October 22, 2012
Brooklyn, New York
Rush, the ultimate power trio, or at the very least the one that has outlasted all others, continues to show signs of relevancy 44 years after its original formation. Their new album, Clockwork Angels, kicks serious ass in an old school Rush way and may be their best recorded effort since Moving Pictures.
Lee, Lifeson, Peart.
Each distinctly brilliant, each dedicated wholly to their crafts as composer, musician and performer. Together they make up a sort of Futurist collective—men formed out of the great and progressive Canadian constitution.
Respected by musicians, idolized by fans, and loathed by critics (Robert Christgau, the self-proclaimed “Dean of American Rock Critics,” once spat that Rush was “the most obnoxious band currently making a killing on the zonked teen circuit.”), Rush is a power trio colossus that’s weathered the storms of commercial success and seesaw popularity and has come out the other end as stately veterans who consistently operate entirely on their own terms. The trio has kept steadfast to their mission of creating highly intelligent and complex future shock rock for whomever chooses to listen or, in the words of drummer Neil Peart, “we make music we like, and hope other people will like it, too.”
Rush seemingly couldn’t care less about contemporary trends, summer pop charts or the latest “YouTube kid comes from nowhere pens candy coated pop ditty winds up on America’s Got a Warped Sense of Talent” kind of phenomenon.
So yeah, they couldn’t really give three shits.
The members of Rush certainly aren’t writing songs for whatever constitutes as radio/satellite airplay these days, and they’re definitely not in that Keith Richards-cool sort of category. A buddy of mine once said “Rush are the coolest nerds ever,” and the Rock File concurs wholeheartedly and loves them with zero strings attached and no ironic hang-ups or cynicism whatsoever.
Take that “Dean of Critics.”
And so, the gentlemen in Rush on this particularly parabolic night in Brooklyn, were flawless, like an unsentimental version of newly fallen Canadian snow, a book without errata…a perfect new wine, vintage 2012.
Vocals, bass, keyboards.
Sometimes all at once. Yeah, he’s that good.
The stark and wiry birdman from Ontario with a register so impossibly high you often wonder if he’s real, as in human. That nerdly black hair, cut at impossibly non-mathematical angles—the geometry of uncool. The black Fender Jazzman bass that can only be Geddy Lee’s bass, which he is constantly schooling, as in he can’t get enough out of the damn thing, poking and prodding it like it doesn’t want to work properly, or it’s refusing to somehow comply with the master’s touch. But of course he corrals and slays the damn beast and there’s no one on this planet that can stand next to Lee and say, “Oh that’s nothing dude, watch this…”
He can do anything he damn well pleases on bass. With ease, and style, and grace.
Geddy keys the keyboard intro to “Subdivisions” and you think maybe he’s the persona non grata, the wide-eyed boy from the suffering burbs the song so vividly evokes. The guy nobody got in school, or tried to get, but somehow didn’t care as long as he had his music, his band, his way of looking at the skewed and merciless world that spun helter-skelter around him.
Rush launches “The Analog Kid” and Geddy suddenly transforms into a starman being seduced into a fire-red pentagram. You think of your older brother who had that fuzzy black-light starman poster hanging in his room—a kind of den of late 70s cool: a cracked but still working red and green lava lamp; shiftless stacks of records and 8-track cassettes in a particularly unordered non-system; ashtrays filled with half-joints and blue feathered roach clips; thick wall-to-wall orange-bronze shag rugs that cast lazy brown hues across the whole room—and how you used to sneak in there to borrow Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Déjà Vu and noticed there was something really fucking weird, but also so very fucking cool, about the boy/man being pulled into that five-pointed continuous star-like black hole image, and what did that mean anyway and was there like, some evil force this poor naked kid couldn’t escape, much like your own eternally angst-ridden teenage body, and was this kid a spectre speaking directly to you about all your dreams and hang-ups? What if he just like, turned around?
Shit man, what is that thing and what does it mean?
The blond bomber guitar shredder extraordinaire who makes beaucoup amounts of crazy-insane guitar faces, but of course he’s allowed to because he’s that fucking awesome, as in rad, killer, bitchin’, righteous, gnarly. His last name is Lifeson for god’s sake, and what does that tell us? It’s like he contains all known metaphysical representations of life right there inside those hands, the original Son of the Affirmation.
And burned into your mind is the image of a younger Alex pogoing across the stage in a red jacket, yellow tie, white shirt getup, holding that impossibly white double-neck Gibson SG and categorically tearing up the intro chords to “Xanadu” from Exit Stage Left. He sounds like a bird in a flight pattern so chaotic it’s as if it were just blasted by a passing jet engine blowing wind patterns at thousand feet intervals—a rabid torrent of notes, continuous sheets of sound.
