The Melting Pot
After four decades of praise for the consistency of their musical virtuosity, including countless “best” performances, what now constitutes a memorable Rush concert?
The answer, in the form of the ninth show on their 42-date Time Machine tour, is a more entertaining format than ever before.
Choosing from 19 albums, putting together a cohesive set to showcase all eras of their history must have been a challenge. Whereas their tour in 2007, promoting the then-new Snakes & Arrows album, featured an almost tedious number of new songs, their return to Mohegan Sun Arena was a better balanced affair.
The musical caliber of the band came as no surprise. They did well to adhere to signature hooks and phrases of the original recordings, but smartly toyed with some songs—such as a stanza of “Working Man” delivered with a reggae twist, and a harder-edged ending to “Closer to the Heart.”
Performed in two separate sets with an intermission, the first half of the show was a concentration of mostly post-1981 songs.
The second set, for many, was the marquee attraction of the night—Moving Pictures performed in entirety. The commercial pinnacle of the Rush catalog, its breakout track, “Tom Sawyer,” has been a concert staple since its release. But overlooked gems like “Witch Hunt,” “Vital Signs,” and the ode to London and New York City of “The Camera Eye,” drew exuberant response.
It was also an opportunity to premier two new songs, the single, “Caravan,” and its flip side, “Brought Up to Believe,” both signs of Rush evolving back into a more aggressive rock band. Accompanied by animated Victorian-like illustrations of futuristic dirigibles, “Caravan” was just one instance of video used to create an entertainment appeal that the band lacked during their ‘70s rise to popularity.
Clever video shorts (including actors Jason Segal and Paul Rudd reprising their I Love You, Man characters) showed a band not afraid to parody itself.
That sense of humor was often masked in the past by their musical dexterity and serious lyrical themes. But the stoic nature of those earlier years has fully evolved into guitarist Alex Lifeson and singer/bassist Geddy Lee visibly relishing the joy of playing together. Neil Peart remains a picture of brooding concentration, but the onstage gestures and Vaudeville antics of Lifeson during “Red Barchetta” prompted a subtle smile from the drummer.
Peart, lauded in many circles as the most proficient rock drummer alive, prompted flailing arms from the audience during his signature drum rolls and fills. But that beloved flair overshadowed his equally impressive timekeeping, and a sense of restraint to better emphasize certain elements of a song.
Rush once seemed more intent on testing the boundaries of progressive rock with 20-minute anthems of Ayn Rand individualism. Throughout the ‘80s, the Canadian trio embraced more traditional song structure, plus an often maligned overuse of keyboards. The Mohegan Sun show demonstrated how well-rounded the band has become in utilizing the entirety of their history to move forward.
Rush has never been a continual mainstream pop sensation, more about musicianship and songs with perceptive lyrical themes instead. But the full house at Mohegan Sun seemed to cross more demographic lines than before. Their ardent audience no longer seems so much an outcast society of only unpopular kids, but now a deserved wider range of fans.