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Concert Reviews

Rush – Live at the Molson Ampitheatre

They. Are. Canadian.


Molson Amphitheatre, Toronto

July 17, 2002

Rush - Vapor Trails As we look back on Canada’s cultural history in the second half of the 20th century, certain heritage moments stand out: the opening of Tim Horton’s first doughnut shop in Hamilton in 1964, Paul Henderson’s Summit Series-winning goal in 1972, Captain Canuck’s first comic in 1975, and of course Geddy Lee’s singing of the ice-cold classic “Take Off” from Bob & Doug McKenzie’s 1981 album The Great White North.

The assembled hosers (and a few hosettes) at Rush’s concert on Wednesday night didn’t really need to be reminded of their nationality by the Molson Amphitheatre’s "I AM CANADIAN" signs, and neither did Lee; the iconic power trio which he fronts had been warming up for this show for three weeks by touring the east coast of the United States.

"It’s so very nice to be home again," the bassist announced to a rapt crowd. "I no longer have to speak American. I can speak Canadian, eh? So, like, this is a song from our new album."

Lee was referring to Rush’s 17th studio effort. The arrival of Vapor Trails is cause for general rejoicing, especially since drummer and lyricist Neil Peart is back playing music after the death of his daughter and wife in the late ’90s. One may quibble with the spelling of "vapour," but the album is as strong a collection of music as the band has produced since their hair was longer and the moustache was a viable accessory for people other than NHL referees, porn stars and Burton Cummings.

Rush’s ’70s oeuvre was primarily composed of surging anthems which, while exploring the philosophical precepts of objectivism and Camusian existentialism, could easily double as Viking battle songs. Although they settled back and enjoyed their spoils in the ’80s, the Vikings are now back with a vengeance, except perhaps a bit leaner and better equipped — the live renditions of new songs like “One Little Victory” and “Secret Touch” were streamlined and searing.

Lee’s singing is itself an act of heroism: With every note, he pushes his voice boldly up into regions where no male larynx has gone before. Alex Lifeson grimaces as he attempts to play his guitar so fast he breaks the sound barrier and all notes blur into a cosmic chord. The stoic Peart continues to make the difficult look harder: Surrounded on all sides by tom-toms and cymbals, he hammers away with an impressive co-ordination, a yeoman’s determination and the stamina of an ox on Viagra. Hercules may have had to wrestle the Nemean lion, but he never had to drum for a three-hour Rush concert.

The crowd responded in kind, showing that should synchronized air drumming become an Olympic event, teams from Toronto would likely capture all three medals. And truly, there are few more touching sights than a phalanx of beefy white, middle-aged men bellowing along to epics such as “By-Tor and the Snow Dog” until their faces are the colour of the maple leaf and they have anointed patrons around them with lager while imitating Lifeson’s phallic guitar-shredding.

But don’t think that Rush themselves are unreconstructed alpha males — they saw fit to do housework during the show, as a trio of Maytag dryers spun constantly beside them on stage. Just before their encore, the band flung out the contents into the audience: red and white tour T-shirts.

The dryers also appeared, in animated form, on a Jumbotron-like screen behind the band which alternated between enormous close-ups of the action, video snippets, and trippy big-budget screen-savers. It may have been difficult to discern the significance of, say, computer-animated Polkaroo look-alikes floating in space to accompany “Leave That Thing Alone,” but Rush temper their earnest toil with goofiness, especially while playing their angular, straight- faced instrumentals. In “La Villa Strangiato,” Lifeson intoned an odd narrative about dreams in a voice reminiscent of Canadian cartoon chihuahua Ren. Later, during “Cygnus X-1,” Lifeson executed a few choice polka moves as Lee shuffled along; even Peart was moved to smile.

The trio closed with their first single, “Working Man,” a riff-heavy assault in which Lee sings, "I get home at five o’clock, and I take myself out a nice, cold beer." By the end of the night, no high concepts were necessary, and the band deserved a stubby or two — everyone in the stadium was cheering an evening’s worth of overpowering sound and hard work. Rush saluted the crowd, and took off.

Bob & Doug would be proud: It was a beauty way to go.

— Originally appeared in The National Post, July 19, 2002


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