Presenting your public history can be a daunting task and can lead to curious moments and connections for both the performer and the spectator. For Rush, performing a synopsis of their catalog as a reverse retrospective while allowing their staging to be constructed into smaller and smaller pieces, a deconstruction of sorts, played with the imagination and offered touch points to the older fans who witnessed these changes in real time throughout the years.
This sense of disruption began appropriately with “The Anarchist” from Clockwork Angels; energized and full of power, the song ignited the audience and set the narrative for the night’s proceedings at the Calgary Saddledome, as the last chapter of the timeline and the ‘this is now’ segment. Followed closely by “The Wreckers” and “Headlong Flight,” the later including a short drum solo, a statement of the band’s confidence in their material and knowledge that the audience would accept; a tip of the hat with the possible comment: ‘if you think this is great, hold onto your toques.’
“How It Is” from Vapor Trails was another inspired choice as Geddy Lee introduced it as a song that they hadn’t performed live until this tour because it just hadn’t come together. Where another band performing in their 40th year might be content to simply play the hits or fan favourites, Rush continue to challenge themselves, bringing a tough song into the mix just to confirm that they can do it and that the audience will follow along.
Moving through to the 90s-80s period, while skipping a few albums, they maintained their energy and kept the set on a thundering pace. “Animate,” “Roll the Bones,” “Beneath the Wheels,” and the obvious crowd pleaser and singular synth piece of the night “Subdivisions,” which sung with great gusto with little attention to pitch by those around this writer, blazed a path of power and passion.
Pausing for a deserved break, where Mr. Peart’s drum kit was replaced with an earlier model, though likely a newly built kit, complete with double bass drums and tubular bells while the set pieces of Messrs. Lee and Lifeson were built to resemble earlier tour configurations, except for the visual joke that Lee’s amps beared the logo ‘Dirk’-his nickname and not an actual amplifier brand. The logo appeared earlier on Lifeson’s t-shirt, but without context it didn’t quite register-just another pun sitting quietly as a fox in the henhouse.
A blooper reel from previous tours’ introductory films reminds us that Rush have maintained their senses of humour and don’t take their fame too seriously, but certainly their music as they continued to burn with “Tom Sawyer” and “The Camera Eye.” “Jacob’s Ladder” followed shortly after with laser lights reminiscent of the standard lighting used during their Permanent Waves tour, another reconstructing for those who might remember that far back.
Drilling further down the timeline they presented “Xanadu” complete with double-neck guitars. The confidence of the first set wavered slightly as all members appeared to be concentrating to get the song right. To be fair, it is a complex suite that hasn’t been a mainstay for years whereas “Spirit of Radio” has appeared on nearly every tour set list for years and pure muscle memory locked that song in place.
The “Hemispheres” and “Cygnus X-1” sections showed some of the same strain, but the final smiles before the lights went out suggested that they were happy to have made it through these pieces once more. Other mainstays, the “2112 – Overture” and “2112 – The Temples of Syrinx” pieces brought people into the aisles as they readied their response to scream at the appropriate moments, which they did; a kind of ritual, setting aside those veterans from the relative newbies.
The encore opened to a stage of single amplifiers on typical school chairs with single microphones draped over each and two lighting poles. The video screen displayed the end of a high school gymnasium complete with a basketball backboard and school banners. The school of course named after Rod Serling, a tip of the hat to an early narrative influence with dates on the banners 1953, 1974, and 1975; ’53 for the birth years of Lee and Lifeson, ’74 for the year of the first album and Peart’s membership to the club, and 1975 for Fly By Night, the first album with the band we now know.
During this set Lifeson and Lee brought some of their old stage moves to the fore: standing together on the drum riser, gripping their guitars as one attempts to control a wild animal, and bobbing in alternating rhythm, though without the quick snaps and precision of their youth, but it didn’t matter because the smiles on their faces said it all. It might have been a nice touch to have a little amplifier buzz and feedback during this encore set to remind us how far the technology has changed over 40 years, but that is a minor critique from someone who remembers that texture of concert sound. The show ended appropriately with “Working Man,” the anthemic piece that ignited this journey all those years ago.
One could argue that the song selections were lacking and they missed a final opportunity to resurrect some of their lost songs, but that would be unfair. With 19 albums of original music to chose from the task of constructing set lists would have been arduous and probably everyone associated with the band would have had a few ideas of their own to add to the mix.
Whether the band continues as a touring juggernaut is moot since this show and tour has been about the power of the present and a doffed hat of acknowledgement to the past; a thank you to everyone who participated, including an implied thanks from band member to band member. A final film showed a number of concert clips of the band thanking audiences, illustrating once more that Rush are grateful for…what the world was and is.
The final image on the curtain read 40+ so we’ll just have to see how this new period is constructed.
Photos by Charles Hope.