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Rush concert – A Flashback to those Head Banging Days

Rush at Barclays CenterIn the late 1970s and early 80s, the race to get primo concert seats was physical, not electronical. Bob, Tom, Dan, Slim, myself and a varying cast of others would wait outside of Joske’s, a department store in North Oaks Mall, San Antonio, in an foreshadowing of what Apple fanboys do before a new iPhone launch. Depending on the show, the wait could be most of the evening, or just early morning. When the mall opened in the morning, we’d race in and get in line at the ticket booth inside Joske’s to purchase as near to front row tickets for Rush, AC/DC, Judas Priest, April Wine, UFO and a variety of other acts that came through our Rock and Roll capitol of the world, SA TX.

In that time, and at our age (high school and college) the shows were more raw, less slick and technical. There were pyrotechnics, there were lighted stages, and occasionally there were graphics and pics.

Rush and other concert fixBut always, there was the music that we listened to, loud and proud, on LPs and in our cars, on 8-tracks and cassettes…singing, air guitaring, air drumming…being enveloped by the songs. That carried over to the concerts; sitting close, singing (or yelling, by some definitions) every song, air guitaring so demonstratively that we sometime banged into each other. Some songs, those that we listened to repeatedly, became immersive experiences live: the band and me in a tunnel vision of shared entertainment, where no outside thoughts intruded. At once concert, I found a discarded broom, apparently used by the cleaning crew; much to the chagrin of the folks in the row behind me, it became my air guitar and air bass. I do not believe I put out an eye with it, but I do believe I was note perfect.

Three decades later, a few days ago this month (October 2012), I took a forced flashback into those days, dragging my lovely wife to see Rush at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Both myself and the boys in the band (Alex Lifeson, Geddy Lee and Neal Peart) are older (the two front men and I are in our fifties, the “new guy”, Peart, just turned 60). The crowd was noticeably older, and, as one of our seat mates told my wife, mostly male (“no lines for the ladies room, but huge lines for the men’s”). I’d made her a copy of the playlist from one of the concerts earlier in the tour, but she’d only listened to them a couple of times, and after the concert confessed that all of the music sounded the same to her, as most music does if you are unfamiliar with it. Her opinions form an interesting contrast to those of us subsumed by the cult of Rush.
Rush at Barclays Center It couldn’t be the same, of course. Or could it? As soon as the lights went down, the first easily recognizable notes of Subdivisions came out (as did the smell of weed; apparently some things never change) and the crowd was on its feet…and stayed up throughout the entire concert (except for intermission and slow The Garden). My wife had the guy behind her singing (or yelling) in her ear, and me singing (not yelling, but, of course, note perfect) in front of her. Three rows down, three buddies were singing in chorus, usually arm in arm, head banging to the music together.

It was nostalgic. It was entertaining. And, in the end, yes, there was air guitar (and air bass and air drums).

It was different, more multi-media with the large screen at the back playing mini-videos, smaller screens in the front with birds and objects flying from screen to screen. And there was even the Clockwork Angels String Section, a set of four or five violinists with a couple of cellos joining in for the playing of the new album….but this string section rocked. I did not know that you could play violin and head bang at the same time, but these folks did it from the opening number.

With such a long list of songs to choose from, there’s no way one can hear all of ones favorites at a Rush concert (Geddy introduced the song The Analog Kid as “a song celebrating its 30th birthday”). Though Working Man was on the set list, it was replaced by Spirit of Radio, making the 2112 encore pieces (they played part I, part II and part VII) the oldest songs in the sets.

In some ways, seeing Rush is like seeing an old friend who tells stories that you’ve heard before with a few new twists. They share their humor through the videos (the three of them as “gnomes” when the taxman comes to see the Watchmaker) or through quips…or though those impromptu moments. We witness ones of those when the BEST POWER TRIO EVER (had to throw that in) was jamming through 2112 and Alex broke his guitar. Geddy and Neal kept going as Alex rushed to the side of the stage…but there was no replacement ready. As his two bandmates kept going, we could see them laughing at him. So Alex danced a jig on the side of the stage to much applause, until he could get his backup guitar and once more join the fray. The sense of humor of the boys in the band was on display, much like that which allowed them the use of Fly By Night on the excellent Volkswagen commercial (during an interview, when asked why they finally consented to the commercial use of one of their songs, Geddy responded “because it was fun.”)

My air guitar made several appearances, but it stayed out as I pogoed my way through YYZ. And the best thing was I didn’t poke my lovely wife’s eye out. She remained standing, clapping and cheering, on sore feet from the two ten-mile walks around NYC that we’d done the day before. She’s done Lambeau field in the cold and a Rush concert with a vast majority of male cult members…she is gorgeous and a trooper.

