Concert Review: Rush (Irvine, California, July 25, 2007).
“We are young….” (Geddy Lee, July 25, 2007, performing “Dreamline”.)
Not so much. With each member in his 50s, youth is not a hallmark of Rush today. Singing songs in excess of 20- and 30-year vintage can catch the artist in an anachronism, which happened Wednesday night at Irvine’s Verizon Ampitheater.
The simultaneous upside and downside of this maturity, however, is a body of work that even a “three-hour tour” cannot remotely exhaust. Given the lack of time to cover the Grand Canyon-like expanse of material, the group made some surprising choices in its 26-song set-list.
First, Rush played nine songs off its decent, but not distinguished, new record, Snakes & Arrows. Even more remarkably, the group bundled them into two blocks, one of which spanned five new songs in a row, immediately following an intermission. While the crowd was generally receptive, the mostly unfamiliar tunes planted many in their seats, slowing the concert’s momentum. I understand, and even appreciate, the group’s desire to remain relevant and not become an aging, touring “jukebox” of yesteryear’s hits, but this heavy reliance on the new record was excessive.
Second, Rush unnecessarily covered an old song from another artist (Eddie Cochran), “Summertime Blues.” The song was contagious—I was developing a case of it myself this summer evening listening to it.
Given the zero-sum game of song selection, this odd choice simply caused an omission of a more worthy candidate, which I understand was "Distant Early Warning" (played at the Hollywood Bowl a couple of nights earlier), among many, many other potential selections. Indeed, entire records were mostly abandoned—some mercifully (Roll the Bones and Test for Echo) and some not (Farewell to Kings and Power Windows). Nevertheless, Rush dug deeply into Permanent Waves, performing muscular versions of "Entre Nous" and "Natural Science," and Moving Pictures, including my favorite, "Limelight," as well as "Witch Hunt" complete with torch-like effects. Also, the underrated Hold Your Fire was ably represented with an arresting portrayal of "Mission."
Aside from set-list issues, the show did not skimp on accoutrements. While Rush has somewhat pioneered the use of videos (and purloined pyrotechnics from others), it has perfected the strategic use of videos. In fact, some videos were used to not only introduce the band, but also some songs, and then the lyrics were expanded or explained through visual imagery. On top of the videos and pyrotechnics were lights and lasers to round out the ocular experience.
While Rush’s hallmarks have always been stunning musicianship, complexity and philosophical lyrics—all tending towards seriousness, the band seems to want to add a new one in its advanced age: frivolity. Many of the videos were comedic, including a "South Park" cartoon introducing "Tom Sawyer," as well as the opening and closing video sketches. I'm not sure what to make of this new "wrinkle" (pardon the age pun), but the intergenerational crowd didn't seem to mind.