American Airlines Center
Monday, May 18, 2015
If you've kept up on the news about Canadian trio Rush, you've probably heard their current R40 tour will most likely be their final large-scale tour. Not billed as a farewell tour per se, but if you want to see the band for your first or 10th or 40th time, you better get out to these shows. For their show at the American Airlines Center last night, the nearly three-hour performance felt like a long thank you instead of a goodbye.
Bassist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart still play with the kind of conviction they've always had: Very intense and sometimes goofy, they bridge a gap between the stomp of blues-inspired rock and the long division mathematics of progressive rock. The packed AAC paid close attention to every detail, from drum fills to high-pitched vocal hooks. And most of the audience was on its feet throughout the whole show, which was split into two sets, followed by an encore.
The last time Rush played Dallas, they made their then-new album Clockwork Angels the centerpiece. This time, they started with their most recent material and went all the way back to their first album, when they were more a Blue Cheer/Led Zeppelin-inspired bar band. The first set definitely drew appreciative applause rather than rabid cheering, but as they rounded to the older material, that's when the real magic started in.
The second set gave more time (way more than sets in recent memory) to the band's longer conceptual pieces from their '70s albums like 2112, Hemispheres and A Farewell to Kings. By devoting more time to the band's proggy side — clearly influenced by Yes, Pink Floyd and Genesis records released at the same time — they were not afraid to let things space out. But it was a welcome change. Songs like "Natural Science," the multi-part "Cygnus X-1" opus and "Jacob's Ladder" all were welcome entries stacked between crowd favorites like "Tom Sawyer," "YYZ" and "The Spirit of Radio." Coupled with a light show that went from the stage to the back of the place, there was levity in the room. Adding in the classic rock staple of "Closer to the Heart" with "Xanadu" and "2112" was a nice touch, too.
Splitting up the sets was the usual mix of short films made by the band, letting them take the piss out of themselves and their legacy. This time included a great blooper reel of blown lines and miscues from previous tour videos. A fun surprise during the hip-hop breakdown of "Roll the Bones" was a video of famous super-fans like Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Tom Morello and Peter Dinklage mouthing the words. And yes, they included the South Park bit where Cartman's band attempts to play "Tom Sawyer." Plus, the visual gags of washing machines, a popcorn machine and empty amplifiers constantly moving around by stagehands kept things light and funny.
The whole evening felt very satisfying. Sure, Rush could have played even more fan favorites, but part of the appeal of seeing them is how they play to the hardcore fan more than the casual fan. They have their handful of tunes you always hear, but what makes them still a compelling live act is the willingness to take chances with lesser-known deep cuts. Sure, there wasn't a "Red Barchetta" or "Limelight," but "Natural Science" and "Xanadu" were reminders of the potency of Rush songs that aren't classic rock staples. At various points during the show, and especially at the end, Lee frequently thanked the crowd, coupled with video montages of adoring fans over the years.
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It was a testament to how a strong fan base can keep a band like this still vital and worthwhile after 40 years. Not many bands can claim to have that kind of pull with an audience these days, but Rush is no ordinary act.
Personal bias: My second time to see Rush, but the guest I brought to the show remembers seeing them multiple times from Hemispheres on. He liked this show, too.
By the way: Most Rush fans I've interacted with over the years are friendly and sociable, and yes, respectful. Case in point, the guy in front of me asked if his picture-taking habits were affecting my enjoyment of the show. I said they weren't, but I appreciated him asking. That's something I never encounter at shows.
"The Main Monkey Business"
"One Little Victory"
"Roll the Bones"
"Distant Early Warning"
"The Spirit of Radio"
"Cygnus X-1 Book Two: Hemispheres - Prelude"
"Cygnus X-1 Book One - The Voyage: Part 1"
"Cygnus X-1 Book One - The Voyage: Part 3"
"Closer to the Heart"
"2112 Overture/The Temples of Syrinx/Presentation/Grand Finale"
"What You're Doing"