My impressions from the concert: Best of the first set: Analog Kid and Far Cry. Best of the second: the strings section for Clockwork Angels, Headlong Flight and The Anarchist. 2112 in the Encore was the best by far. If you haven’t gone to see them on this tour, go. Rush set list

Set List (which I am holding in the pic while Rush plays Seven Cities of Gold in the background):

  • Subdivisions
  • Big Money
  • Force Ten
  • Grand Designs
  • Body Electric
  • Territories
  • Analog Kid
  • Bravado
  • Where’s My Thing (with Drum Solo
  • Far Cry

Intermission (old man’s break)

  • Caravan (with string section for Clockwork Angels selection
  • Clockwork Angels
  • The Anarchist
  • Carnies
  • The Wreckers
  • Headlong Flight
  • Halo Effect
  • Seven Cities
  • The Garden
  • Manhattan Project
  • Red Sector A
  • YYZ
  • The Spirit of Radio (the set list says Working Man, which I would have loved to hear)


  • Tom Sawyer
  • 2112 (Part I: Overture ; Part II: The Temples of Syrinx ; Part VII: Grand Finale)



Review of CLOCKWORK ANGELS by Kevin J. Anderson – on SFSignal

My review of CLOCKWORK ANGELS by Kevin J. Anderson, based on a story and lyrics by Neil Peart, is up on SFsignal.com. An excerpt:

REVIEW SUMMARY: A fable of Order vs. Chaos fighting for a young man’s soul set in a world of alchemy and alternate universes. And steamships! KJA’s world building plus Easter eggs for Rush fans, and a struggle that starts out simple but is complex.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Owen Hardy grows up in a world controlled by the Watchmaker, where “the Universe has a plan, All is for the best.” His yearning for something more takes him out of the order of his small town, and thrusts him into the battle between order (the Watchmaker) and chaos (the Anarchist) leading him to explore places and worlds he did not realize existed.

PROS: Hugh Syme’s graphics (wish there were more in the ARC!); Rush easter eggs; combination of alchemy and steampunk world
CONS: Starts slow; more backstory (i.e, a longer novel) on the world’s history and characters;
BOTTOM LINE: After a slow start, Clockwork Angels barrels through a world of alchemy, multiple universes and steamships, using a manipulative war between chaos and order as the canvas for a philosophical discourse based on lyrics by Neil Peart. Not just for Rush and KJA fans, but enjoyable for those who like different worlds and allegorical fables.

[For additional background, see the review of the Clockwork Angels album by Rush]


Neal Peart, lyricist and drummer of Rush, has, ably assisted by Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee of the band, written lyrics for hundreds of songs for the band’s 19 studio albums (the other (20th) was a cover of rock standards). Several of these songs formed “concept albums” where all of the lyrics (or maybe just a side of the LP, for those of us who remember and still have those wonderful discs) put together told a tale: a revolt against the controlling priests of Syrinx (2112), the battle of emotion vs. logic fought by old gods (Hemispheres), and many others. The band has been listed on several of “those lists” of “Bands influential in the worlds of SciFi and fantasy” (and I will confess, I penned a completely awful short story based on the lyrics of “A Farewell to Kings” in college).

In spite of his place in life as a drummer ranked repeatedly among the world’s best, in his motorcycle tour/philosophical/observation books such as Ghost Rider and Roadshow, Neal Peart comes across as a normal guy (or as normal as a Canadian can be :) ) who has tried to follow his own path and is often in awe and even doubtful that people see him as something special.

Take away the drums and motorcycles and replace them with juggling and steamships, and you get to the everyman that is Owen Hardy, the “hero” of the novel Clockwork Angels. Not that this tale is autobiographical, but it is certainly a fable of an everyman, confronted and pulled by the tides of order and chaos, asking him to chose one or the other. That everyman concept, and the choices they make are the topic of several Rush songs (“I will choose the path that’s clear, I will choose free will”).

Writing lyrics and writing a book are, of course, different animals. It is good to be friends with an experienced author like Kevin J. Anderson (mentioned in Roadshow). KJA takes the lyrics of the album Clockwork Angelsand builds a world around them. It is hard not to read this book with the album playing in your head, and KJA interweaves the lyrics into the story to keep the voices in your head singing along.


Read the rest of the review on the Hugo-nominated SFSignal.com.

Clockwork Angels

RUSH – Clockwork Angels

Clockwork AngelsClockwork Angels is the 20th studio album (including the EP Feedback) from the best power trio in the world, Rush. It has been five long years since Snakes and Arrows, the band’s last studio album. This is advertised as a concept album, as the band used to do in the old days (one side of Caress of Steel, 2112, A Farewell to Kings and Hemispheres come immediately to mind), with the added bonus that Rush lyricist Neil Peart (and an author in his own right) will collaborate with Kevin J. Anderson on a book based on the album lyrics.

In a quote about the book from KJA:

In a young man’s quest to follow his dreams, he is caught between the grandiose forces of order and chaos. He travels across a lavish and colorful world of steampunk and alchemy, with lost cities, pirates, anarchists, exotic carnivals, and a rigid Watchmaker who imposes precision on every aspect of daily life.

Some of the themes and lyrics remind me of a mature-man’s 2112; instead of a young man fighting against the Priests of Syrinx, he is questioning the “lack of free will” mantra that he was taught growing up. Free will is a consistent Peart theme so there is no surprise that it is included here. The concept of a conflict between order and chaos reflects the logic vs. emotion conflict that was part of the Hemispheres album. The album cover, with the clock and the alchemist’s symbols ( a great discussion here), fits well with the lyrics and the forthcoming novel. The clock symbols look like they correspond with the 12 tracks on the album…coincidence, I think not!

