More than two years have passed since Rush performed the final show of the R40 tour.
While it’s generally believed that Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart graced the stage together for the last time on August 1, 2015 at the Forum it’s widely hoped that despite their age and decades of touring a bit remains in the tank and eventually the three return to the studio for another album and at the very least an abbreviated tour to follow.
Regardless, the absence of Rush on the lighted stage leaves their fans with fond memories, a vast catalogue of albums and a number of concert videos. But for those needing a fix or at least a chance to freeze the moment a little bit longer, one band offers to fill the void as best they can creating those timeless wavelengths that endeared millions to the Toronto trio.
Mystic Rhythms represents just one of many Rush tribute bands around the world but if you were to happen upon one of their shows you just might think, What can this thing be that I found? No, it’s not Geddy, Alex and Neil. It’s actually Steve Longo, Adam Pliss and Paul Armento who look and play and act like the legendary band.
This New Jersey-based trio, musicians in their own right, have played and performed live for years. Longo and Pliss joined forces nearly 20 years ago dabbling in various bands together including a few tributes to Rush while Armento boasts a solid resume working or playing with the likes of Debbie Gibson, Dee Snider, Howard Jones, Bret Michaels and Men at Work, among other notables.
Longo and Pliss started Mystic Rhythms a few years ago and like most tribute bands let the music do the talking. Once Armento joined in 2013, he brought his vision and background as a musical director to the fore and the band dropped the casual wear and basic stage set-up for costumes, video and all that goes into an authentic live show. Quite simply, from a distance anyway, Mystic Rhythms is nearly imperceptible from the real Rush.
On September 30, Mystic Rhythms turns the page and debuts their live show Rush Thru Time at the The Paramount in Huntington, NY. The nearly 1,600 seat renovated theater in the heart of Long Island is hardly a small club – hosting bands like the Gin Blossoms, Switchfoot, Dream Theater, and Weezer, as well as comedy acts and various other tribute bands. Indeed, it’s a big deal for Mystic Rhythms, tickets even available on TicketMaster, and in between rehearsals Longo stepped away to discuss the band, the new show and of course Rush.
Founders: Steve Longo and Adam Pliss formed Mystic Rhythms in 2011 while Paul Armento was forming another Rush tribute called Jacob’s Ladder
Year Founded: Around 2013 the current lineup came together
Hometown: Adam grew up in Brooklyn, NY and Paul and Steve grew up in New Jersey. All three reside in New Jersey now.
Current Lineup: Steve as Alex, Adam as Neil, Paul as Geddy
Influences (other than Rush): Too many to name, but we listen to a lot of prog rock and 80s music. Paul heads one of the largest 80s band in the New York City area called Jessie’s Girl.
Favorite Rush Song(s) to play: “Mystic Rhythms” is a fun one, we also enjoy the instrumental tunes a lot, especially “YYZ” and “La Villa Strangiato.”
Hardest Rush Song learned: Some of the hardest Rush tunes to play are “Mission,” “Cygnus X1 Books I & II,” “One Little Victory” and “Jacob’s Ladder.” These all require a bit more practice.
Easiest Rush song learned: Not sure, maybe “Closer to the Heart”
- You’ve probably been asked this 100 times but let’s get a reference point: Why Rush and why a Tribute Band to Rush?
We all respect Rush as musicians and their music is just so rewarding and fun to play. That is why they are our favorite band. As fans, we want to put together a show that we would want to see and so other big fans will enjoy.
- Do you guys make your own music whether as Mystic Rhythms or on your own?
Mystic is strictly Rush, but we have all written and performed our own music in the past. Paul has an original project called The Ism and also works with Debbie Gibson. In the past, Steve has written and worked with Bryan Beller, now with The Aristocrats, and Adam worked with many local original artists performing on a few albums.
- Are there any chords or phrasing you guys work around or gloss over because of the complicated nature or do you leave those songs off your repertoire?
We like a challenge! The only thing that keeps us from including a song is if we feel it won’t be well-received live. With help from technology, we can handle any Rush tune, once we rehearse it five million times! (laughs)
- How does technology help?
Not unlike Rush, we use backing tracks and samples that are triggered by each of the three of us during a performance.
- In what way has learning Rush songs and playing them live enhanced your appreciation for their craft?
We can appreciate not only the musicianship, but all that goes into producing a live Rush show, since we design pretty much everything from scratch. At our shows the audience will experience all the videos, costumes, lighting, sound effects, and humor that make up a Rush concert.
