You’d think a band celebrating 40 years of touring and making music might sound a bit like a band that’s been touring and making music for 40 years.
Not so with the seemingly ageless Rush who is arguably more relevant now than at any time of their career.
The power trio hailing from Toronto, Canada that may or may not be calling it quits at the end of their current R40 tour got off to a stellar start on Friday at the BOK Center in Tulsa, OK in front of a mostly sold-out crowd that watched them stroll back through their extensive catalog of albums starting with the present and ending in a makeshift high school gym.
Singer Geddy Lee, at 61 years young, rocked his vocals the entire night and seemed to be having way too much fun on bass as he traded-out guitars on nearly every song. Lee recently started a bass guitar collection and he clearly brought them on tour. The unassuming, always under-appreciated and better than most Alex Lifeson ripped it all night on guitar and the band’s newest member Neil Peart handled the drums proficiently.
As if to say their current music is just as important as their early tunes, Rush started off with not one or two songs off their most recent album Clockwork Angels, but three, the most of any albums represented on the night. After a clever animated film chronicling the band’s start from 1974 to open the show, complete with wardrobe upgrades and hairstyle changes, Rush kicked off with the title song from their 2012 masterpiece, then “The Anarchist” and the absolute rocking “Headlong Flight.”
At this point in the show stage crew began removing and or replacing some of the band’s props eliminating some of the more prominent Clockwork Angel pieces from the last tour for the Snakes and Arrows tour. “Far Cry” was next and then the very overlooked and only instrumental of the night “The Main Monkey Business” both off 2007’s Snakes and Arrows.
The hard fought “One Little Victory” from 2002”s Vapor Trails came next followed by the early 90s in “Animate” off Counterparts and “Roll the Bones” from the same titled album of 1991. Test for Echo, the last album of the 1990s for the band, was only represented by the inuksuk on Peart’s shirt and the last three albums of the 1980s got no love though Power Windows got its due on the last tour. Stage hands continued to remove or replace props throughout the evening and the band finished the first hour-long set with the always great “Distant Early Warning” and finally “Subdivisions” representing the start of the band’s keyboard era off 1982’s Signals.
After a 20 minute intermission which included showing outtakes and bloopers from videos played on the last couple of tours, Rush returned with a different stage set featuring a towering stack of amps, reminiscent of the early 1980s, behind Lee and Lifeson, and Peart added a second bass drum to his kit. Rush, of course, would never not play the iconic “Tom Sawyer” off the iconic Moving Pictures which opened the second set and the second tract and perhaps best song from the album, “Red Barchetta,” followed.
No surprise that “The Spirit of Radio” came next from Permanent Waves released on Jan. 1, 1980 but a big surprise in that “Jacob’s Ladder,” the closer to Side A of that album and a song Rush had not played live in decades finally got stage time. The lasers came out for this one and was a welcome addition to a setlist that so far featured much of the the same material on the previous three tours.
The backward trek through the past continued with a medley of sorts starting with Cygnus X-1 Book 2 from Hemispheres that melted into a drum solo and ended with “Cygnus X-1” off A Farewell to Kings. Now knee deep in the 70s, Rush added two more from Kings with “Closer to the Heart” and the double-necks came out for “Xanadu.” The title track to the band’s breakthrough album 2112 a 20-minute seven part suite got reduced by more than half as the band closed out the second-set with the primary radio fare of the song, the third section entitled “Discovery” and the “Grand Finale.”
Once the band left the stage for the encore, a video featuring fellow Canadian Eugene Levy as a tour promoter projected on the large curtain in front of the stage and he introduced the “opening band” Rush and the threesome returned to the stage that by now lost most of the amps, featured a simple drape backdrop, Lee acting like a youngster and even the sound came off somewhat rough just like in the old days.
“Lakeside Park” from 1975’s Caress of Steel started the encore followed by “Anthem” the opening tract off 1975’s Fly by Night the band’s first album with Peart and then as the stage morphed into the Rod Serling High School gymnasium complete with a disco ball, Rush closed out with “What You’re Doing” and “Working Man” off the self-titled debut Rush now more than 40 years old.
All told, Rush played for nearly two and half hours with abundant energy and never let up, playing each song with the precision they’re known for. They were tight, sounded flawless except for a bit of excessive treble and distortion at the start, and had no wrinkles to iron out considering this was the tour’s opening night. If they did, the band certainly covered it up well. And, whoever came up with the idea of stripping away the years as the band marched backward in time deserves some extra credit. It certainly added to the overall entertainment package of the R40 tour and kept the audience guessing.
Lee’s bass playing was particularly striking throughout but especially chunky on “Far Cry” and “Roll the Bones.” He sounded just as strong vocally at the onset of the show as he did at the end hitting the high notes without seemingly any difficulty. In fact, he commanded the lyrics just as strong as he did 25 years ago.
Lifeson seemed a bit aloof, not particularly engaging the crowd as he often does, instead focusing on his craft playing with some serious intensity all night. His solos on “Headlong Flight,” “Jacob’s Ladder,” and “Working Man” are something to behold and he really drives “The Main Monkey Business.”
Perhaps most notably absent on the R40 tour is the length of Peart’s drum solos. A long-time signature at Rush concerts, Peart pounded out a short one in the middle of “Headlong Flight” but the primary one featured between “Cygnus” wasn’t even half the length of his usual seven to eight minute numbers but still quite impressive especially considering earlier this year it was revealed he battles chronic tendonitis (maybe its arm pump from all the motorcycling) in his arms.
Rush billed the R40 tour as the last of its kind for the band in terms of magnitude which many quickly translated into a farewell tour. All three members seemed to enjoy the time off from their last tour that spanned over two years but now in their early 60s, despite the high level of playing all three manage to perform, it’s clear the 2013 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees cannot continue as most of their fans would like.
However, Lee said a few months ago Rush was still a band, seemed to indicate some type of future and while the comical video that concluded Friday’s show could be interpreted as the band walking away from it all, “R40+” displayed prominently on the stage curtain as the crowd dispersed.
Rush R40 Tour Setlist in Tulsa, OK
- Clockwork Angels
- The Anarchist
- Headlong Flight
- Far Cry
- The Main Monkey Business
- One Little Victory
- Roll the Bones
- Distant Early Warning
- Tom Sawyer
- Red Barchetta
- The Spirit of Radio
- Jacob’s Ladder
- Cygnus X-1 Book 2/Drum Solo/Cygnus X-1 medley
- Closer to the Heart
- Temples of Syrinx
- Grand Finale
- Lakeside Park
- What You’re Doing
- Working Man