Thursday, July 5, 2007

What's Yer Rush?

No, not the blowhard radio host/big fat idiot.  I'm referring to that Little ol' Band from Toronto who plays loud rhythmic music.  My Rush is actually the early 80’s version, but many fans are partial to the 1970’s model (pictured here), and some folks even prefer the ‘90s-and-beyond Rush, but all are good in one way or another.  If nothing else, you have to admire this classy band’s longevity and consistency, as well as their top-flight musicianship.

Rush was just another average Hard Rock band until their original drummer John Rutsey was dismissed because of health concerns (diabetes, namely) after their first album in 1974, and Messers. Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson lucked into finding a very talented drummer who also just happened to have a knack for writing intelligent lyrics, one young Neil Peart, and the rest is history.

I was rather resistant to Rush at first, despite my older sister’s encouragement to check them out in the late ‘70s.  I was rather intimidated by their album-side-length Sci-Fi epics that I didn’t relate all that well to, plus Lee’s shrieky banshee vocals grated on me at times.  But once Geddy got control of his voice and truly learned how to sing (long about the time of 1981’s Moving Pictures), I began to take notice of the band, and I loved their next album Signals, which helped get me through my first semester in college in the fall of 1982.  I actually found it refreshing to hear a band singing about space shuttles, pleasure domes and quarrelling trees, etc., instead of the usual "suck-and-fuck" Rock ‘N’ Roll subject matter, which renders Rush’s early classic (before Peart's arrival), "Hey baby, it's-a quarter-to-eight, I feel I'm In The Mood..." rather comical to listen to now.

My first experience with Rush in concert was not a terribly good one, though.  They played Kemper Arena for two nights, April 23-24, 1981 on the Moving Pictures tour.  We had tickets (10 bucks a pop!) for the second night, and all day long at school on the 24th, people who attended the first night were just raving about what a kick-ass show they saw, so I looked forward to something special, but the show we witnessed turned out to be a huge disappointment.  First off, it wasn't very loud, and Geddy Lee hardly said two words to the audience between songs all night other than "Thank you" (a BIG pet peeve of mine at any concert).  The band seemed to be going through the motions at times and the show left me really flatAbout ten years ago, I attended a much better Rush show at Sandblown Amphitheater with my sister, and they redeemed themselves mightily in my eyes.  I also highly recommend their DVD release R30 which features a 2004 concert from Germany that was quite good, plus the animated video featuring the Rush bobbleheads that they used during the concert's intermission is a total hoot.  The DVD set also includes some vintage concert footage and interviews.

One thing I've always marveled at is how Geddy Lee multi-tasks during concerts.  First off, he's the greatest living bass player on the planet (second only to the late John Entwistle in my book), and he also doubles on his phalanx of keyboards and bass pedals and such, all the while singing some fairly complex lyrics—something a little more complicated and thought-provoking than "I was born in a small town/And I live in a small town/Gonna die in a small town...".  Neil Peart is also a treat to watch hammering away on his gi-normous drum set—the damn thing needs its own ZIP code!  It's also been nice to see him rebound from the horrible double-whammy tragedy of losing his only daughter in a car accident and his first wife to breast cancer within less than a year of each other in 1997-98.

Another thing I always found refreshing about Rush is that they didn't exhibit your stereotypical Rock star behavior, and seemed like the kind of guys you'd love to just sit down and have a few beers with and talk about life and such.  Although guitarist Alex Lifeson's New Year's Eve drunken fisticuffs incident involving his son jamming (or trying to) with a house band at a Florida hotel a few years back did somewhat "shatter the illusion of integrity", they all still seem like really cool guys.

Getting back to the music, I've always been ironically partial to Rush's synthesizer period that lasted from Moving Pictures through 1987's Hold Your Fire, where the synths were more prominently featured on their records than the guitars.  I say ironic because I'm normally not all that big a fan of synthesizers, but when used in moderation, they can actually benefit a good band.  Power Windows from 1985 is my personal favorite Rush album of all-time, and 1984's Grace Under Pressure has also grown on me big-time over the years.  Roll The Bones and Counterparts from the early '90s aren't too shabby, either, as the band re-emphasized Lifeson's heavier guitar work.  And irony of all ironies, Rush fell prey in 2004 to the current trend of bands doing full albums of cover songs—this coming from a band who up to that point had released nothing but all-original material, apart from "borrowing" the riff from Cheech & Chong's "Earache My Eye" at the tail end of the live version of "Big Money" on A Show of Hands.  At least Rush has the good taste to do a couple Who covers ("Summertime Blues" and "The Seeker") as well as The Yardbirds' "Shapes of Things".

A little trivia for you: Geddy's Lee's given name is Gary Lee Weinrib, and his parents were Nazi concentration camp survivors in WWII.  His grandmother had a thick Hungarian accent and whenever she said his first name, it sounded like "Geddy", so it stuck.

Good day, eh?—My All-Time Rush Top 10:
10) "The Enemy Within" (1984)  Totally overlooked song that sounds very '80s, and that's not always a such bad thing...

9) "Red Barchetta" (1981)  Car songs always rule, and this one features some very Who-like power chords in it during the "wind in my hair/shifting and drifting" section.
8) "Xanadu" (1977)  A little longer than I'd normally like, but very sonic at times, and it holds one's attention throughout.
7) "Countdown" (1982)  Very cool account of a space shuttle launch, complete with actual NASA transmissions that Rush was very privileged to use—the space agency doesn't loan them out to just anybody.
6) "Working Man" (1974)  Far and away the best Rush song from that first album prior to Neil Peart's arrival.  And who among us doesn't like to "take a sip of an ice cold beer" after a long hard day?
5) "Face Up" (1991)  Cool song that gave me a little dose of inspiration during a down period in my life to get my shit together and lose some weight with the line "Still time to turn this game around..."  Guess I should listen to it more often, eh?
4) "2112" ["Overture/Temples Of Syrinx"] (1976)  The tune that really put Rush on the map, radio-wise.
3) "Turn The Page" (1987)  Song that more or less marked the end of the synthesizer era for Rush, but very cool stuff.  Interesting use of overlapping vocals from Sir Geddy here.
2) "Subdivisions" (1982)  Includes one of the three greatest synthesizer solos of all-time here, right up there with the one at the end of the Sniff 'N' The Tears underrated 1979 classic "Driver's Seat" and Del Shannon's "Runaway".
1) "Marathon" (1985)  Awesome headphone song that I nearly wore out the cassette I had of on my Walkman.  One of Geddy's best vocal performances ever, too.

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