Thursday, June 25, 2015

A (Sort of) Farewell to Kings/Channeling Neil Peart, Part II

In Part I of this post, I talked about the first set of the June 10th Rush concert I recently attended (really just because I was "In the Mood"), and let the songs guide my reminiscence of my ten years as a Rush fan ("Making Memories" if you will). Here we have part II. 

1. Tom Sawyer: I don't even need to say anything about this song. Rush's most popular song. This is no deep cut, but it still gives me chills every time it starts. My drum teacher Jim had introduced me first to "Closer to the Heart" (mentioned later), which I liked. He tried to have me play "Tom Sawyer" but I was intimidated by the amount of notes on the page, and held off for a while. When I asked him to bring it back out again, I was instantly hooked. This was drumming on a level I'd never experienced before (at that age, having listened only to pop, country, and some classic rock for most of my life). I proceeded to pursue Rush's discography (using mostly FYE stores because I had no idea where to shop for music when I was 15) and devoured every album. On June 10th, I didn't quite catch the opening moment because we were running to our new seats, but it was still a command performance. And the South Park "Li'l Rush" parody gets funnier every time.

2. The Camera Eye: A deep cut that resurfaced during 2011's Time Machine Tour, celebrating the 30th anniversary of Moving Pictures. It is one of the longer songs at almost 11 minutes, describing the hustle and bustle of big cities, switching back and forth between sharply focused verses and a deeply satisfying mid-tempo rock riff. It was also here (during the show) that I could not help but admire Neil Peart and Rush's control - if I was playing these songs, I'd be excitedly speeding the tempos up every song, or at least trying desperately not to. But these guys make it look easy (even if they are playing to a click track).

3. The Spirit of Radio: This can be best summed up by Mike's reaction as he sat next to me. The song's opening riff poured out of Alex Lifeson's amps and all I heard from my left was, "Aw, yes!" It's the great listener's anthem whose message about music and artists vs. advertisers and corporate executives still rings true today. I love "begin[ning] my day with a friendly voice, a companion unobtrusive." And when the lights go from rainbows over the crowd to small intimate Jamaica colored spots for the reggae-ish part? That's just gravy.

4. Jacob's Ladder: Another deep cut from 1980 - an epic grooving jam featuring a brief but epic lyric that, if you close your eyes, really makes you feel like the heavens' fury is coming down in a storm (which is appropriate for this week's Buffalo weather).

5. Cygnus X-1, Book II: Hemispheres, Part 1: Prelude: This track (leading into its own part I) is the only one I couldn't identify in the first five seconds...but as soon as I heard the signature riff I knew it. This is another one where reading the backdrop of the song is quite helpful. For one, in the studio track, even I have to admit that Geddy's high vocals are sometimes hard to follow. For another, it's also a pretty cool tale - again heavy on the sci-fi, though this one features a spacefaring protagonist.
6. Cygnus X-1, Book I: Parts 1 and 3 (with drum solo): The gift that keeps on giving.

7. Closer to the Heart: "This is a great song from 'A Farewell to Kings''s got a pretty little acoustic intro." As soon as Geddy said it, the entire audience quaked with anticipation and then broke into raucous cheers. This was the first Rush song I learned to play on the drums, and, as my friend Mick stated leading up to the concert, it proved that radio-friendly songs could have loftier lyrics and more complex themes. I defy anyone not to sing along with Geddy when he tells us we can be the captain and he will draw the chart. I DEFY YOU. 

8. Xanadu: No, this is not that Olivia Newton-John movie. But it is based on the same Coleridge poem. Man, people got a lot of mileage out of his work - that movie, Citizen Kane, and a Rush epic that, in 1978, had the works - gong hits, chimes, woodblock and cowbell hits, as well as thundering rolling-down-the-stairs drum fills. They brought a little bit of that magic back for this, and Peart could be seen rising from his throne to hammer the chime notes of the song's introduction - which was pretty cool.

9. 2112: Parts I, II, IV, VII: A retrospective wouldn't be complete without the 20-minute, 37-second song that put Rush on the map. Admittedly, they did a shortened version for this concert. But as the opening ARP Odyssey Synthesizer tones hit my ears and the overture burst into existence, I was immediately transported to yet another dystopian tale, a concept revived in 2012's Clockwork Angels. As Geddy alternately channels the protagonist (with his discovery of the guitar and music) and the Temple Priests (who shut the former down), it's easy to see why this song brought them back from the brink of musical failure and thrust them into a spotlight that carries on to this day.

1. Lakeside Park: This encore went all the way back to 1974-5. The first two songs haven't been played by them live in decades, since the vocals go pretty high and Geddy says his head threatens to explode. But a true retrospective necessitated bringing them back. So they tuned down a key or two, but these songs haven't lost a step. I love "Lakeside Park" in particular because it epitomizes Geddy and Alex's ability to write music that completely captures the mood of Neil's lyrics. It even takes me back to playing in parks when I was a boy, although "Beaty Park" doesn't have quite the same magic to it. Maybe Mulberry Park.

2. Anthem: The song that introduced 1975 to the new lineup of Rush, and introduced me to Ayn Rand's philosophies. Sort of. I didn't quite look that deeply into it at the time, I was just enraptured by the sheer prog mastery of the song. I put on this one and the guitar riff started and immediately went into creative drum fills that blasted out of my headphones and I knew I had found my new drum hero.

3. What You're Doing: A great song off their 1974 debut album (before Neil joined the band) - just classic bluesy rebellious rock that needs no explanation. Just turn up your volume and let it blast. Oh, and definitely check out this video someone made of the Peanuts gang singing it:  

4. Working Man (W/Garden Road outro): Ending on a classic, this song is the one track from the 1970s that has always been a staple. I'd like to think even the guys in Rush never get tired of this one, that they still have fun with the guitar solo section. Everyone can relate to this song in some way. Even if you don't understand any other Rush get this one. And the fact that they teased Garden Road (a fun track whose lyrics are almost unintelligible, only released on two live albums recorded back in 1974, shortly after Neil joined the band) at the end is icing on the retrospective cake.

So that was long and self-indulgent. But I hope I made it easy to see how awesome this show was, and how much of a presence this band has been in my life for the past ten years. And how, even if you're not a Rush fan, or if you stopped listening when they introduced synths in the '80s, they still deserve a great deal of merit. Here's hoping for a lot more music, and even a few more shows from the best damn trio period. 

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