Hazarding guesses at the plot of the novel based on lyrics is tricky. Luckily, the Digital Booklet that comes with the album has an intro paragraph for each tune in the liner notes. Piecing it all together, I would guess it is the story of a man who is either a rebel or is chosen as a champion, brought up in a world where everything is run like clockwork (and everyone expects it to run that way (brought up to believe)). He longs for something bigger, and sets out on some sort of quest. He meets the “Clockwork Angels”, the ones who run the joint, pulling back the curtain like the Wizard of Oz. Once he gets over his “god-worship” based on how he was brought up, he is either indoctrinated as an apprentice, sent out on a quest (Seven Cities of Gold) or enlisted/tricked in a fight against something that threatens to bring down the Clockwork Angels (order vs. chaos!). Along the way, he finds out secrets/background about the Clockwork Angels (All I know is that sometimes, you have to be wary Of a miracle too good to be true). Perhaps he is disillusioned by what he discovers about the workings of the world, and seeks to travel to places where they do not maintain control (The Wreckers). In the end, he looks back on his life (which is now no doubt a story of legend) and through trials and tribulations, wouldn’t change a thing. He passes on, into the Garden (which may just be a many worlds jumping off point, so he can do it all over again).

How’d I do, KJA?

Though the lyrics are sweet, let’s not forget the music. The boys in da band are nearing their late fifties (looks at self) but their musicianship is still individually and collectively superb. I subscribe to the martial arts way of training – practice, practice, practice; a 50 year practitioner is so skillful that age doesn’t come into it. In the same tone, these three Rush martial masters are obviously Sifus of their chosen weapons.

Notes on each track after the break. Hope it is not five more years, gents! (more…)

Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage

Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage

Growing up in San Antonio in the 1980s, my brother and I fell firmly into the Rock and Roll camp, versus those country and western afficiandos whose pickup trucks frequently ended up in ditches (or worse, at the kicker bars!).

But our tastes diverged. Bob, Tom, Dan and I were at every heavy metal concert, in line for Judas Priest, April Wine, AC/DC, UFO…pretty much any band that had two or more guitars and could be played loud. My brother was listening to RnR, but venturing more into the Pink Floyd sound…which I considered “the dark side”; it wasn’t country, but it wasn’t heavy metal.

Then he brought home an album with the back ofa naked dude on the cover staring at a red star. I knew he’d lost it.

He then cranked up “Working Man” from All the World’s A Stage, and I was hooked. I even used some of the themes from their songs for my first fiction attempts in high school and college; the obsession had begun.

Thirty years later, the DVD release of Beyond the Lighted Stage not only goes through the band’s history and provides some excellent concert footage guaranteed to cause flashbacks, but it begs the question: why aren’t these guys in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Is it simply because they are Canadian? Their lyrics too complex? Their playing just too good? Waiting on their new album, Clockwork Angels, before you let them in?

The first DVD of the two DVD set walks through the history of the band, starting with Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson’s school boy friendship as the kids who got beaten up through their latest endeavors. The documentary walks through their first contract, what drove them to replace their first drummer, John Rutsey, with Neil Peart and how Peart’s lyrics started them into the longer “saga” songs; how they went out on a limb with the concept album2112 (the album my brother started with) against their label’s wishes but to the raves of fans; and an excellent segment on Hemispheres, my favorite Rush album, how complex and virtuoso each of their playing was on that album and all of their albums. It also taunts their fashion sense (or lack there of) and Geddy’s voice.

The list of things that Geddy’s voice sounds like:

  • a rat caught in a wringer;
  • a hamster in overdrive;
  • the dead howling in Hades;
  • Mickey Mouse on helium (from Alex);
  • strangling a hamster;
  • a cat being chased out the door with a blow torch up its ass;

The story finishes with the band taking a break as Peart, working through the death of his child and wife, takes off on his motorcycle, and ultimately rejoins the group (Note: Peart has written several books about his ride, good reading). There are great concert scenes all the way through (I did not glimpse me or my brother), including excellent Farewell to Kings tour footage and one of Peart pounding out “Tom Sawyer”.

The second DVD starts off with some longer segments from the first side (not outtakes, perhaps director’s cuts of scenes, like Geddy and Alex searching the school for the room where they played their first gig). But the jewels of the second DVD are the concert footage, especially the “Canadian Bandstand” footage of a very young Geddy, Alex and initial drummer John Rutsey cranking out “Best I Can” and “Working Man” while teen school kids from Laura Secord SS sit on their hands in the auditorium (from 1974)…priceless. A full jam of my favorite Rush song, “La Villa Strangiato” is included, along with “Between the Sun and Moon”, “Far Cry”, “Entre Nous”, “Bravado” and “YYZ” (with Geddy Lee ripping the bass while some dude takes clothes out of a dryer on stage?).

Put them in the RnR HOF. After all, as the DVD cover proclaims, “….Ranked third in consecutive gold or platinum albums after the Beatles and the Rolling Stones…”, they are with pretty heady company.

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