Star-Studded Crowd Toasts Rush at the Forum for Last (Ever?) Show: Concert Review

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Richard Sibbald
A farewell to kings

The beloved band wraps 40th anniversary tour in Los Angeles with a powerful and memorable career-spanning set for the ages.

Rush closed out its 40th anniversary tour on Saturday night (Aug. 1) at the Forum in Los Angeles, marking the band’s 25th show at the venue and bringing what could be its final tour to a triumphant end (the band has hinted that it may be their last time on the road, though nothing has been made official).

The iconic Canadian power trio consisting of Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart performed a career-spanning show that touched on 16 of Rush’s 20 studio albums (the exceptions: 2004’s cover album Feedback, 1996’s Test for Echo, 1989’s Presto and 1985’s Power Windows) in reverse chronological order. The monumental two-set concert featured radio friendly hits, deep album cuts, fan favorites and songs they haven’t played in more than 35 years.

The band took the stage at 7:52 p.m., after a short two-minute animated video of their four-decade progressive rock journey. As the crowd roared, Rush kicked the evening off with “The Anarchist” and quickly followed it up with “Headlong Flight,” both off of their most recent album, 2012’s Clockwork Angels. Bassist and vocalist Lee then greeted the L.A. crowd and invited them to “travel backwards” with the band through their catalog.

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After perfectly blazing through an arsenal of songs from their newer albums, including “Far Cry,” “One Little Victory” and “Animate,” the band showed a lighter side by dialing up the title track of their 1991 effort Roll the Bones, which featured an accompanying video showing Game of Thrones' Peter Dinklage, Paul Rudd, Jason Segel, Tom Morello and The Trailer Park Boys rapping along to the song’s hip-hop verse. The crowd really dug the theatrics, and the energy in the room ramped up as fans rapped along with the stars.

After a searing version of “Distant Early Warning,” the lone track pulled from 1984’s Grace Under Pressure, Rush was joined by violinist Jonathan Dinklage (the brother of actor Peter). The special guest is no stranger to performing with the band, after being a part of the string section on their Clockwork Angels Tour, which marked the first time Rush ever used outside musicians onstage. He joined the trio for the rare ballad “Losing It,” marking only the fourth time the band has ever played the song from the 1982 album Signals live. Rush ended the first set with an urgent and powerful version of “Subdivision,” also peeled off the Signals album.

Similar to jam bands, Rush fans proudly boast about how many shows and tours they have seen. During the set break, one fan bragged he had been to 30 Rush concerts and hasn’t missed a tour since 1981’s Moving Pictures. He also recalled seeing them in the second row at the Forum back in 1985; now 20 years later he was catching what could be their last concert. The show was also the inaugural concert for the future Rush fan base. One father brought his 6-year-old son because he had to have him see the band in case it was the last time.

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It is that kind of across-the-board fandom that represents Rush and its legion of dedicated and intensely loyal fans, among them a slew of artists and celebs who turned out for the Forum show, including the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Chad Smith, Tool’s Danny Carey, Foo Fighters’ Taylor Hawkins, (all there to honor legendary Rush drummer Neil Peart), Robby Krieger and South Park creator Matt Stone. At one point during “Red Barchetta,” Jack Black who was surprisingly left alone on the floor danced around playing air guitar. Indeed, if there's one concert where air playing is encouraged air guitar, air bass, air drums it's a Rush show.

When Rush returned to the stage for the second set with a new stage setup, gone were the stacks of Hughes and Kettner amps behind Lifeson and the washing machines behind Lee, in their place a wall of Marshall guitar amps and Ampeg bass amps that were slowly removed through the set by stage hands wearing R40 jumpsuits. They launched into “Tom Saywer,” (which featured a video intro from South Park character’s band Lil’ Rush). The song got a huge thunderous reaction from the capacity crowd, and fans got to see a comedic side of the band during the song as the video screen showed Alex Lifeson playing bass, Geddy Lee on drums and an out-of-place and awkward looking Neil Peart on guitar perfectly synched to the live song.

Photo by Richard Sibbald

As the band proceeded backwards down the number line with each song, their stage also was set to rewind. The aforementioned stagehands constantly changed the look of the show. By the time the band took the stage for the encore, Rush simply played in front of a red curtain with one guitar amp and one bass amp on the stage that was once full of hardware. The curtain lifted at one point showing a high school gym with a basketball hoop on the video screens, taking fans back to the band’s start.

Among the many highlights of the nearly three-hour concert were deep cuts like “Jacob’s Ladder,” from 1980’s Permanent Waves (the song had been on the shelf for 35 years prior to the R40 tour). The band also wowed fans by playing the 18-minute opus “Cygnus X-1” and the equally epic “Xanadu,” which featured Lee and Lifeson on double-neck instruments. The two switched off between the two necks with amazing precision and Peart also pulled double duty, playing the tubular bells and spinning around to crash down on his drum kit right on time in the majestic song.

During an emotional performance of one of the band’s biggest hits, “Closer to the Heart,” Lifeson and Peart had a lengthy conversation, gesturing and laughing back and forth, sharing a moment before Lee joined them to rock out the ending of the classic track from 1977’s A Farewell To Kings. During the ballad, the arena was a sea of lighters and cell phones as many fans held up 2112 light-up scepters, which they clearly bought earlier at the merch stand.

The band ended the second set with another fan favorite “2112,” before returning for a four-song encore that included the rarity “Lakeside Park,” which the band hadn’t played on tour since 1978. The show ended with the head-banging “Anthem” and two songs from their eponymous debut “What You’re Doing” and “Working Man.”

At the end of the show, Peart stood on his drum riser and took photos of the crowd, before joining Lifeson and Lee for one final bow. Lee then addressed the crowd: “Thank you Los Angeles for 40 amazing years," he said. "I do hope we meet again sometime.” The parting message left longtime fans with hope perhaps Rush will return to thrill again.

Set List:

Set One:

The Anarchist
Headlong Flight
Far Cry
The Main Monkey Business
One Little Victory
Roll The Bones
Distant Early Warning
Losing It (featuring Jonathan Dinklage)

Set Two:

Tom Saywer
Red Barchetta
The Spirit of Radio
Jacob’s Ladder
Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres
Cygnus X-1: Book I: The Voyage
Closer to the Heart
2112 Part I: Overture
2112 Part II: The Temples of Syrinx
2112: Part IV: The Presentation
2112: Part VII: Grand Finale


Lakeside Park
What You’re Doing
Working Man

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that South Park creator Trey Parker was in attendance.