BLOG - HOCKEY & HEAVY METAL
May 9, 2015 • 2:34 AM
RUSH - R40 OPENING NIGHT - BOK CENTER - TULSA, OK
Rush is my second all-time favorite band after the Grateful Dead, so when I had an opportunity to burn some air miles and a vacation day to go to Tulsa, Oklahoma to catch the opening night of their 40th anniversary tour, otherwise known as R40, I took advantage of the timing and did it.
At this point I could go off on a lengthy rants about bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart and their 19 studio albums and their covers EP and their 7 live albums and what great musicians they are, but I’ll save us both the time. But if you want to know about those things, ask the Rush nerd in your immediate vicinity and he or she will tell you far more than you ever wanted to know over the space on an hour or two.
So, onto the show.
House lights went down at 7:45 and an animated video of the band morphing in and out of their different looks and stage costumes over the years was projected onto the stage curtain, and culminated with silhouetted images of the three “old” band members being wheeled into place. Then the curtain rose with Geddy, Alex and Neil smiling and acknowledging the crowd for a few seconds before the intro to the somewhat surprising opener issued from the PA.
CLOCKWORK ANGELS: I seriously doubt anyone actually predicted this one as the show opener, but it worked, as much because of the surprise factor as anything. You could pretty much tell who the hardest of the hardcore Rush fans were early on, because they were the ones raising their hands during the “as if to fly” lines of the choruses. Plus, this is the title track of their best album since Power Windows, and it was their current album when they finally got elected to the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall Of Fame. If you like Rush and you don’t own the album, you kinda should.
THE ANARCHIST: Ok, it’s a twofer from 2012’s Clockwork Angels. This one is one of the album’s best and it’s definitely the album’s heaviest and most old-school track. The song’s peak - that middle section in the minor key - was bone-rattling when Geddy hit those low notes on the bass. Maybe there was a an extra bass backing track to fill out the bottom end live, and that’s perfectly fine because it does what it’s supposed to do.
HEADLONG FLIGHT (WITH DRUM SOLO): Wow, three straight from Clockwork Angels? But I’m not complaining. This song is incredible and gives the guys an opportunity to show off in a non-showoff-y way because of the timing and the changes in this 7-minute epic that was extended to 8-plus when Neil took a short, frenetic solo while Alex and Geddy rested sidestage. Neil had samples of Alex’s guitar and Geddy’s bass and cleverly triggered them into the solo before they returned to finish the song.
FAR CRY: Okay, it it looks like the pre-show guess of “start with recent stuff and work backwards” might be the right one for the show’s format. One of Snakes And Arrows’s two best songs, and once again they busted out the sparks and explosions at the end of the second verse. This one is in the same key as “Hemispheres” and I’ve always hoped they’ll segue from one to the other at some point….
THE MAIN MONKEY BUSINESS: ….but not tonight. Another great choice, being the other of the best two songs on Snakes And Arrows, and probably their best instrumental after the untouchable YYZ. This one also has some really tricky changes in the middle of the song when it gets heavier, and they’re the kind of changes that a band can blow on the opening night of a tour, but thankfully everything was right on target.
ONE LITTLE VICTORY: 2002’s Vapor Trails is represented by its album opener, complete with dragon animation antics and flame images on the screens throughout the song. I’ve always thought of this one as Neil’s “I’m Back!” declaration after his 5-year break from playing, and I’m quite sure its a band favorite. This album (and the Orange County show on that tour) got me through a truly miserable first semester of law school so I’ve always identified with the fighting spirit of this album. (The remixed version that came out last year is definitely better than the original, though.)
ANIMATE: The backwards march continues, but 1996’s Test For Echo is skipped and is only represented onstage by the inukshuk design on Neil’s t-shirt. Instead they move straight to 1993’s Counterparts and album opener Animate. I thought the odds of this one were high because Neil has said more than once that it’s one of his favorites, but aside from the middle section the song (and the album) has never been one of mine despite the great sound and production.
ROLL THE BONES: Moving right along we get the title track of 1991’s Roll The Bones, complete with the old videos of dice and bones. However, the clear highlight of the song was the new video accompaniment for the “rap” section in the middle, for which they’d previously used a rapping skull video. This time it was quick cuts of Rush fan celebrities lip-synching to the rap parts, with no small amount of humor and mugging for the camera. Who, you ask? Paul Rudd and Jason Segel, The Trailer Park Boys with Bubbles front and center, Peter Dinklage, Tom Morello, a mustachioed man in a pig mask who I think might have been Dave Grohl, a guy in a Texas Tech football jersey that I didn’t recognize, and an older guy with facial hair and sunglasses that I didn’t recognize. Lots of laughing all around while that played out.
