Pack up all those phantoms
Shoulder that invisible load
Keeping on riding north and west
Haunting that wilderness road

Ghost Rider
(Music: Lee, Lifeson Words: Peart)
©2002 Core Music Publishing (SOCAN)

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Last Wednesday evening, as you’d gathered from a previous entry, I was at the NEC arena in Brum watching a Rush concert. As luck would have it, I missed the first 20 minutes of their performance.

I can read. The ticket said doors open 6 pm, performance at half 7. What I didn’t know was that they didn’t have a support act, hence the tardiness. And to think that I’ve always turned up early at every other gig before this. I missed Spirit of Radio. They were playing Animate when I was buying a tee and a programme book. Thankfully none of the the other tunes I like hadn’t been played yet.

They played two main one and a half hour sets with a half-hour intermission in the middle. Rush hasn’t played any UK dates since 1992. With this being their 30th anniversary tour, and a 12-year absence, Neil Peart, Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee were making up for lost time. The band appeared very laid back (they only time they dressed funny was in the 80’s, but then, who wasn’t then?). Geddy has reduced his Maytag backline from three to two, with an addition of a sandwich vending machine you’d see when you are on-call at an NHS hospital. Alex is still using his Hughes & Kettner setup. Neil’s DW drumkit is new, apparently with gold-plated hardware and new Sabian Paragon cymbals he helped designed.

As with any prog rock band, it’s the instrumental ones that keep my ears (and eyes) extra peeled. Unlike ultra-precise bands like Dream Theater (the neon is seen to be convulsing with derision now), Rush makes precision playing seem less contrived. Neil Peart has the best drum chops known to (wo)man. Think of a human version of a quartz crystal. That’s Neil “The Professor” Peart. The band is a mere three-piece, yet they sound big. There is a keyboard which Geddy plays occasionally, while filling in the bass lines with his Moog Taurus pedals. Otherwise, keyboard sequences are triggered by the three band members, while playing their individual instruments. Proof that men can perform multi-tasking as well.

I didn’t quite like the first half (I did miss a third of it), apart from Roll the Bones, Red Barchetta, Bravado and The Trees. The last song in that half, One Little Victory, had a funny CG sequence of a dragon and a cigar in the background (hence, the pyro pic as seen in that entry). The second half was so much better (apart from their Grace Under Pressure stuff, so Kajagoogoo). The band started off with Tom Sawyer and it was Rush heaven from that point onwards. The drum solo was pretty similar in parts (The Rhythm Method, O Baterista… i don’t know what Neil is calling his solo that evening[1]), but you just have to marvel at his drumming. Peart’s solo performance encompasses the many styles of drumming known to man. African, Middle Eastern, Latin, swing… mind-blowing! Horn section samples were triggered in time with the drumming which followed by Neil jamming with a 1920’s swing band at the end of the solo.

Alex and Geddy did a couple of acoustic renditions of Resist and The Yardbirds’ Heart Full of Soul while Neil takes a breather. Most of the greats like the downtuned 2112 and Xanadu were dealt soon after. For an encore, they did an excellent rendition of Robert Johnson’s Crossroads (the Cream version).

I have been to a few reunion gigs (Black Sabbath, er… Duran duran). Rush may have gained a few inches around the waist, but they sounded fresh as they were in 1974 (which reminds me that the likes of Ozzy should call it a day and stay at home with the family!). They surely rocked the NEC Arena that night.

NEC Arena, Birmingham set 15.9.2004: R30 Overture (Medley: Finding My Way / … more) / The Spirit of Radio / Force Ten / Animate / Subdivisions / Earthshine / Red Barchetta / Roll the Bones / Bravado / YYZ / The Trees / The Seeker (The Who cover) / One Little Victory // Tom Sawyer / Dreamline / Secret Touch / Between the Wheels / Mystic Rhythms / Red Sector A / [1]Drum Solo – Der Trommler / Resist / Heart Full of Soul (The Yardbirds cover) / 2112 Part I: Overture / Part II: The Temples of Syrinx / Part VII: Grand Finale / La Villa Strangiato / By-Tor & The Snow Dog / Xanadu / Working Man // [Encore] Summertime Blues (Eddie Cochran cover) / Crossroads (Robert Johnson cover) / Limelight