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The Enthusiast's Guide: Rush

Rush
 

Az Chaudhry takes a ride in a time machine to revisit Canada’s finest musical export and one of the world’s most successful and innovative Prog bands.


Rush may not be everyone’s cup of tea, especially as Geddy Lee’s high-pitched vocals are an acquired taste, but that didn’t stop them selling 40 million albums and filling arenas around the world.


My introduction with the Canucks began in October 1981 when I first heard the live version of ‘Tom Sawyer’ from ‘Exit...Stage Left’ on Radio One’s singles chart – I’ll be honest, I wasn’t too impressed! A week later I heard ‘The Spirit Of Radio’ on their album chart and I was suddenly interested, so much so that I bought the album the next day and my lifelong infatuation began.


Rush released their debut album in 1974 with the aforementioned Lee on bass and vocals, Alex Lifeson on guitar and John Rutsey on drums. They didn’t particularly ruffle any feathers until the single ‘Working Man’ started to pick up airplay on a radio station in Cleveland. A few months later Rutsey was replaced by Neil Peart and the rest as they say is history! Okay, maybe I’m getting a little ahead of myself – ‘Fly By Night’ was released in 1975 (with Peart taking over as primary lyricist) and was well received by critics and fans; however, its follow up ‘A Caress Of Steel’ didn’t fare so well commercially or critically.


The band was told by their label that the next album had to sell or they would be dropped! In a nutshell they had to make a commercial sounding album. Rush, continuing to “deviate from the norm”, released the ground-breaking ‘2112’ instead, with the amazing title track taking up all of side one. Fans and critics lapped it up and the record label patiently started counting the dollar bills, especially as the trio were playing to bigger audiences, and their reward was the live opus ‘All The World’s A Stage’. At this point the band’s output definitely started taking an upward trajectory with the superb ‘A Farewell To Kings’ released in 1977, and they came over to Europe to play to their new fans. 1978 saw the epic ‘Hemispheres’ hit the shops.


After a very successful American and European tour, the trio decided that they wanted to cut back on the lengthier Prog tracks and at the very beginning of the new decade, the brilliant ‘Permanent Waves’ hit the streets and sold extremely well in America and the UK. Rush fans embraced shorter tracks such as ‘The Spirit Of Radio’ and ‘Freewill’. Could the Canadians top such a successful album? Oh boy could they and then some – 1981’s ‘Moving Pictures’ was their most successful album and it sold by the bucket load, now the band were reaping their rewards and selling out huge venues around the world. Fast forward eight months and this is where I discovered my favourite band. They were touring Europe at the time; unfortunately theUKlegwassoldoutbythetimeIwason board and as a spotty student, I didn’t have the spare cash to try and buy a ticket from a tout. In hindsight I should have tried harder as I missed a classic show.


September 1982 – I was stood outside my local record store in Manchester before the doors opened on the release date for ‘Signals’. The musical landscape was evolving and so were Rush. Their infatuation with keyboards was coming to prominence and turning off many of their die-hard fans, but they were continuing to sell large volumes of albums and concert tickets and gaining new fans and I was lapping up the “progression” in their career. The band, as always, were being true to themselves and were evidently being influenced by different styles of music... The Police being an obvious one. I finally got to see my heroes in concert when they toured the UK in May 1983, and I’m not being biased (honest guv) but they were brilliant!


Any fans hoping for the keyboards to take a backseat were in for a huge disappointment when 1984’s ‘Grace Under Pressure’ was released. Long-time producer Terry Brown had left after the ‘Signals’ album as he was dismayed with the musical direction, so Rush drafted in Peter Henderson (Supertramp) and the synthesisers could be found here, there and everywhere. Alex Lifeson was happier though as his guitar was back to the forefront as he felt it had been buried amongst the keyboards on the previous release. I loved the album but was pretty miffed as the band decided not to bring the ensuing tour over to Europe – just my luck! I, along with thousands of European fans, was extremely shocked when the band decided to tour only America again the following year when the superb ‘Power Windows’ album was released. Featuring a great production from Peter Collins, the album divided fans again with the “excessive” use of keyboards... I loved it, nuff said!


Autumn 1987 saw the release of ‘Hold Your Fire’, often cited by Rush fans as their “Pop” album and after two tours where Europe was missed out, I finally got to see my heroes for the second time at the NEC in Birmingham (the show was recorded for the ‘A Show Of Hands’ live release). 1989, as well as the live album, saw the release of ‘Presto’. The album saw keyboards start to fade into the background and Lifeson’s guitar come to the fore once again. However, guess what?! The band forgot about Europe when they toured the album – I missed out on the giant rabbits! Rush did come to Europe in 1992 to promote the excellent ‘Roll The Bones’ which was released the previous autumn and had the late Rupert Hine at the helm (he also produced ‘Presto’). I was lucky enough to witness the fantastic show in Sheffield and Birmingham.