DISTANT EARLY WARNING: Big jump back here, as 1989’s Presto, 1987’s Hold Your Fire and 1985’s Power Windows all get skipped, though the latter was heavily represented on the last tour. Instead, we get Cold War anthem Distant Early Warning from 1984’s Grace Under Pressure, my beloved dark horse of the Rush catalog. And here’s a blond moment: It wasn’t until about 1993 or so that my friend Jason Baim clued me in to the fact that the lyrics are actually “Canada singing to America’. That knocked me for a loop. I’d had no idea, and it seemed so obvious as soon as he told me. D’oh! And the song still rocks just as hard 25 years after the Cold War ended. The climax of the mid-song break and its repeating three-chord riff is a peak moment in the catalog.
SUBDIVSIONS: You could see this one coming a mile away, but nonetheless it was most welcome. The opening track from 1982’s Signals is still a calling card for all the outsider kids in school at that time who grew up listening to Rush, and now that the stings of adolescence are long passed it serves as a fond look back for me and probably a lot of others too. Plus, a lot of us nerds and outsiders grew up and studied hard and worked hard and we’re in charge of things now, so heh. And we even got our guys into the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall Of Fame despite the Hall’s best efforts.
20-minutes, or just enough time to get to the restroom and back. (As usual for Rush shows, there was no line for the women’s restroom while the men’s lines snaked well into the hallways.)
Quick recap: they started with Clockwork Angels and worked all the way back to Signals. Also, during the set techs were regularly switching out the amps or props that Alex and Geddy used on each tour so that whatever was stage jibed with the album and tour.
This pretty much means the second set has to be material from Moving Pictures back to the debut.
Light went down at 9:15 and they rehashed clips of intro videos and outtakes from previous tour videos. Then it cut to the video of the South Park kids dressed up as Rush from the Snakes And Arrows tour, and they counted in the other most obvious song of the night to start the second set.
TOM SAWYER: Was there any doubt? Rush’s signature song is one of those songs in constant radio classic rock play that I still never tired of hearing. The third album I ever bought was 1981’s Moving Pictures, and I still remember buying it at Heads Together on Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill not long after hearing Tom Sawyer during a trip to Augie’s, the local arcade and longhair hangout in Swissvale. It came up on the jukebox while I was playing pinball with some longhair dude that was several years older than me, and he started talking about the song and what it was about. I felt so cool, and I was hooked, and I haven’t become unhooked since. An out-and-out all-time classic, and the band played in front of huge walls of amplifiers from the era.
RED BARCHETTA: I figured there’d be at least one more from Moving Pictures and I was thinking Limelight, but that one’s been played on almost every tour so I guess it’s earned a break. And it was nice to have vinyl continuity and hear one rock’s best driving anthems back into the rotation. I wonder how many people have gotten speeding tickets over the years while playing this song on the car stereo.
THE SPIRIT OF RADIO: Another easy one to predict, but it was nice to hear it outside of its usual position as a set opener, set closer or encore. It was also the very first song released in the 1980s, as Mercury Records knew they had a good thing on their hands and did a special non-Tuesday release of the album on January 1, 1980. What an earworm of a guitar riff, and for such a tricky song it really is catchy. It’s still such a great blast of artistic optimism in the face of the music industry, and the crowd cranked up their own volume when it came time to do so during the “Concert Hall!” exhortation at the end of the song. Okay, and now that it’s over, I think this might be when the set takes a turn towards the more sci-fi / prog material.
JACOB’S LADDER: Yesssssssssss! This prog classic had been shelved for over 30 years until tonight, and in every direction there were grown men high-fiving and hugging each other as Geddy announced its return. This one had been at or near the top of the “Please revive this song” polls that the Rush Is A Band fan site have been running over the last few years. Its known that the band pays attention to the site, and it looks like they finally caved in and did it. Alex has mentioned in interviews that he thought the middle section needed a rewrite, but they stuck to the original arrangement and played the full song. So, so nice. They also used multicolored lasers during the songs breakdown and buildup, which is something I’d never seen before. I felt like I was in the middle of a science fiction novel.
CYGNUS X-1, BOOK 2: HEMISPHERES: Your trusty reporter let out quite the yell when the first chord of this one hit, and I wasn’t the only one. The title track from 1978’s Hemispheres has been dormant since the 90s, and I missed the two tours where it turned up because I was living in Europe, so this was my first time seeing it live. I agree with the band that the full 19 minute version of the song is a bit ponderous, but those first 5 minutes is some fantastic prog rock, and that’s what they played. Much air bass was played by yours truly, but don’t tell anyone, ok?
