What a Rush!

Alex Lifeson rocks Puerto Rico!Sometimes when you build something up, when you spend too much time thinking about how special something might be, you can sometimes come away disappointed when it's finally over. Friday night's Rush concert in the Puerto Rico Coliseum was not one of those times. While it was not more than I hoped for, it was everything I expected. It was a stunning show that mixed virtuoso performances with a state-of-the-art stage production.

Ever since I heard that Rush was coming to Puerto Rico last Christmas, I've indulged myself and listened to pretty much nothing but Rush. I splurged and purchased a couple of their live DVD's and watched them a couple of times each. I wanted to hit the concert as "ready" as possible. I even studied some of the lyrics to round out my "preparation." Even before the concert arrived, my esteem and appreciation for the band had grown immensely. Being a fan of Rush in the 1980's was an entirely different experience. Between the books, DVDs and now courtesy of the Internet being a fan now, provides such a richer opportunity to appreciate the people behind the music, which, for me, makes the music that much more special.

Zero Hour

As dusk was falling we arrived to the Coliseum and started theGeddy Lee jams Puerto Rico walk towards the entrance, I'll have to admit that the adrenaline was starting to flow and I was starting to get excited. With each step the years receded and it could have been 1982 again. After making it through the now obligatory search gauntlet, "no cameras, unless its a phone or a Blackberry", the anticipation was starting to grow. When I finally stepped into the inside of the coliseum and saw the massive light setup, Neil's drums, and Geddy's chicken roasters glowing underneath a black cover, my expectations were confirmed. This concert was going to really be amazing., one to remember, for sure.

After a couple of double scotch on the rocks, and a slight delay for the usually late Puerto Rican audience to find their seats, the lights finally went out and the introductory video started, it was time to rock. Alex launched into Limelight, and it was as sweet as ever. Looking fit and tanned after a week on the island, is it me or did it look like Alex has trimmed off some weight? After that, the local crowd was rocking out hard as the boys nailed Limelight and then Digital Man.

The set continued with the band playing single songs from a number of albums, some classics (Freewill, Red Barchetta, The Trees), and a couple of tunes from the new Snakes And Arrows album (The Larger Bowl and The Main Monkey Business). In my opinion, some of the songs in the first set provided some of the low points for the show. But I don't think I was alone in that sentiment, because the quietest points in the show (IMHO) were during Ghost of a Chance, Mission, Dreamline and Between the Wheels.

Neil Peart plays The TreesThe second set kicked off with five straight songs from the new album, but for me, the first three were exceptional. The trio of Far Cry, Working Then Angels and Armor and Sword are a great opening. The other two songs Spindrift and The Way The Wind Blows are, in opinion some of the weaker songs on the new album and also come off weak live as well. With a string of another set of classics (Subdivisions, Natural Science, and Witch Hunt) the band played the new classic Malignant Narcissism, which featured the always popular Neil Peart Drum Solo, and Hope, also from Snakes and Arrows. After that it was nothing but classics, offering a strong closing of The Spirit Of Radio, 2112 (Overture/Temples of Syrinx), and Tom Sawyer.

After coming back for an encore, the guys launched into the fiery "One More Victory", the lone track in the show from Vapor Trails. They finish the show with two classics, guaranteed favorites for any Rush fan, Passage to Bangkok and YYZ. A great encore, that definitely left everyone wanting more.

As Neil jumped up from his drum set and the last notes of YYZ lingered in the air, I had to sit down. After standing for three hours and rocking out pretty hard, I was exhausted. There should be no doubt, this was the best Rush concert I had ever seen. It was a breathtaking assault on the senses that thrilled and entertained beyond anything you could imagine, especially if you haven't seen it for yourself. What an awesome experience!