We had to wait two years for ‘Counterparts’ which had a harder edge to it... influenced by Grunge perhaps?... you’ll have to ask Geddy, Alex and Neil. Surprise, surprise we missed out on the tour again (anyone seeing a pattern here...). Almost three years later ‘Test For Echo’ saw the light of day and it was at this point that the band began to tour without a support and play a two and half hour plus show split over two sets; of course this was just for North America (go figure). Unfortunately, tragedy struck for Neil Peart with the heart-breaking losses of his daughter and then within a year his wife. Understandably, the band went on a hiatus whilst Peart reflected on his life and what to do next. In 1998 they released the live album ‘Different Stages’ which featured songs in the main from the ‘Test For Echo’ tour and a special bonus disc from the ‘A Farewell To Kings’ tour. I must admit that I thought my heroes had retired, luckily for me and for their worldwide fans’, patience and hope would be rewarded.


In 2002 they re-united and recorded ‘Vapor Trails’. The tour covered many dates in North America and even a few in South America, but sadly none on this side of the pond. Enough was enough – my new bride decided to treat me to two shows in Philadelphia and Boston as a honeymoon present. I was overwhelmed with the cracking seats and the almost three-hour show – the boys were back and how! The album was one of their weakest but it was a Rush album so who cares? A year later ‘Rush In Rio’ came out representing the gig from Brazil, without doubt one of the most enthusiastic crowds that the band ever played to.


Rush brought out a cover’s album in 2004 – ‘Feedback’ – again not one of my favourites but that didn’t matter as they embarked on the Rush R30 tour and this is where my obsession proper began. I saw five shows on the West Coast of the US and they were amazing. Finally hearing ‘Between The Wheels’ live for the very first time was magical and it was even more memorable as the venue was the iconic Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. Thinking back to it still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up... it doesn’t get much better! As luck would have it, the band also brought the full production over to Europe for the first time in twelve years so I made up for all the times they hadn’t and followed them around the UK for all the dates. Who was that shouting I’m obsessed!! The show was captured for a Blu-Ray show which saw the light of day the following year.


The boys took a couple of years off and then reconvened for ‘Snakes & Arrows’ which finally hit the streets in mid-2007. I headed over to the West Coast for another five shows and then all the UK shows later in the year. I was determined to make up for all the missed opportunities and then some! I’m not a huge fan of the album but the live show was something else. The trio added a second leg of dates in the spring of the following year and of course I had to jump on a plane to the West Coast again to take in another four shows. I was truly rewarded with a couple of changes in the setlist, not that I would have complained if the songs had remained the same (not borrowed from Led Zep, honest). We were also treated to the now obligatory live album ‘Snakes & Arrows Live’ which documented the tour in a commendable manner.


Two years later the boys began their “Time Machine” tour which was a dream come true for Rush fans as ‘Moving Pictures’ was aired in full...wow! I didn’t need tempting and managed to catch three shows on the West Coast of the first leg of the US tour. The following spring, I forced myself (!) to see all the UK shows and even managed to catch the band’s first and only show in Ireland. My obsession was in full flow now as I was back on the West Coast later that summer for another five shows. Of course, we were treated to the ‘Time Machine 2011 – Live In Cleveland’ album later in the year.


Rush released their final studio album, ‘Clockwork Angels’, in the summer of 2012 and I was back in my second home for five sublime shows; the band really pushed the boat out with a ten-piece string ensemble who gave the songs a different perspective. Spring of 2013 it was time for the UK shows and a bonus trip to Amsterdam to boot. As if that wasn’t enough, I sneaked a trip to Florida for another two shows to hear tracks from the majestic new album. Moreover, the band was finally inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame; Alex “treated” us to the hilarious blah blah blah acceptance speech. Obviously ‘Clockwork Angels Tour’ was released later in the year and what a superb representation of the tour it was.


Once the tour was completed Neil announced that he wanted to cut back being on the road so that he could spend time with his new family which was totally understandable. He also said that forty years of lengthy touring had taken its toll on his body.


I was grateful that we were treated to another tour in the summer of 2015 – Rush R40 (celebrating forty years of Neil touring with the band). I decided that I had to see the boys in Canada; unfortunately, due to previous commitments I missed out on their hometown Toronto shows but managed to catch the Vancouver gig as well as crossing over the border for shows in Seattle and Portland – never to be forgotten! That would be the final time I would see my musical heroes... sixty one times and unfortunately no longer counting. Neil decided that he couldn’t endure the pain any longer due to the rigours of touring and who could blame him. We did get the ‘R40 Live’ album as a permanent souvenir though but Rush was no more.


January tenth 2020 was one of the saddest days of my life when it was announced by Geddy and Alex that Neil had passed away three days earlier. RIP Professor – Farewell To A King.


Due to space limitations, I will only cover Rush’s first three live albums in this article. Needless to say, that the remainder, of which there are many, are excellent representations of their respective tours.

 

Rush's albums rated (click to expand picture):

Scorching
Sizzling
Toasty
Tepid
 

The Ultimate Rush Mix Tape


 

This article appeared in Fireworks Rock & Metal Magazine Issue #104

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