IRVINE, California (Hollywood Reporter) - Rush fans who see the band tour after tour know not to expect many surprises.
There will be virtuoso playing, funny video segments and a long drum solo. There won't be covers, band interaction or extended jam sessions. About the only variance is the set list -- and that can be easily checked online because the trio generally sticks to it night after night.
But the current Time Machine jaunt is nothing less than a must-see because of two simple words: "Moving Pictures." Following a growing and welcome trend in the concert biz, Rush is playing its 1981 masterpiece all the way through for the first time. And those 40-plus minutes were nothing short of thrilling during Friday's stop at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre south of Los Angeles.
From the instantly recognizable keyboard blush that opens "Tom Sawyer" through the compu-reggae and period techspeak of "Vital Signs," the band brought to life one of 1980s rock's best and most revered records -- at least among non-elitists. The playing was typically precise, with only a few slight departures from the recorded versions; Rush slowed it up during the bridge of "Red Barchetta," and a few bars went missing from "The Camera Eye." The latter song, sadly missing from most Rush tours of the past three decades, is an 11-minute buried treasure. The original -- like much of "Moving Pictures" -- could have used a little less studio polish, but it played purely onstage.
Geddy Lee delivered a reined-in yet expressive vocal, adding expertly placed and paced bass line and runs; Alex Lifeson added sharp, purposeful guitar licks, complete with soaring late solo; and master drummer Neil Peart -- outwardly grim-faced and forbidding as always -- perfectly re-created some of his most satisfying timekeeping and fills. Stunning.
For nearly three hours, with intermission, Rush proved why it remains among rock's top live acts. The career-spanning show ranged from the band's pre-Peart 1974 debut to both sides of the advance single from Rush's 20th studio album, "Clockwork Angels," due next year. One of the latter tunes, "BU2B (Brought Up to Believe)," had a grunge-y opening and raced along, led by Lee's pulsating bass.
Even as the Rush guys age -- all three are 56 or 57 -- it remains hard to keep your eyes off Peart. Arguably the greatest rock drummer alive, he astounds with his speed, stamina and technique. Indeed, the legions of air drummers in the large crowd created a mini-maelstrom as they tried to keep up. Forget the concept of drum solo as Cretaceous artifact; Rush fans would riot if they didn't get several minutes of Peart to themselves. He eschewed the blocks, bells and chimes of yore, instead fairly battering his drums and cymbals. The overhead-camera shot of Peart doin' work could have stayed on the video screens all night. Note to producers and marketers: Taping an entire concert that way would make a helluva extra for the inevitable DVD of this tour.
Along with all of "Moving Pictures," whose "Witch Hunt" was apropos for Friday the 13th, there were highlights throughout: The chestnut "Closer to the Heart" suddenly changed course from the usual arrangement, then straightened out for the Big Finish; "Marathon" breezed by with its keyboard-washed self-determination; and "Freewill" was carried by Lee, who made up for a slightly sluggish musical pace by going all-out on its highest parts, drilling the vocal as well as anything all night.
The Time Machine show ended appropriately with a pair of '70s nuggets, both featuring tweaked openings. A near-oompah intro welcomed the jazz-prog instrumental "La Villa Strangiato," and the first minute or two of show closer "Working Man" channeled the reggae-like break of show opener "The Spirit of Radio." And a spectacular night had come full circle. A "Hemispheres" run-through on the next tour, anyone?
Venue: Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, Irvine, Calif. (Friday, August 13)Set List:The Spirit of Radio Time Stand StillPresto Stick It Out Workin' Them Angels Leave That Thing Alone Faithless BU2B (Brought Up to Believe)Freewill Marathon Subdivisions IntermissionTom Sawyer Red Barchetta YYZ Limelight The Camera Eye Witch Hunt Vital Signs Caravan Drum Solo Closer to the Heart 2112 Overture/The Temples of Syrinx Far Cry Encore:La Villa StrangiatoWorking Man