EmptyRush doesn't throw a lot of curveballs live, which made its 2004 tour such a kick — or a kick in the teeth to grizzled purists. That 30th anniversary jaunt included covers and a sit-down acoustic segment, both firsts for the band.
But at the sold-out Nokia on Tuesday — Rush's second visit to L.A. in less than 10 months — it was back to business as usual. And business is good.
The Canadian prog-metal mainstays delivered a long, loud, well-paced show filled with humor, theatrics and typically virtuoso playing. Rarely straying far from recorded versions of its songs, the band kept up its intensity for nearly 31/2 hours — and the floor crowd never sat, except during intermission.
Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart have been making it look so easy for so long that it's tempting to take them for granted. But the band continues to look forward, playing only three songs from the '70s and a slew from its year-old "Snakes & Arrows" album, among its strongest in many years. (It's touring behind the just-released "Snakes & Arrows Live.") Among the 2007 album's standouts were the lead single "Far Cry" and "The Larger Bowl," introduced by Bob and Doug McKenzie via the giant video screens.
Lee's voice broke a couple of times during the opening "Limelight" but held up well for the rest of the show, though it often was muddied amid the din. He played hit-or-miss with the highest notes, drilling them during "Freewill" early on but not even attempting the grimacing screech of "The Temples of Syrinx" three hours later. His bass playing remains impeccable — as enjoyable to watch as hear.
Wearing his unsmiling game face, Peart drummed on his 360-degree kit with a perfectionist's calculation. His storied fills mostly followed the albums smack for smack, but he's a little less showy at 57 and made less use of his most exotic percussion instruments. His nine-minute solo during the 2008 Grammy-nommed instrumental "Malignant Narcissism" devolved into a tape-accompanied swing thing. And after a late one-two of some "2112" and "Tom Sawyer," many of the air drummers in the mostly male crowd looked spent.
Just another brilliant Rush concert. It's time to lose the snarky excuses and put these guys in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The band returns to the Nokia tonight. (partialdiff)