Rarely has a rock tour been more perfectly named than Rush’s Time Machine jaunt. Now well into its second U.S. leg — the band played the exact same show at Orange County’s Verizon Amphitheatre in August — the tour is a vivid representation of past, present and future.
The Time Machine showpiece — the front-to-back performance of Rush’s 1981 magnum opus Moving Pictures — plays right into the theme: The album’s six non-instrumentals touch on history, living in the moment or the days to come, and oh how those songs have held up.
“Tom Sawyer,” the lead single 30 years ago that has become a classic rock classic, features a toned-down vocal from Geddy Lee’s near-Chipmunk wail that had introduced Rush to mainstream U.S. FM listeners the year before on “The Spirit of Radio” (which opened the show). Lee’s vocals have been furthered tempered by time and road wear, but he held his own throughout Wednesday’s show, the second of two nights at the Gibson Amphitheatre in Universal City. And his facial expressions still make it look like he’s working harder than he is — heck, harder than anyone ever has.
And it was during the Moving Pictures run that his vocals and bass playing combined with Alex Lifeson’s freewheeling, underrated guitar and Neil Peart’s genius drumming to create 40-plus minutes that had to thrill even the most jaded concertgoer and sent the faithful into a state of unapologetic air-instrument bliss.
Lee tossed some extra bass nuggetry into “Red Barchetta,” which recounts an illegal joyride in the future days of the Motor Law. And Peart added a little percussion to the guitar intro of “Limelight,” a cautionary tale of “living in a fisheye lens” and not being able to “pretend a stranger is a long-awaited friend.”
Many of the Rush hardcore will tell you they prefer the lesser-known Side 2 of Moving Pictures, and it’s understandable why. “The Camera Eye,” too long for radio play at 11 minutes but among the band’s greatest nonhits, was performed flawlessly, augmented by flashpots and fireballs. “Witch Hunt,” whose eerie admonition of repeating history remains sadly topical, was given a crowd-pleasingly faithful read, accentuated by Peart’s purposeful stickwork. “Vital Signs” — so futuristic during the early Reagan years but rendered quaint, even anachronistic, by Progress — remains a killer live, and Lifeson grinned like he knew it.
The Time Machine theme was much more than just Moving Pictures, though its completion drew the wildest cheers. The Canadian trio visited 13 of its 19 studio records, including two rocking songs with dramatic intros from the forthcoming Clockwork Angels, of which Lee said, “We’re gonna finish that album before the end of the year and get it out.”
It was during the latter Clockwork track — “Caravan,” already a staple on satellite radio — that Peart took his obligatory solo. It was the same one he’s played during the entire tour (and did three weeks ago on Letterman) but still an audiovisual wonder. He attacked the snare, pummeled the toms, played some synth percussion and, straight-out impressively, changed tempos while maintaining the original speed on the hi-hat. Kids, don’t try this at home.
Other highlights included the trio’s simultaneous near-soloing on “Marathon”; the bass gymnastics, guitar runs and drum fills — all preordained — of “Freewill,” which fogged the memory of last year’s sluggish run-through at Irvine; and “Closer to the Heart,” which sounded more like the 1981 live version that was released as a single — until it made a quick tempo shift into a rare mini-extended jam.
This show again begs the question: How long can Rush — one of the ultra-rare ’70s bands whose classic lineup has remained intact, with all three members in their late 50s — stay in its prime and play at this level of precision and near-perfection? Time will tell.
There was a noticeably large female contingent, unusual for a Rush show, and no shortage of parents with kids. Great songs and great playing cross genders and generations, the latter keeping with the Time Machine theme. Coming full circle, the band ended with the most popular song off its first album — from 1974. And after the Rush-requisite ending skit on the video screen, people filing out were heard talking about the new album — and the next tour. Past, present, future.
1) The Spirit of Radio
2) Time Stand Still
4) Stick It Out
5) Workin’ Them Angels
6) Leave That Thing Alone
8) BU2B (Brought Up to Believe)
12) Tom Sawyer
13) Red Barchetta
16) The Camera Eye
17) Witch Hunt
18) Vital Signs
20) Closer to the Heart
21) 2112 Overture/The Temples of Syrinx
22) Far Cry
23) La Villa Strangiato
24) Working Man