Sunday, June 14, 2015

Rush R40 concert in Chicago: 40 years, three musicians, two buddies and one awesome concert


I start with a warning: This post includes spoilers.

The day of the epic R40 Rush concert finally arrived, wrapping up an insanely busy period that included a conference in Louisville, four intense work days at Mackinac Island, a visit from a king and queen, an honors ceremony, a high school graduation and finally an open house with relatives and many, many marching band members.

With all of those events going well, a celebration was in order. And a long-awaited Rush concert with my buddy and fellow Rush fan would do the trick!

I arrived in Chicago around 1:30, in time for a late lunch. Will used to write restaurant reviews and knows lots of cool places to eat. I know lots of things on the Panera Bread menu. So Will picked our lunch spot, a neat place in Lincoln Square. We spent the afternoon checking out a store filled with action figures of the past and catching up.

While we communicate frequently by email, it was our first time together since Will's epic birthday surprise just over a year ago. Fiancee Laurie pulled off an amazing feat -- gathering friends and family from across the country in a U.S. Cellular Field skybox to celebrate a milestone birthday.

Will has shed his ponytail after five years, and we've both had eventful years. It was a long overdue opportunity to share stories and photos.

We then made our way to the United Center, which also is home to the Chicago Bulls and Blackhawks, the latter still competing for the Stanley Cup.

There are statues of Michael Jordan and Blackhawks heroes, and Jordan is wearing a Blackhawks jersey – that’s a “sweater” to hockey fans.

From our seats in section 314, we determined that the rest of the audience leaned toward middle age, but not as old as we thought it would be, and heavily male, though with more ladies than expected. Perhaps Rush is suddenly becoming cool!

Billed the R40 tour to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Neil joining the band, the show is decidedly an effort to look back at a long and glorious career.

I peeked at a set list online, but Will prefers to be surprised. I offered only that it read as if Geddy and the gang said, “Dave and Will, create a set list for the show” then accepted, and said “Well, we’ll make some changes, but this is pretty good.” Part of the fun for me was knowing what was coming, and watching Will’s reaction to hearing some long-unplayed favorites.

Note that this is twice in two years that I've been able to keep a big secret.
You know you are at a Rush concert when the line for the men's room is out
the door and down the hall, and there is no line for the ladies' room.

And Will was indeed surprised when the band ripped into “The Anarchist” from Clockwork Angels as the curtain raised, a curious choice to be sure.

The show was a trip back in time, starting with three songs from the most-recent release and the stage filled with some of the steam punk props form the Clockwork Angels tour.
The band proceeded to work backwards through its catalog, from Clockwork Angels though the debut album, and even a snippet of a pre-Rush song at the very end.

But as the band played, guys in red jumpsuits – like the movers on the cover of Moving Pictures – began disassembling the props, replacing them with a wall of Marshall amps on Alex’s side and white washing machines on Geddy’s stage right. On past tours, Geddy’s sounds were pumped directly through the PA, so he filled his side of the stage with various appliances, including revolving dessert trays.

The second half curtain rose to reveal a wall of amps on both sides and Neil’s old drum kit with chimes, and bells.

Geddy and Alex also pulled out older instruments as the set list worked backwards, including the double-necked guitars and bass for “Xanadu.”

And there were concert effects of the past to go with songs of the period, like the lasers shooting across the United Center during “YYZ,” which was greeted by Will yelling, “Hey, it’s “XYZ!” More than 30 years later, we are still bitter.

As the band proceeded to play older songs, the movers started removing amps. By the end of the show, Geddy was reduced to one amp set on two chairs and Alex with one stack – and the screen behind the stage showing a high school gym, showing where it all started.

Highlights

The set list was amazing, with the band dusting off favorites that have not been played in decades, including “Jacob’s Ladder,” “Hemispheres Book II Prelude,” “Cygnus X-1,” “Lakeside Park” and “What You’re Doing.”

The video screens were a big help, showing close-ups of the musicians and also videos from the past.

Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson is photographing the tour, and even from the upper bowl we could pick out the 6-foot, 10-inch “Big Unit” at the edge of the stage snapping away.

The intermission included outtakes from previous tour videos, ending with the South Park “Lil Rush” into to “Tom Sawyer,” which the band used to start the second half.

Speaking of “Tom Sawyer,” the guy sitting behind us was funny. He was a little older, and needed help from a kid when he wanted to post a concert photo on Instagram. But he went nuts as the first notes of “Tom Sawyer” burst through the PA, loudly singing both the lyrics AND the keyboard parts – “Wooo-woo-woo-woooo—woooooo.” He also knew all Geddy's song intros from the live albums.

Was this annoying? Yeah, a little. But he was clearly a huge fan having a great time.  And he somehow convinced his wife to come to the show with him. Enjoy the show and rock on, my loud friend!
Printed tickets are convenient, but I miss real ticket stubs!
Geddy noted that it's still hockey season in Chicago, with the Blackhawks battling the Tampa Lightening. And one of the red-jumpsuited movers came out in a Hawks jersey for one of the prop changes. That's cool because when I saw Rush at the Nassau Coliseum for the Permanent Waves tour, Geddy and Alex came out for encores wearing Islanders jerseys, noting that the team was in the Stanley Cup finals. A year later on the Moving Pictures tour, Geddy again noted that the band was performing on eve of a Stanley Cup victory.

So, if the Hawks win, Geddy and the boys get some of the credit. 

Minor grumble

One minor beef: The band worked backwards through its catalog, but skipped songs from Test for Echo, Presto and Hold Your Fire, and Power Windows. Since Will and I earlier in the week ranked Presto and Hold Your Fire at No. 2 on our R40 Countdown, we were bumming that we didn’t get to hear songs from those discs. It’s easy to look back and think they could maybe trim two of the Clockwork Angels songs and one of the Snakes and Arrows songs and work in some things from the omitted.