- Videos too? Like even the comedy sketches they did to open their show?
We create and edit most of the videos in our shows from scratch. We don’t just take copies of their videos, there’s no fun in that. We like to change things up for each show, depending on the type of show. Our “Rush Thru Time” videos will help transition in our “traveling” through four separate Rush decades.
- I’ve seen the PR video and on certain angles you can’t tell the difference between you guys and the real Rush. Do you also study their body and facial gestures and employ that into the show?
Absolutely! Glad you picked up on that! We try anything that will add to the realism of becoming Rush for a few hours.
- Do you get the same ear candy thrill playing as fans get from hearing. For example, the Middle 8 on “Distant Early Warning” and “Time Stand Still” is about as delicious as it gets for me. What’s it like playing those or whatever your favorite songs are compared to enjoying as a fan?
We are like super fans! Even though we are playing, we can envision being in the audience watching and listening as a fan. It feels so rewarding pulling off the most intricate parts, like on “Spirit of Radio” and “YYZ” for example.
- What are your day jobs or do you manage to make enough money from Mystic Rhythms’ live shows?
Paul is the only full-time musician in the group. Pretty much all money made in Mystic goes right back into the band equipment, promotion, production, etc.
- Several Pink Floyd Tribute bands tour large venues making a career from emulating their favorite band. Where do you want to see Mystic Rhythms in the future?
A full-time career is likely not in the cards for Mystic, but you never know.
- How many songs for the show?
We are at right around 20 songs for this show, including the drum solo which is a song in itself! This is a Rush Thru Time event, meaning we are covering their full 40 year career with four costume changes. Should be just over two hours.
- As musicians, you can cleanly duplicate the bass and electric guitars, drums and keyboards but not Geddy Lee’s vocals. Was this a work in progress to find the right guy?
Yeah, not many people in the world can duplicate what it takes to become Geddy Lee, let alone vocally. We are very fortunate to have found each other. It was a long search though.
- Paul, are you singing naturally or do you have to tweak how you sing in order to closely match Lee’s?
I decided to take vocal lessons to work on my range and control. I was lucky enough to hook up with Tony Harnell from TNT who taught me a lot. Geddy’s tone though, can not be taught. Must be the nose! Just need a great ear to pair up with that range and control.
- Will Adam take off immediately after the show or will you guys wave to the crowd arm in arm?
(laughs) The three of us always take a bow together at center stage at the end of each show.
- So you’re on stage playing having a blast then look out into the crowd. Off to your right is Alex Lifeson or Geddy Lee. What happens next?
Heh heh, hard to imagine that, but I guess we’d either freeze up or faint (laughs). I really hope they’d be drinking though. We would love to have a drink with them after the show.
- OK Steve, you operate Rush Tribute Radio as a way to get the word out on other Rush tribute bands. Why did you start the website?
I started Rush Tribute Radio as a techno-geek. When I first started learning about the internet, I had to get involved. They say stick to what you know, so I created a site to list all the world’s Rush tributes and also collected MP3s of them. Then when I learned about streaming radio, I tied it all together and it just took off.
- Do tribute bands have to receive permission? How does copyrighting work?
The venues are responsible for the fees to the publishers of the music.
- Let’s talk about the guys. What’s your thoughts? You think they are finished?
My gut says they are done as a band. We have heard Geddy and Alex still want to produce music in some way, but there won’t be any more Rush shows.
- Why do you think Rush has developed such a loyal, passionate fan base?
Rush fans are quite intense. I love meeting the die-hards at shows and conventions. We can talk about our favorite band for hours and hours. Rush is one of the most original sounding bands there ever was. Sure, Geddy’s voice may have turned some people off in the early days, because he sounded so unique. Sometimes it’s even hard to classify or categorize them. Most stories I’ve heard are like “My older brother/uncle/cousin turned me onto them and I was hooked from the first few notes.” Also, I think the lyrics are what hooked a good percentage of fans. I bet no rocker is more well-read than Neil Peart. The words and music combine so perfectly for me. They also always took risks and changed their sound to reflect the times or mood of the topic. But, they always stayed true to themselves and wrote what they wanted to write, not giving in to pressures of the record label or music industry.
- Finally, give us your best pitch – Why should we see Rush Thru Time?
Now that Rush has stopped touring, we believe that this conceptual show may be the closest thing to seeing a real Rush show now. This is many years in the making and we hope our fans will enjoy it as much as we enjoy performing it.
Rush Thru Time on September 30 at The Paramount in Huntington, NY.