours from start to finish, with a half hour interval, 27 songs (9 from the new album), and as close as you can get to value for money. A brilliant night - perhaps not quite as awesome as the R30 tour, mainly because they played so many of my favourite tracks during those shows, but it was a pleasure to hear so many new tracks aired tonight from ‘Snakes And Arrows’, many of which I’m sure will still be in the set should Rush decide to cross the pond once more.
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Saturday 6th October 2007
Hallam FM Arena in Sheffield, UK
Review & Photography by Paul Simpson