REVIEW: RUSH Snakes and Arrows 2008

Rush returned to the Nissan Pavilion continuing their 2007 tour supporting the latest studio release, Snakes and Arrows. As the group has done with several other tours, selections from the performances of the current tour was released as Snakes and Arrows Live in April of this year.

Like other groups that tour arenas, Rush had all of the big production toys at it’s disposal including laser lights, computer controlled spots, super troopers, pyrotechnics, smoke machines, and projection screens. With the exception of the overuse of the strobes that were at the performer’s eye level, the arena add-ons were used conservatively.

The closed circuit big screens are necessary for those far away to get some close-up views, but surprisingly, they weren’t used consistently throughout. They were important for the pre-recorded video shorts, which paced the show well. The skits featured the band members as well as Jerry Stiller and the South Park Kids and added charm to the show through the band’s self-effacing humor. The group’s musicianship and solid performance nearly renders these extras unnecessary, but they were used tastefully and added to the performance.

Aside from the near cult following that Neil Peart receives, the strength of this band is its songwriting. It was apparent from the audience response that even though all the members of the group are known for their virtuosity on their instruments and widely respected as players, their songs are what draws the crowds. The group doesn't suffer from a lack of interest in their new material as much as can be the fate of other established acts that have been at it for over thirty years. The big hits are what most came to see, but many were singing along with the material off their new album as well.

The show opened with their hit from the eighties, “Limelight,” and was followed by some proven crowd pleasers such as Freewill, Red Barchetta, and Trees. These were mixed with newer tunes like Larger Bowl, Between the Wheel, and one of their latest instrumental offerings, Main Monkey Business. It was obvious that the group was having a lot of fun with the performance while at the same time remaining focused during some of the more intricate moments. This was apparent during Mission, a recent addition to the set list of this tour. This piece begins as a standard progressive rock-pop tune, but soon leads to moments of orchestration and arrangement that go beyond simply being a bridge or interlude. Peart shifts between set playing and percussion which includes an electronic vibraphone. The part for this as well as the timing between the other players was very intricate and exciting to watch.

Freewill similarly demonstrated the group’s chops as the instrumental section broke into an entertaining solo duel between guitarist Alex Lifeson and bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee. Performances in the past years found Lee behind the keyboard for most of the show splitting time between keyboard and bass duties with the bass still strapped on at the ready (all the while performing the lead vocals). For most of the tunes at this show, the group was relying mainly on the power trio set up. The less prominent keyboard parts in some songs were triggered by foot pedal at the microphone set up away from the keyboard.

There were no opening acts for this performance, and the band took an intermission before continuing the three and a half hour concert. The group returned to perform some more recent songs such as Far Cry and Working Them Angels. Even though these were lesser known songs than their radio hits, the audience was carefully following Peart’s playing. Many next to me in the audience demonstrated their knowledge of the cymbal crashes and tom fills as they “air drummed” the parts. Rather than simply playing a beat, Peart creates drum arrangements that are more than just background or rhythm for a piece. Some of their songs even contain essential hooks in the drums and percussion. Lifeson also had his share of fans. His solos were often applauded in the same manner that an audience would praise a soloist at a jazz concert.

Halfway into the second set, the much anticipated drum solo is performed. Peart has taken the role beyond the obligatory cliche and performed a musical tapestry of drums, percussion, and electronics. Some parts were set against sequenced and prerecorded instruments. The crescendo of the solo was Peart performing Count Basie’s One O’Clock Jump to a prerecorded big band.

The group then performed Hope, 2112 Overture, and the radio hits Spirit of Radio and Tom Sawyer. The conclusion of the show was the anticipated encore of three songs ending with the immensely popular instrumental YYZ.

The band performed with the accuracy expected of a group that has been on tour this long and performing together for over thirty three years while not appearing to be fatigued at the conclusion of this long tour.

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