Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Concert Review: Rush - Time Machine Tour 2010

With a cameo in the hit comedy I Love You, Man, a recently unveiled star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and the release of an award-winning documentary about their history, Rush has been caught in the camera eye a lot lately. After playing together for nearly 40 years, the famed Canadian power trio is making a trip back into the public consciousness. So what better time than last week to travel down to the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Irvine and see the Holy Triumvirate perform live?

Actually, ANY time is a perfect time to see Rush perform live. I saw them in '07 for the Snakes and Arrows tour, and I plan to see them every time they come to LA for the duration of their career, regardless of their pop-culture relevancy.

Speaking of relevancy, I'm aware that it's been a week and a weekend since I saw this show. I chose to preempt this review last week since WWE Summer Slam was a one-night-only Pay-Per-View event, whereas the Time Machine Tour is still going strong (tomorrow they're at the Qwest Center in Omaha, NE). So even though my particular Rush experience occurred last week in Irvine, CA, most of this commentary will apply to fans until October, ALL OVER THE COUNTRY!

The gimmick of the Time Machine Tour was that, for the first time ever, Rush played the entirety of their Moving Pictures album start to finish. This is their most commercially successful album, reaching 4x platinum status and featuring four legitimate A-List Rush Greatest Hits (Tom Sawyer, Limelight, YYZ, and Red Barchetta). The other three songs on the album (The Camera Eye, Witch Hunt, and Vital Signs) are questionable selections - Geddy Lee himself admitted that the last song was thrown together last-minute during the recording process - but a gimmick is a gimmick is a gimmick.

We also heard two new songs, or rather, as Geddy specified during his between-song banter, songs that were brand spankin' new two and a half months ago, but that are just marginally new at this point. So we've got two songs from a future album, and 23 songs from past albums, with a third of those songs found on that one album. I fail to see what specifically this setlist has to do with time travel… but who can fathom the minds of the Holy Triumvirate.

I've mentioned before that Rush's career can be broken down into eras, each one comprised of a group of four albums. As you can see from Exhibit A above, which shows how many songs from each album appeared on the Time Machine setlist, the second era is clearly the most productive, or at least the one they mine for show material most consistently. Exhibit B below, tracking the setlist of the Snakes and Arrows Tour, confirms that Era 2 supplies the most songs - apart from their new album, after which the tour was named.

This is also the Era in which Rush was coming up with their most musically-interesting and conceptually risky pieces. I read in an interview with Neil Peart that he's somewhat bashful about the band's earlier formative years, and would prefer to think of Moving Pictures as Rush's "first album." That quote shocked and disturbed me, since it follows that my favorite member of Rush doesn't consider my favorite Rush album (Permanent Waves) as canon. Thankfully, in America, we're all responsible for our own opinions.

If you're extra observant, you would have noticed that my tally of songs three paragraphs ago came out to 25 songs, but only 24 are represented on the chart. That's because song 25 is a non-album track: Neil Peart's extended drum solo, where he takes 8-10 minutes to showcase his impressive dexterity/ingenuity around the drumkit. Utilizing all 360 degrees of his set (acoustic drums in front, electronic drums behind, all mounted on a rotating base), Neil takes the audience on a journey through the history of drumming, flawlessly combining pre-arranged passages with bouts of improvisation, all culminating with a jazzy finale - he plays along with a recording from his sessions with the Buddy Rich Big Band. These displays never fail to leave me breathless.

After the encore (they finished the show with "Working Man," the only one of Alex Lifeson's solos to earn a spot in the Rolling Stone top 100), we were treated to a video outro featuring the cast of the aforementioned Rushophile film I Love You, Man. We open with Sidney Fife and Peter Klaven (played by Jason Segel and Paul Rudd, respectively, each wearing "show beards") hanging out in the green room exchanging silly ad-lib jokes and sharing bites of Neil Peart's personal sandwich. Rush busts in, they exchange a few awkward comedic moments, and our heroes get shamefully kicked out. But then Geddy relents, convinces the band to sign Paul Rudd's (slappin' de) bass, and everybody lives happily ever after!

If only the commute from Irvine back to civilization was as happy...