Rush of a lifetime
30th-anniversary show a 3-hour celebration of classic prog-rock
Sleep Train Amphitheater came to wide-awake life a little before 8 o’clock, when the Rush boys—OK, geezers—hit the stage with the sun still blasting them in their smiling faces. The opening medley of instrumental passages had the crowd standing and cheering despite the 90-degree temperature in front of the stage. Bassist Geddy Lee welcomed the crowd with an enthusiastic, “Thank you for coming to help us celebrate our 30th birthday!” before launching into “The Spirit of the Radio.” What followed was a lovely, bone-shaking melding of electronic technology and musical expertise that did the band and the venue proud.
For this live-Rush novice, the extended dynamics of the gorgeous “Earthshine” and “Red Barchetta” and the weird, digital rapping skeleton of “Roll the Bones” demonstrated why this band has sustained a vast audience for three decades. Apparently Rush is a band literally passed between generations; we saw several father/son duos rocking out side by side to the mystically macho “Bravado” and the eco-disaster warning of “The Trees.”
The band’s playful interaction on the bizarro elephant stomp “YZZ” delivered humor as well as fantastic chops, but the highlight of the set was a massively pulsating psychedelic version of the Who classic, “The Seeker,” during which Neil Peart, one of the most rhythmically ornate drummers in rock, actually played it pretty straight while throwing in just enough embellishments to show that he could hold his own with Keith Moon if he chose to do so.
After a short intermission and deliberately dorky dragon video, the band came back out to kick radio-friendly butt with its big hit “Tom Sawyer,” the classic synth riff of which gave way to a guitar and bass jam that was both tight and freewheeling. Alex Lifeson’s guitar playing, which combines amazing chops with intense digital signal processing, also gave literal life to “Mystic Rhythms,” weaving quick, polyrhythmic electric flames through Peart’s computerized percussion.
Peart’s big solo turn demonstrated his vast musicality, precision and stamina, and ended in a synthesized big-band crescendo, but following it with the obligatory acoustic miniset from Lifeson & Lee bogged down the show when it should have been reaching fever pitch. Once the band was fully electrified again, the crowd went wild for the ancient "By-Tor and the Snow Dog," the strains of which floated over us as we snuck out of the parking lot with visions of deadlines dancing in our heads.