Pick a band, any popular band from the 70s, or even the 80s.
Odds are this band falls into one of two categories. Either they are no longer a band, or if they are, they’ve lost one or more original members and play the smaller venues.
Then there’s the lucky ones, who have managed to stay together and are still making records and filling the larger venues. Fortunately for their fans, RUSH falls into the latter category. But it’s not only that. The hard-working trio finds themselves in the midst of a late career surge, with pop culture penetration and a new album some are calling their best since Moving Pictures in 1981.
Of course I wasn’t thinking about all this last night. I was just enjoying their show at Bristow, a growing exurb about 20 miles west of Washington. Fresh off their Clockwork Angels tour debut in New Hampshire on Friday night, RUSH performed the second show of their 40-dates tour, which includes about a dozen stops in Europe.
RUSH has played this venue five times now since 2002. Each time, Northern Virginia and the DC area turned out in big numbers. Looked like another 12,000 or so who enjoyed the cooler Canadian air, which put temps in the mid-70s at show time.
Geddy, Alex and Neil are either pushing 60 or have reached that milestone. You wouldn’t know it, however, from their continued ambitious approach. The rocking trio gave their fans what they have come to expect last night. For their last five tours, RUSH has played without support and performed around two dozen songs. This is a dream scenario for the fans, who get a 60-minute first set, a 20-minute intermission, followed by an 90-minute second set with a two song encore.
This tour finds the band shaking things up in a big way. For the first time, Rush had help on stage, employing an eight-piece string orchestra. They came on stage for the start of the second set and played not only the Clockwork Angels songs, but also a handful of others. When I first read about this development, I paused with uncertainty. Now, I’m here to say the collaboration was brilliant.
This set up produced two sets that were as different as Jekyll and Hyde. Previously the band peppered the new album songs throughout the show. Not sure how fans felt about that aspect, but there’s no question there is grumbling in Rushland over the song selection. Fans have always wanted their favorites played. Even myself, someone who has seen them almost every tour since 2112, longs for the return of Kubla Khan’s caves of ice and the shifting shafts of Jacob’s Ladder.
RUSH’s song selection dilemma is a nice problem to have. As noted, they play about 25 songs, but with over 200 songs in their repertoire, well one does not have to be a math whiz to figure out what that means in terms of the cutting floor containing some serious carnage.
The band has always handled this zero-sum game challenge with a balanced approach. Five or so songs from the current album, and a mix from the rest of their catalogue. This time around, however, the paradigm shifted.
Last night they played eight songs from Clockwork Angels. Personally, I don’t have a problem with that. This is a remarkable concept recording that doesn’t feel too “concepty.” The steampunk themes, which peer into the future from the point of view of mid 19th Century dreamers, made for some great videos. The Garden mesmerized with its smooth flow, Alex’s arpeggios, and a masterpiece lyrics-wise.
What really drew a lot of attention from fans at Ed Stenger's blog, "Rushisaband" is the rest of the song selection. Songs from the '70s and '90 were scarce, while they feasted on the 80s. Tom Sawyer, their smash hit and a song they have never not played, survived the hatchet, ax and saw, as did crowd favorite Subdivisions.
It’s always fun to hear what they pull out the vaults. Rescued were The Analog Kid, Grand Designs and Middletown Dreams. Kid is one of my favorites, seeing Alex rip on the solo.
I can understand why fans were not thrilled with RUSH choosing to shun almost ten of their albums. Complain if you will, but this long time fan will not. The videos were their usual great stuff, as well as the big screen skits with our beloved trio reprising their roles as "actors." Geddy chatted more than he usually does and drew laughs when he announced the intermission by saying it was time to take a break so we can “get a blood transfusion.”
In a recent interview, Alex said,
It's so nice to go out and do something that's unusual and different and keeps on your toes.. And hopefully you don't wreck anything for them and they don't wreck anything for you. So it's a challenge, and we're always looking for something to move us forward."
Those self-imposed challenges have always been a key ingredient for RUSH’s success and a reason why they are where they are. I think it also helps explains the demise of so many bands. They stayed with the tried and true, only to be an easy target for the pirates and the watchmakers…