Amazing show of lasersFinally, it wouldn't do justice to this concert without trying to share my appreciation for the show. Where, I might have said light show, that description just doesn't give enough credit to the creative minds behind the collection of effects used throughout the show. Deployed behind the band were three giant monitors, that displayed a combination of videos, as in the introduction dream sequence, the Bob and Doug Mackenzie brothers intro, the newly added Harry Satchel intro for the second set and the crowd favorite South Park intro for Tom Sawyer. But they were also used to display animated and other photographic image sequences as well as serving as video monitors for various cameras used to capture the band and supersize it for the benefit of all. So throughout every song, there was always something to see besides the guys jamming their hearts out. But that's not all! They also used a computer controlled selection of lights and effects to put everything over the top. At different times they used lasers, explosions, dragon induced flames, and all out infernos to punctuate songs for effect. Standing in the sixth row, the heat was so intense, you had to pity Neil crouched down for protection. And yet, while all of these awesome effects are taking place, synchronized perfectly with the music, you always have the virtuoso performances of three of the greatest musicians to ever play, taking place right before your very eyes. Simply amazing!

For whom the set rocks

The professorThe big debate on all of the Rush Internet forums is the "revamped" set list. After a local fan in Puerto Rico leaked the new set list, there has been some extreme opinions shared on all sides of the issue. Some of the more common ones were "too many songs from Snakes and Arrows", "not enough variety to differentiate this tour from previous tours", and "it shouldn't matter what they play, it's Rush!" I think all of these are valid points, and in many ways zero-in on some changing dynamics of the music industry as well as raise the question "for whom the set rocks?"

Rush rocks San JuanBack in the late 1970's and 1980's when I fell in love with Rush's music and was lucky enough to see them four times on their "Permanent Waves", Moving Picutres", "Signals", and "Power Windows" tours, the music business formula was simple. A band makes an album and then hits the road to promote that album. And by the way, this is a formula that Rush has never broken in their 30 plus years in the business. The logic, as I always understood it, behind bands touring on a new record was to encourage fans to buy, if they hadn't already, the new production. For it was in the album sales that the band made the majority of their income. Touring was the evil necessary that would make or break the new album. I can even remember tours back in the day that would cost a band money instead of generate money.

Alex and Geddy rocking the houseHowever, now that that the music business has changed so significantly, the logic behind the formula is gone. In fact, it's almost completely opposite now. While the cost of a new album has gone from roughly $6 to $17 to $20, concert prices have exploded, going from $12 to $150 and sometimes much, much more. Touring is where the money is now. So it really begins to beg the question, what is the point of, as some fans see it, pushing the new material, when they are probably going to just download the new album instead of buy it? The dilemma becomes even more sharp when you attempt to answer why, in this instance, is Rush touring? There are a few quick answers. First they're artists, and as such they want to perform their art. The guys have frequently said that they enjoy touring, which is something that made them who they are and set them apart from many other musical groups. Second, they want to please their fans, which have enabled them all of these 30 plus years to live the rock star life. But ultimately, it is their job, in that it (as I've established) where they make the money that lets them have the life style they have grown accustomed to.

Alex and Neil jam on The TreesYes, we all must remember that you can't please everyone. There will always be some fans who are disappointed that they didn't play their favorite song, but let's also remember that the band also has to be happy performing the songs as well. I think Rush is sincere in their attempts to give the best possible concert every night. Starting back as far as the "Test For Echo" tour, Rush has offered two sets of music leading to a live performance of more than three hours. Which is where I believe they attempt to strike a balance between pleasing the fans and also pleasing themselves. As I have seen it expressed in the forums, this essentially allows them to say, hey since we play for three hours, basically double most other acts, it gives us time to play a lot of favorites, but at the same time some flexibility to play whatever we want.

So while there were seven songs I personally would have switched out for some of my personal favorites, it was still very entertaining none the less. I got to see five songs off of Moving Pictures, my personal favorite, including Witch Hunt. I also got to see 2112 and many other classics, so if it makes Rush happy and keeps them touring to play those other seven songs, I think that is a fair trade off. For while we fans don't like to admit it, Rush tours at their own pleasure. If the entire act of performing didn't please them, I don't believe they would do it. So while not everyone is pleased, a good majority are. As always, it remains my choice to pay the $150 to witness live, three of the best musicians to play their respective instruments and play some of my favorite songs. In fact, I consider it a treat after all these years to have that much fun with my clothes still on, and if your my age you'll know what I mean. My continued gratitude and thanks to Alex, Geddy, and Neil for giving me the opportunity to share in their art.