The steam-powered juggernaut of the Rush Clockwork Angels tour stormed across the Prairie Provinces this fall to the delight of band-brand emblazoned fans ranging from 6 to 64.
With near capacity crowds at each stop, Messrs.’ Lee, Lifeson, and Peart opened the shows with a choice selection of 80s era music including “The Analog Kid”, “The Big Money”, “Bravado”, and “Middletown Dreams”. These pieces were played with a renewed sense of purpose, offering a new perspective on the material while never losing sight of their original style. The song arrangements didn’t defer from the studio recordings, but each song achieved a little more than the originals-the songs sounded somehow new and fresh, fired with a harsher edge by the band. Elements deep in the original mixes were fired like tempered steel on stage. Lifeson’s solo on “The Analog Kid” was full of electricity, showing that he hasn’t lost his chops and will freely walk that razor’s edge between safety and risk.
MTS Centre, Winnipeg, September 26th 2012
Credit Union Centre; Saskatoon, September 28th 2012
Rexall Place; Edmonton, September 30th 2012
Photography by: Charles Hope
Lee’s singing on this material was focused and strong, punctuating the lyrical content of each piece, while his bass playing was magnificent, a testament to his ability to do so much so well at the same time.
With a short drum solo near the end of the first sets, Peart offered a master class in control. His skill was superb leaving out some of the flourishes that many air drummers were probably hoping for.
After a short intermission and a rather silly video introduction to the second set, the band ignited the Clockwork Angels songs and never let the fire wane. The title track, “The Anarchist”, and “Headlong Flight” burned with intensity and showed that Rush’s engines are well stoked and running hot. Though many in the audiences appeared unfamiliar with the new songs, they quickly engaged and followed the band faithfully over this new sonic and narrative terrain. And part of that new terrain was the inclusion of other musicians on stage known as the Clockwork Angels String Ensemble, classical players who seemed quite happy to rock out with the band even when massive flares of flame and fireworks exploded directly behind their backs. The ensemble added further texture to an already sonically dense palate. While sounding strongest on the melodic “The Garden”, their sound was often to low in mix which was a shame. One hopes for a live recording from this tour where their contributions can be better heard and appreciated.
And speaking of the mix, Lee continues to eschew amplifiers on stage and now Lifeson has followed suit-gone are the stack of amplifiers replaced with a strange contraption of horns that have little functionality beyond the visual effect of the three television screens. With this absence of amplifiers, being near the front meant an absence of stage sound. The PA bins lining the floor in front of the stage projected a harsh sound that was too brash to be enjoyed, but a Rush fan doesn’t get close to the stage for the sound, they’re there for the experience.
The onstage antics and playfulness of the band members was very much on display as Lifeson mugged and grimaced for the fans. Lee hopped, jumped, and ran, and when his hands weren’t busy made gestures to punctuate what the other two were doing. Even Peart was smiling and laughing more than usual, showing himself at ease with the antics of his musical cohorts.
Rush is a band at the peak of its abilities, playing their complex music with enthusiastic bravado and raising the bar for large-scale rock production as evident in the complex light and media presentations that often wrapped the band in eerie light through their journey of the Clockwork Angels world.
To hear and see Rush in concert is to enter a world of possibility, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Where the music is energized and full of fire and where the vast show has the capacity to overwhelm. And where everyone exits exhausted and amazed at the end of the night.