By Michael Alan Goldberg
We wondered whether drummer Neil Peart of Rush -- which comes to American Airlines Center this Wednesday, November 28 -- really needs every single piece of the gargantuan kit you'll see him surrounded by onstage. We reached out to a couple of drum lifers and Peart fans (yeah, that's probably redundant) for their opinion, including Steve "The Mad Drummer" Moore -- aka the "This drummer is at the wrong gig" guy.Why does Neil really need that massive drum kit? Couldn't he get away with a smaller set-up?
The biggest reason, if you were gonna try and generalize, is if you simply looked at it like color -- if you're an artist and I give you blue and green, that's all you can paint with. Whereas if I give you a whole rainbow of color, now you can paint a sky, now you can paint a forest, now you can paint the sun. A full landscape of different shades and colors. That's the biggest thing. Neil likes to paint detailed landscapes with drums like very few others, and there's nothing wrong with that.
He needs that many shades and colors? [Laughs] Well, it's not even a matter of what's needed or what's not needed. It's simply a preference. I may give you a color photo to hang on your wall and it's just breathtaking. The colors are so sharp and vivid, and maybe it's a photograph of the ocean or a mountainside and it looks like you could just reach your hand in and touch it. At the same time, what if I gave you this old black-and-white portrait and there's something about it that's just cool. Which one's better? It's just a matter of what are you in the mood for that day. It's not that you need color as much as, do you enjoy the photograph? Do you need that many drums to play a song? Of course you don't. But if the artist is feeling inspired by all of that color, why would you want to give them a pencil?
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When it comes to a drummer's kit and the gear used, how much is about aesthetics and how much is about sound? Honestly, that's 50-50. That's because of the day and age we live in. A lot of people hear with their eyes. I'm living proof of that [laughs]. But yeah, they look at a drum set and they go, 'Oh my God I bet that sounds greeeeaat!' Because it's really big and really pretty.
Do you think Neil would have any gear onstage that he doesn't actually use, just for aesthetic purposes -- to look cool, or for the effect or whatever? I don't believe that he would. I can't say that about all drummers. He is such a composer of drums and that's a big thing with Neil. When you go and see Rush, whether he's playing "Red Barchetta" or "YYZ," whatever it is, it's exactly the same night after night, it's exactly like the records. He spends a lot of time composing -- every single cymbal he's gonna hit, every single tom that he's gonna hit, every single kick drum. It's not just him up there jamming and having a blast. It is a total drum composition. It could be written out and played night after night no different than if you went to see the symphony. And most Rush fans wanna hear it note for note like they've been familiar with for 30, 40 years. So I think it's all there for musical reasons. What do you think of the way Neil uses electronic drums in his arsenal? One thing that I've always really respected about Neil -- Neil has always been very big on reproducing the sound live. In other words, you'll go see some band, they'll use loops or backing tapes and play along with that. Some drummers use electronic triggers to get their bass drums to sound exactly the same whether it's a big room or small room. It's a very controversial thing. Some people use the term "cheating" because a lot of the extreme metal guys will trigger their bass drums because the sound is very articulate and clear and a little easier to keep consistent. And people go, "Oh, well, if he didn't have the triggers he wouldn't sound as good." But Neil, he has a lot of pads and a lot of triggers around his set, but when he's playing the show he's hitting all of those pads live and he's not trying to pull a fast one or anything like that. It's just to accentuate what he does -- everyone knows he's able to play just about anything without the help of electronics, that's why he's such a legend. And to incorporate that [with acoustic drums] the way Neil does, it's certainly an art. Because otherwise it's like dropping a brick on a cushiony pillow.
So ultimately, can you imagine him scaling back his kit, maybe simplifying things a bit? I'm sure he'll always keep learning and experimenting with his instrument -- the drums and hardware he uses and how much of it he uses. That's what the great masters like Neil always do, and that's why he's thought of as one of the greatest drummers in history. I don't know how much he wants to change. Some people look at [their drums] as tools, but a lot of people look at it as an extension of themselves. They look at their snare drum no different than they would look at their left leg. "That's my snare drum, that's my sound, I know exactly what that drum will do and I know what I can do when all my drums are set up like this." And when they hit them it feels the same as hitting their foot or their leg. Not to sound geeky, but it's truly an extension of themselves. That's how in touch they are with the energy of that instrument. It's hard to say whether deep down Neil ever wants to scale it back. Look, there's days you don't want a steak dinner and you don't want the appetizer and the baked potato and the nice dessert -- you just wanna go grab a corn dog. And there's nothin' wrong with a corn dog!
Rush plays American Airlines Center on Wednesday, November 28.