Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A (Sort Of) Farewell to Kings, or Channeling Neil Peart (Part I)

So about two weeks ago I saw Rush for the fifth time. It might be the last time, unfortunately, solely because they're getting to the point where they're less inclined to be away from their families for long tours that last months at a time. Which is totally understandable, since they're celebrating 40 years of doing that. Forty years, twenty studio albums (plus ten live albums), and solo projects from all three band members (from the experimental fun of guitarist Alex Lifeson's Victor, to the straightforward rock of bass player Geddy Lee's My Favorite Headache, to the drum solo instructionals and thought-provoking books written by drummer Neil Peart), movie cameos, and, of course, concerts, have provided me with hours upon hours of enjoyment in the mere nine years since I became a Rush fan. I mean, it's not the end - they still might do smaller tours or at least infrequent performances (as Mr. Lifeson said in a recent interview), and they probably have more music in them. But in honor of what could be their last big tour, and following in my drumming hero's footsteps with his own blog posts, I thought I'd explore my own retrospective of Rush's albums, using, as a guide, the setlist to what was arguably THE best show I've seen by them.

Before I start, a huge shout out to the First Niagara Center. When a small structural problem threatened the safety of my fellow concertgoers and myself in section 302, they took decisive action to move us to new seats to keep enjoying the show. Strong work.

1. The Anarchist: For my most recent birthday, Fiancée Reptar got me a copy of the Clockwork Angels novel, written by long-time sci-fi writer Kevin J. Anderson and based on the 2012 concept album's lyrics by Neil Peart. The book is solid, a good page-turner that does a great job of fleshing out the characters introduced in Clockwork Angels' twelve songs. This song's tom beat and driving guitar riff made for a great start to the show as they burst into their set.

2. The Wreckers: One of my favorites from the latest album, and one that really comes to life in the book. This song channels the uneasy and lawless concord that the protagonist finds at this point in his journey, which is soon shattered. Also a fantastic use of strings to simulate the idea of a boat on choppy waters, which persists through the whole song.

3. Headlong Flight (w/Drumbastica): The opening bass riff of this song leads into a song that is just as reckless as its title and story indicate, even while it reminisces about the crazy journey the protagonist has taken. The chorus is one of the hardest-rocking in Rush's catalog, and a listener is treated to intriguing images even as he/she can't help but head-bang along. Neil's new pattern of throwing in multiple smaller drum solos instead of one large one continues to delight as he drums his way into our hearts.

4. Far Cry: I became a Rush fan in late 2005, shortly after they completed their R30 tour, and I listened to their entire discography obsessively. I remember regretting that I had just missed that tour, and hoping that I would someday get to see them. My wish came true in 2007 when they announced their new album. The 12-second teaser for this song was unbelievable. And then later that year, when I saw Rush for the first time, the second set exploded (both literally and figuratively) as they ripped through this knock-you-through-the-wall number. Five shows later, this song still has that effect on me. As my friend Stephen said after that first show, "Far Cry was SICK!"

5. The Main Monkey Business: A complex instrumental that channels both a jungle feel as well as the metaphorical fun of its title. Neil's explanation in a 2007 issue of Modern Drummer of how the parts for this song came about is recommended reading for any drummer. There's a part at around the three-minute mark when Neil's hands are stretched from one end of his kit to another and his only thought is, "I don't know why I did that to myself."

6. How It Is: In my opinion, this is far from the best song on 2002's Vapor Trails, but still a great deep cut for this retrospective set, with potent lyrics about the importance of expecting the worst while hoping for the best. It's actually a pretty good lyric for today's world.

7. Animate: Rush's 1993 album explored post-grunge alt-rock. My friend Chris tried to get me to name my least favorite Rush album, and cited Counterparts as a potential example - that was a mistake. I love this album. It hit on complex themes (standard fare for any Rush album), as well as commonplace themes in a complex way (including AIDS, bravado (but not the song "Bravado"), and even love). It has some of Rush's coolest songs, including one of my top 5 - "Cold Fire."

8. Roll the Bones: The song inspired by an attitude of taking chances took its own chance in 1991 when Peart wrote an interlude inspired by "LL Cool J and Public Enemy" in a rap that beautifully captures Rush's flippant personalities amidst otherwise serious music. This was further highlighted by a great backdrop video at this concert featuring a host of famous Rush fans mouthing along to the rap, including Paul Rudd and Jason Segel, Peter Dinklage, the Trailer Park Boys, and more.

9. Between the Wheels: This song (and all the following songs from this concert) came out before I was born, but it is arguably my favorite song by the power trio. I love the metaphors describing the downsides to apathy (which, as a concept, is a pet peeve of mine), superimposed on a reggae/ska-infused riff. The song, last track on 1984's Grace Under Pressure, crashes in with power organ spikes and then drags you between the proverbial musical wheels and it's awesome.

10. Subdivisions: Rush's most famous song, post-1981. "Signals" is a fantastic album, even though the members of Rush are hesitant about it because the guitar-vs.-synth balance was a struggle (as it was for so many fans who were listening to Rush in the early 1980s). This album features my favorite Rush song that I thought would never be played live - "Losing It", a beautiful tribute to Hemingway that heavily features Ben Mink and a monstrous electric violin solo. As it turns out, a week after this concert I watched, Ben Mink CAME TO A RUSH CONCERT AND PLAYED IT WITH THEM ONSTAGE AT THE AIR CANADA CENTRE. I SHOULD HAVE GONE TO THAT ONE. DAMN.

At the end of intermission, we got moved to a box (for the aforementioned safety reasons), which was AWESOME. Much closer, parallel to the stage, such a cool way to experience the show. No wonder people pay the big bucks for those.

I wrote about the whole concert, but it's way too long of an entry for one post. So here lies the division - End of Part I.

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