Rush Animates the Capital Center

It might be expected that a group might start to slow down after 20 years together. That certainly wasn’t the case at the US Air Arena Tuesday as Rush showed that they can still rock with the best.

Candlebox started the evening, but was unable to get much out of the crowd. They had a great set though. They opened with “He Calls Home”, a great song about homelessness, and got better from there. They continued with “Change”, “Blossom”, and “Arrow” all from their debut album.

Kevin Martin’s vocals were clean for the most part, except for “Arrow”. He sounds like he’s singing, “Some On Ghetto” when the lyrics claim “Someone’s Got Arrow”. Easily half of guitarist Peter Klett’s solos sounded like Jerry Cantrell from Alice in Chains, which may be unavoidable since Candlebox calls Seattle home as well. Sometimes his tone was unique, though on “Far Behind” his solo sounded like Jimi Hendrix. That was intentional though, as the band followed his lead into “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)”.

The band ended with their latest single “You”, as familiarity finally brought some crowd response. The most response Candlebox got was when they mentioned Rush would appear next. The anticipation mounted as roadies cleared off Candlebox’s equipment.

The lights went out as the crowd screamed. Then the curtains on the screen above the stage parted as the strains of “Also Sprach Zarathrusta” (the 2001 theme for you Beavis and Butthead addicts) became evident, On screen appeared a scene in space of a giant bolt approaching a giant nut (reproducing the cover art from Counterparts, their current album). As the bolt screwed into the nut, the music reached its climax. Then the lights burst on and Rush went into “Dreamline”, the first single from their last album. Next was 1980’s “The Spirit Of Radio”, a favorite which had most of the crowd singing along, followed by “Bravado”, an intriguing song about achieving your goals no matter what the cost.

One of the best things about seeing Rush live is their visuals. The giant screen over the stage will show scenes that are often in synch with the songs. The visuals are usually taken from their videos, but not always, as the next song “Time Stands Still”, had entirely new animation. “Limelight”, from the legendary Moving Pictures album forced the crowd back on its feet again, where they stayed for a while.

Lead singer and bassist Geddy Lee mentioned the next song was about tortured love, so it had to be a country-western song. The band even made some tentative country riffs before ripping into “Cold Fire”, their latest single. Then Rush got into a more serious vein with “Nobody’s Hero”, a new moving song about ordinary heroes like the guy who passed away from AIDS and the girl who’s a victim of senseless violence.

Two songs that have rarely been performed recently followed: the fantastic “The Analog Kid,” from Signals, and the African influenced “Mystic Rhythms” from 1986’s Power Windows. The crowd was obviously unfamiliar with these, but quickly rose to their feet and dug in their pockets for the lighters as guitarist Alex Lifeson reached for an acoustic guitar and started the intro to 1977’s “Closer To The Heart”. A song urging everyone to get inspired by the spiritual, not the physical. It’s still appropriate today.

Rush has recently dropped nearly all use of synthesizers, and this was nowhere more evident as their next two songs, “Animate,” and “Double Agent,” both new. Anyone who thinks these guys are old needs to see Geddy’s furious bass-slapping, Alex wailing away on guitar, and Neal Peart thundering away on drums. “Double Agent” featured pyrotechnics, making this the first Rush tour to feature them. It was particularly effective as well. A verse like “Cross of holy fire” had a field of burning crosses on the screen with six burning fire pots on the stage.

“Roll The Bones” from the album of the same name, features a rap in the middle. Originally done by Geddy, then electronically processed, the band played to the video version since keeping synchronized that long would be a significant effort. “Stick It Out” also had a great video, which was indescribably better when scenes of the band were removed and just a man in dreadlocks (strongly resembling the lead singer of Counting Crows), balancing on a pole, remained. “Show Don’t Tell” from 1989’s Presto followed, with huge inflatable bunny rabbits.

Next was the definite highlight of any Rush show: drummer Neal Peart’s “The Rhythm Method.” Some drummers just bang on the drums a couple of minutes to show off. Not Neal. “The Rhythm Method” is a song that changes for every tour but certain elements remain constant, especially since he introduced his electronic xylophone. He can play riffs on it which he can then duplicate rhythmically on the drums. The crowd was roaring as Geddy and Alex rejoined him for the instrumental from Counterparts: “Leave My Thing Alone.”

The crowd volume increased as Alex once more unleashed his acoustic guitar for 1978’s “The Trees”, a song that’s even more true in today’s politically correct world. A fable that tells of the maples complaining because the oaks take all the light, and concludes with equality being enforced “by hatchet, axe and saw.” Then, as in 1981, the band surged into “Xanadu” from A Farewell to Kings. Based on Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan”, Rush brings the story to life with a great light show and a killer tune. At the end of “Xanadu” the band segued into the rarely heard “Hemispheres”, performing “Part I: Prelude” as they closed their set.

Feet crashed into the floor as the crowd demanded an encore. Rush let them have it with a double shot from 1981’s Moving Pictures: the ferocious instrumental “YYZ”, and a fantastic version of “Tom Sawyer” to end the night.

This was my seventh trip to see Rush in concert. If you want to be entertained at a concert, you won’t be disappointed by them.

[Originally published in Expulsion, an independent George Mason University student newspaper]