Geddy Lee really does speak like an ordinary guy. We heard him, and he does.
"Thank you for indulging us in that moment of [insert pregnant pause] indulgence," the singer, bassist, synth-meister and Canadian said as he addressed a sizable, standing Nashville crowd about 20 minutes into last night’s three-plus hour prog-athon at Bridgestone Arena. Judging by the scattered arms flailing in mirror-image precision of drum god Neil Peart and fingers tapping and bending in air guitar glory, it was pretty clear that Rush fans are ALL ABOUT indulging indulgence (in addition to hockey).
And really, so was the Spin, as we de-virginized ourselves of the Rush concert experience.
While typically, a long-winded onslaught of sonically audacious musical fireworks is more than The Spin’s fleeting attention span can handle, last night’s show came perfectly timed, as we had spent the previous night partying down at a Los Angeles Bat Mitzvah, at which we found ourselves subjected to a long, joyous evening set to the sounds of Top 40 pop — i.e. four or five hours replete with songs devoid of guitars or actual drums — priming our palate for some instrumental wailage.
Not unlike our venture to Queens of the Stone Age’s recent rock-athon at The Ryman, we found ourselves going straight from BNA to Lower Broad in a, uh, rush, making our way into the arena just in time to hear the legendary Canadian trio’s opening “Spirit of Radio” echoing through the halls.
That Rush classic set the tone for the band’s Time Machine Tour — an evening filled with catalog staples the likes of “Time Stand Still,” “Freewill,” “Subdivisions” and “Neil Peart Drum Solo,” rounded out by some deeper cuts, new tunes and a complete performance of the band’s seminal 1981 Moving Pictures LP.
While our repeated shouted requests for “Oh Canada” went unanswered (drag), as casual fans — a group we found ourselves in the minority of, despite bringing a current Guitar Center employee along as an honorary Spin-ster — this “best of” version of the band was the one we wanted to see.
Once we worked our way through the throngs of elder fans and their children in the throes of a religious experience — donning a host of Rush shirts, making “oh” faces along with Alex Lifeson, singing along in their highest registers and head-banging in odd meters — we found our floor seats and got an up-close-and-personal look at the gawky middle-aged trio.
As they stood upon a lighted stage that looked like a time machine powered by washing machines (literally, washing machines) which took the place of stacked amplifiers, we couldn’t help but notice how Rush look more like their own fans than perhaps any other band in rock. As such, theirs is rock music’s Revenge of the Nerds story. Hearing hands clap on cue to the band’s rhythmic subdivisions and masses sing along to Neil Peart’s individualist manifestos, it’s hard not to see last night’s spectacle as a triumph in dorkitude.
Not like it came as any surprise, but the band executed their classics with note-perfect precision, with Lee handily nailing his notes in their original keys, Peart ending seemingly never-ending fills across the 360-degree veritable music store he calls a drum-kit by throwing sticks in the air and catching them without missing a beat, and Lifeson putting on a shredder’s master class.
With Lee doing his share of split-legged jumps to match Peart’s stick tricks, the band — playing to the backdrop of a Jumbotron flashing literal song imagery, flourishes of rising flames and whistles of steam emanating from those aforementioned washing machines — looked more than enthused as they rehashed the hits. But it was while playing a handful of songs off their forthcoming Clockwork Angels LP, which — to the delight of the Music City crowd, they proudly proclaimed was recorded in Nashville — appeared most enraptured in their moments of musical indulgence.
Essentially opening for themselves, after an hour-and-10-minute set, the band cited their age as a need to take a brief intermission, during which we made rounds to the bar and humorously noted how the men's room lines extended far from their entry points, wrapping 10 or 20 feet into the concourse, while the there were no such lines to speak of for the women’s restrooms. That’s a Rush show, we guess.
It wasn’t long before the house lights dimmed and a hooky — albeit fairly funny — pre-recorded sketch of the band lampooning themselves led into an in-flesh performing of their signature hit, “Tom Sawyer,” commencing the album portion of the show. With the energy level now at a fever pitch for band and audience alike, the trio tore through favorites like “Vital Signs,” “The Camera Eye” and “Limelight” — truly a great pop, or prop, song — and turned the arena into a giant flight simulator with the instrumental anthem “YYZ” which, despite it’s lyric-less-ness, the crowd had no problem singing along to.
What was basically the lengthy show’s third act kicked off with the moment all in attendance had waited for: Neil Peart’s drum solo, which was basically exactly what you’d imagine — a near “Moby Dick”-worthy, “Black Page”-trumping blitzkrieg of rudimentary stick-riffage that only ever came to a pause to allow the famed drummer a moment to switch positions as the kit rotated around him. The sense of fans collectively being taken back in time and place to their teenage bedrooms and rock ’n’ roll fantasies was widespread across the arena.
Predictably, what followed was Alex Lifeson’s brief 12-string acoustic spotlight moment that led into the night’s biggest anthem, “Closer to the Heart,” then followed by the night’s biggest showcasing of over-the-top prog-rockin’ gymnastics — a truncated performance of their 1976 odyssey “2112.”
By this point we were, to say the least, a little exhausted by the pummeling barrage of high-pitched squeals, slapped bass notes and stunt-drumming — moments that blended together more and more as we put down beer after beer. We stuck it out until the closing “Working Man,” but we’d checked all our desired show-ments off the list long before that. But you know, we expected the band to wear us out with their relentless grandiosity, and we got just what we came for, while the die-hards among us clearly got even more.