Alex goes headfirst into “The Spirit of Radio” and it’s every song blaring out of every lost generation muscle car in every suburban parking lot in every village/town/city in all known hemispheres. Kids in El Caminos with coolers of Milwaukee-brewed cold foamers and unwashed stringy hair flowing in that magisterial “freedom that may only last the length of this song but hell it’s so worth it” kind of late afternoon feeling. Complete and utter teenage abandon. A fist-pumping rally-cry of a riff that makes all others in the history of recorded rock music sound listless and weak.
The song is the riff and the riff is the song.
Countless young guitar gods in training have spent hours/days/weeks getting “The Spirit of Radio” riff together and locked in and down and showing it off to their friends and saying, in a showboaty sort of way, “I can play the opening riff to ‘The Spirit of Radio’ so what have you got and maybe we should form a band—can you get a bass?—and we can play in my folks’ garage after school cause they don’t get home till late and do you know anybody with a drum set?”
Lifeson misplaces nary a note. Not a single one. He just doesn’t fuck up, ever. Hell, he’s an Officer of the Order of Canada for fuck’s sake, he’s not allowed to fuck up. Canadian territory is at stake here people!
So during “The Spirit of Radio” I’m reminded of this scene which I haven’t thought about since at least the 80s:
There was a Rush tribute band back in my high school days called Power Windows or some such shit like that. My friends and I, all wannabe “musicians” who couldn’t play a note that wasn’t nailed to the floor, would go watch these guys rehearse in the drummer’s garage after school and sometimes on Saturdays. As far as we knew, these dudes were completely nailing the unreasonably tight-fitted fills in “Tom Sawyer”—are those rototoms that dude is playing, or like, octobans?—and the scalene-hammer intro riff and the thorny-as-all-hell-broke-loose solo parts to “YYZ.” Yeah, they were wicked good. And these cats were scrawny little shirtless 17-year-olds with bad complexions wearing black and white checkerboard Vans and impossibly high-tight-and-white 501s being somewhat overwhelmed by the plain physicality of their instruments—the guitarist playing a white Yamaha SG and the bassist playing a black Carvin 5 string—but putting in the work and total commitment and somehow pulling this shit off just the same. They were totally uncool to everyone else but us—as in we thought they were heroes—and they got like no chicks at all.
But I mean, who plays Rush covers anyway?
The Ghost Rider. Also known as “one of the greatest drummers to ever pick up wood and sit in the engine room and tear through songs like they were tiny stepping stones on the way to some larger and ultimate form of the truth.” So he can play anything he wants, and often does, usually in the same song, or the same measure of said song. Peart is only behind John Bonham as the one, the only, the best there ever was and ever will be. Maybe he’s Bonham without the booze–whatever, he’s a space-alien batterie masher who is also impossible to classify, quantify or compartmentalize.
And so none of it really matters because he’s Neil Peart and he can do whatever the hell he feels like in terms of like, bashing the shit out of a bunch of wooden cylinders wrapped with plastic and thin flying saucer-like sheets of bronze. The dude came to play with a steely focus and an unending enthusiasm for his instrument.
Blink and you’ll surely miss something.
Peart is often derided for his lack of feel, but that’s just total and utter nonsense. His sense of the groove is certainly different than the other heavy duty masters he’s usually compared to (see Bonham, Moon, Baker).
Peart is the clock master. He’s the steampunk machinist locked down and bolted into the universal ontological grid, the prime meridian, the mean time. Peart’s stealth-perfection drum sound is all refined steel-mill proficiency. He’s the timekeeping drill sergeant, an immovable standing stone in a band of careening, cantankerous and wiley riffs. Monstrous paradigm shifts, refracted prisms of verses, choruses, bridges, middle eights, etc.
Peart bends gravity’s rainbow at will. His rhythm—ace; his engine—rocket fuelled; his motion—constant.
And so then Peart destroys the solo section of “Headlong Flight.” He’s thoroughly cracking and raging within the confines of his kit, which is actually shaking. No fucking shit, as in point of fact, the thing is afraid.
And you wonder how music this complex is so damn popular? Look at all these people freaking out! What universe is this?
And so the ultimate disrespected-by-critics but loved-by-fans-and-musicians band forgets that they’re “uncool” and goes about the business of being one of the most killer power trios ever, throwing down like none other on this glorious night of elite musicianship and total domination.
The Rush standard is impossibly high—they’ve set the controls for the heart of the stratosphere—and on this night they have crossed their own precipice, a line they could have only created for themselves.
And so there’s that.
The Big Money
The Body Electric
The Analog Kid
Where’s My Thing?
Seven Cities of Gold
Red Sector A
The Spirit of Radio
2112 Part I: Overture
2112 Part II: The Temples of Syrinx
2112 Part VII: Grand Finale
Artwork by Hugh Syme