CYGNUS X-1 BOOK 1: THE VOYAGE: Oh yeah, down, down, down the prog wormhole we go, courtesy of the closing track of 1977’s A Farewell To Kings. The first three minutes got resurrected in the encore of the Vapor Trails tour in 2002 and we got that tonight, but then instead of moving into another song Alex and Geddy vacated the stage and allowed Neil to take his traditional, longer drum solo spot in the middle of the second set. This year his kit didn’t have 2 kits of drums back to back - it was still huge, but it was light on electronics and he’d dusted off a lot of the bells and chimes and things that were part of his kit in the 70s. The solo was a little shorter than on previous tours but it was really intense, and as always was punctuated with flourishes that are so difficult to play that most rock drummers couldn’t even think about copying them. Then Geddy and Alex came back out and went back into Cygnus and played the song’s climax and
conclusion as an instrumental. Probably for the best, as I’m not sure Geddy ever hit that one high note again after nailing it in the studio.
CLOSER TO THE HEART: Sticking with A Farewell To Kings for a second song, we are brought back to earth for 3 minutes with one of their catchiest and most beautiful tunes. Nice crowd sing-along, too. They didn’t jam out the ending, which I thought was a good thing because it left them more time to go back down into the prog wormhole….
XANADU: ...and prog wormhole re-entry occurs via a third track from A Farewell To Kings, as Xanadu makes a most welcome return. Aside from turning up on the R30 tour 11 years ago, Xanadu had been dormant since the 1990 Presto tour. Once again, as the guitar intro issued through the PA, grown men in every direction were hugging each other and high-fiving. Me? My eyes watered a bit and my face was smiling a big, involuntary smile as it’s my favorite Rush song. And for the first time since the Moving Pictures tour, they played the entire frickin’ song. Yes. That’s right. We got the full eleven minutes of double-necked Coleridgeian glory. This song alone was worth the trip.
2112 (I. OVERTURE, II. TEMPLES OF SYRINX, IV. PRESENTATION, VII. GRAND FINALE): By now it was pretty obvious that 2112’s epic, 20-minute title track from 1976 was going to close the second set, and the only question left to answer was how many of the song’s seven sections they were actually going to play. The answer ended up being four, with the Presentation section making its return for the first time since the Test For Echo tour in 1997. Essentially, they played the rockin’ parts and left out the slower parts, and that was alright given everything else that had come before it. And I just love Part VII: it remains one of the best endings to any rock song anywhere and therefore makes a perfect set closer. We have assumed control. We have assumed control. We have assumed control.
The curtain dropped and a short video played of Eugene Levy dressed up as a 70s music show host who introduced a new group called Rush (who’d even opened for Kiss!) and “who might get better if they ever added another guy, because everyone knows you’ll never make it as a trio.”
LAKESIDE PARK: Definitely the biggest surprise of the night. 1975’s Caress of Steel is the weird uncle of the 19 Rush albums, but my money was on on Bastille Day as it’s the closest thing to a normal song on it. But nope, instead we get an easy-rocking, wistful look back at Neil Peart’s childhood visits to a local amusement park, and it was pretty cool. They played almost all of the song before Alex stepped forward and banged out the riff to…..
ANTHEM: The opener from Fly By Night, the earlier and better of the band’s two 1975 albums. This was its first appearance with vocals since the Roll The Bones tour and until tonight I don’t think they’d played the entire song all the way through since the 1970s. Color me thrilled; I thought By-Tor And The Snow Dog was going to get the nod for this album. This has always been one of my favorite songs from an Alex perspective. I just love those riffs. I’ve always wondered if they shelved it because they got tired of people bugging them about the Ayn Rand-inspired lyrics.
WHAT YOU’RE DOING: And finally we’re back to the debut album from 1974, and the band are now back to their roots, playing in front of one amplifier each, set on wooden chairs, at a school dance at Rod Serling High, complete with a massive mirror ball. I’m not sure when this song was last played live, but it had to be the 70s and it was probably shelved for good by the time Hemispheres was out. But man, what a big, bopping riff this one has. Just some good old power from a good old power trio, and that’s a pretty cool surprise to close the show. I thought it was going to be In The Mood, but anyway, great finish.
WORKING MAN: Except it’s not over. Your trusty reporter lets out another loud yell and a fist pump as Rush close the show with the closing track from their debut album. It was a statement of intent then, it was responsible for them breaking into the United States, and it’s still a statement of intent now, both for the band and fans. Some last power chords, one final, screaming solo from Alex, some lyrics about a better life, some thank yous and goodbyes, and now it’s finally over after almost 3 hours.
The exit video was funny and showed the bands getting locked out and barred from their own dressing room by the puppet from the Farewell To Kings album cover, who had taken over the room along with all the other characters from the album covers.
The one sentence summary: if you know a Rush snob who has constantly complained about how the band “doesn’t play enough old stuff” these days, he or she will be permanently silenced by this show. No one could ask for more, or for a better set list.
See you at the last show of the tour on home turf in Los Angeles in August.