But that’s minor. And as Will pointed out, Rush could add three hours to the show and would still not be able to play all the songs we want to hear. That the burden of being spectacular.

All in all, a wonderful concert experience. It included a great band with great songs with a great show – all experienced with a great friend.


And Will jumps in:

I told Dave ahead of time that there were two things that Rush usually does at a show, besides kick all form of butt:

1) They play something old I'd never heard live before.

2) They play something I'd never heard before, period.

Mission accomplished:

1) “Jacob's Ladder” (a wish fulfilled, thanks boys), all of” Xanadu”(thanks again), a large chunk of “Cygnus X-1,” “Lakeside Park.”

2) “What You're Doing.”

I, too, loved the retro sets and lights. I half expected Alex and Geddy to come out in kimonos for 2112, like the Foos did at the RRHOF ceremony, but, well, you can't have everything.

I, too, was similarly disappointed about the skipping of certain things. Skipping Test for Echo was no surprise, because, as I assume, Neil just absolutely refuses to play anything from it. Skipping Presto was a disappointment, however. (I also would've preferred “Dreamline” instead of “Roll the Bones.”)

The second half of the show more than made up for the first half. After “Spirit of the Radio,” the boys served up a big steaming plate of progressive: It was basically an hour-long chunk of 10-minute songs broken up by only the obvious “Closer to the Heart.” I ate it all up and was asking for seconds.

In thinking about it more, the disappointment of no Presto was two-fold, not only for not hearing one of those songs again but also I was hoping for the rabbit to re-emerge from a top hat one last time. Hey, if you're doing retro staging, that had to have been one of their most famous pieces. It then could have stuck around and "rocked out" to “Subdivisions.”


Here's a video with the rocking rabbits in the background!

Unlike Dave and the unknown poster below (ahem), I didn't like the roll-back set list, although I understand why they did it that way (for the set), and it was a good choice, but, as Dave noted, I like to be surprised, and as soon as I realized what they were doing, I was able to start guessing most of what was coming, which wasn't as much fun. The only times I was truly surprised was “Hemispheres” and “Lakeside Park.” (I was surprised for “The Anarchist,” too, but only because I couldn't imagine that as a lead song. It was more a WTH surprise than an OMG surprise.)

It wasn't my favorite Rush concert, but it was awesome, like a hundred million hot dogs, sir.

Here's the R40 Countdown Will and I compiled as we waited patiently for the show.

No. 1: Moving Pictures (both of us)
No. 2: Hold Your Fire (Dave), Presto (Will)
No. 3: Permanent Waves (Dave), Signals (Will)
No. 4: Roll the Bones (Dave), Permanent Waves (Will)
No. 5: Power Windows (Dave), Roll the Bones (Will)
No. 6: Test for Echo (Dave), Grace Under Pressure (Will)
No. 7: Signals (Dave), A Farewell to Kings (Will)

5 comments:

Unknown said...

Im going to post a comment.

Having attended R40 myself with my daughter I can say this. What a great show!

I too was bummed about some of the album omissions. Could have dropped a clockwork angels song and main monkey business for a hold your fire and presto song. I figured about the backwards travel in time when they went into Far Cry. I loved the idea. The changing stage was even better. I was loving the high school stage setup.

My highlight was Jacob's Ladder. That was the best. Lakeside was the second best.

I'll send you some digital files....... ;)
SC

Mets Guy in Michigan said...

Sweet!

I was most looking forward to hearing "Hemispheres," which I never imagined they'd play again. Loved hearing "Lakeside," and "What You're Doing."

I read somewhere that Alex said the band has played a lot of the 1980s stuff on recent tours, which is true. But I never thought there would be a Rush show where Permanent Waves songs outnumbered Moving Pictures tunes.

Amazing show! Loved every minute of it.

Will said...

Well, I suppose I should chime in:

I told Dave ahead of time that there were two things that Rush usually does at a show, besides kick all form of butt:

1.) They play something old I'd never heard live before.

2.) They play something I'd never heard before, period.

Mission accomplished:

1.) Jacob's Ladder (a wish fulfulled, thanks boys), all of Xanadu (thanks again), a large chunk of Cygnus X-1, Lakeside Park

2.) What You're Doing.

I, too, loved the retro sets and lights. I half expected Alex and Geddy to come out in kimonos for 2112, like the Foos did at the RRHOF ceremony, but, well, you can't have everything.

I, too, was similarly disappointed about the skipping of certain things. Skipping Test for Echo was no surprise, because, as I assume, Neil just absolutely refuses to play anything from it. Skipping Presto was a disappointment, however. (I also would've preferred Dreamline instead of Roll the Bones.)

The second half of the show more than made up for the first half. After Spirit of the Radio, the boys served up a big steaming plate of progressive: It was basically an hour-long chunk of 10-minute songs broken up by only the obvious Closer to the Heart. I ate it all up and was asking for seconds.

Unlike Dave and the unknown poster above (ahem), I didn't like the roll-back set list, although I understand why they did it that way (for the set), and it was a good choice, but, as Dave noted, I like to be surprised, and as soon as I realized what they were doing, I was able to start guessing most of what was coming, which wasn't as much fun. The only times I was truly surprised was Hemispheres and Lakeside Park. (I was surprised for The Anarchist, too, but only because I couldn't imagine that as a lead song. It was more a WTH surprise than an OMG surprise.)

It wasn't my favorite Rush concert, but it was awesome, like a hundred million hot dogs, sir.

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