Review: Still Modern Day Warriors, Rush Rocks Newark And MSG

A critical and personal review of Rush’s 40th Anniversary concerts. By Jared Max.

Rush is the greatest rock band in the world.

Period.

The end.

Oh, if it were only this simple. But, Rush and simplicity rarely meet. And, the same goes for most Rush fans; just ask one to describe his love for his favorite band. Not only will the response be passionate, it will be thorough. And, the lengthy explanation will likely include multimedia — lyrics, photos and YouTube links. I know. I am a Rush fan.

Saturday, June 27
Prudential Center – Newark

Date circled since I bought a trio of tickets in late January, I was busting with anticipation — unable to sleep the night before the concert.

Wishing to be completely surprised by the setlist and stage show, I had avoided all Rush related media since the tour began in Tulsa, nearly two months before. Spoilers, I wanted none. Still, I bugged my Rush friends for help.

“Dude, can you please just go to rushisaband.com and let me know (a) how many albums are represented, (b) if there are any songs from the last 20 years that had never been played live but are on this tour, and (c) if there are any rarities that would drive me to giddiness.

“Oh, would you just look at the setlist already, for crying out loud!” barked a friend. But, I did not succumb.

Photos: Rush Rocks Newark And MSG

I joined my friends before the concert for food and drink at Hell’s Kitchen Lounge — a few blocks from the arena. Rush music was omnipresent. Bartenders looked on in amazement; it appeared like they had never been surrounded by so many middle-aged men singing hard rock songs.

Twenty minutes before the show was scheduled to begin, my friends and I left the restaurant and walked in the pouring rain to Prudential Center.

Security wands. Escalators. Group selfies. And, then It was showtime.

A montage of quintessential Rush song snippets accompanied an animated movie — projected onto a large curtain covering the stage, as well as several video boards. I was too busy screaming and jumping to focus on the film.

I turned to my friend, Fred Bennett and predicted that the opening song would be “Headlong Flight”. The first time I heard this track, I envisioned it as a concert anthem. It seemed an ideal opening number. But, Rush picked something else from the “Clockwork Angels” album to kickoff this unique 40th anniversary concert. They chose “The Anarchist”.

“The Anarchist”??

For several months, a few years ago, I used the musical introduction of this song, mixed with daily sports highlights to open the first hour of my “Maxed Out” radio show. I had never figured it for a Rush concert opener, though. Maybe, I was on to something. Still, t seemed an odd choice. But, I was encouraged by its unpredictability.

When the next song began, I short-circuited.

Knowing that my friend Curt Chaplin was at his first Rush concert, I quickly turned to his ear to recite the lyrics of the chorus. I wanted Curt to have some context to the song, as the speaker system was producing a less-than-crisp sound. But, I was so excited to hear “Headlong Flight” that I flubbed the lyrics, transposing them. So, I just yelled in his ear, “This is a great ______ song!”

This moment marked the first of many times during the concert that I wanted to access my phone to show Curt lyrics to follow.

Thirty-plus years ago, I discovered that listening to Rush is a different experience — elevated to another plane — when able to digest every word. But, because their music can stand alone in greatness, one does not need to know which words are sung to revel in the moment, necessarily. Still, I was trying to help my friend make each sensation a little bit stronger.

When Rush began to play its next song, I noticed that somebody had walked onto the stage and removed an amplifier from behind guitarist Alex Lifeson. Then, I noticed more furniture being removed and other pieces added by guys in red custodial suits, wearing R40 prints. This was part of the show!

As Rush progressed deeper into its past, on-stage props reflected each musical era. It became a buffet of visual stimulation — undoubtedly, appreciated by all the young kids (mostly boys) whose fathers had brought them to the concert. Of course, there were laser lights, too. And, not just green ones.

I asked Fred, “Are we going to see the inflatable bunny rabbits from the 1990 “Presto” tour?” Sorry, no bunnies. No songs from “Presto”, either. And, while this was one of a few ever-minor disappointments to me, Rush’s surprise golden nuggets outweighed everything.

One of these gems surfaced early in the concert in the form of a melodic tune that Rush had never played on previous tours. From 2002’s “Vapor Trails” album, “How it Is” is a musical juxtaposition. Lyrically, it is dark, raw and potentially grueling. Sonically, it is an uplifting, crystal-blue winding brook. Elements combined, it is one of my favorite Rush songs from the last few decades; it registered the evening’s first “Now I can die in peace” moment.

For others, this occurred later in the first set when the band played another lesser known song, “Losing It” from the 1982 “Signals” album. To accompany the band, Geddy introduced “New Jersey’s own” Jonathan Dinklage, a violinist from the previous tour’s “Clockwork Angels Ensemble” string section. The performance brought the crowd to a frenzy. The song sounded beautiful.

The first set ended with Rush’s 1982 classic “Subdivisions”. I watched the video screens to marvel at Geddy’s talents. Keyboards, bass, vocals, synthesizers. All in the same song. I could watch this on a loop for hours and remain mesmerized.

Following intermission, a series of outtakes from Rush’s previous tour movies were shown. This is where Rush meets simplicity. Humor. Hysterical laughter. A fine palate cleanser to prepare for the dense material that was coming.

Rush in Newark 6/27/15 (Credit: Jared Max)

Rush in Newark 6/27/15 (Credit: Jared Max)

While I am a fan of largely every Rush period — aside from their mid-1980s heavy digital age —it seems that the largest group of Rush fans desire the band’s oldest, heaviest material. For these folks, the second set was like Christmas morning.

After “Tom Sawyer”, “The Camera Eye” and “The Spirit of Radio” delivered their bombastic, celebratory bangs, the band entered its sci-fi epic stage. Geddy and Alex broke out their double necks. Suddenly, It felt like 1970-something — images before me seen only on video, previously. I relished this unique presentation.

After they played my favorite sections of “2112”, Rush left the stage and returned for an encore that began with a song that few Rush fans, if any, ever believed they would see performed live again. For the first time since their earliest tours, Rush played “Lakeside Park”. Yes, another “Now I can die in peace” moment. But, it felt bittersweet. As Geddy’s voice shrieked in an unpleasant tone (even for Ged), I wondered if the song could have been performed in a lower octave.

As the show neared its end, the stage was deconstructed to conjure Rush’s original concerts at a high school gymnasium in their native Toronto suburbs. A disco ball speckled light through the hockey arena. Workers held standing light posts. We were back in Willowdale, listening to the guys in their early 60s play as they did as teenagers.

What a night. What a spectacle. What an appetizer for another course.

Monday, June 29
Madison Square Garden – New York City

A college football fanatic, my father wrote me, “For you, getting to see Rush twice in one weekend is equivalent to me going to an Alabama-LSU game on Saturday night in Tuscaloosa, and then Ohio St.-Michigan State in Columbus or East Lansing on Monday.

Ears and eyes still hungover from Saturday night’s smashing show in Newark, I was excited to to share the R40 experience with an old friend who is also a fellow sportscaster. My buddy, Russ Thaler and I have shared our love for Rush since high school. With every album that was released, we compared notes. There was always a song or two that we turned the other onto.

Jared Max an Russ Thaler before Monday’s concert (Credit: Jared Max)

Jared Max an Russ Thaler before Monday’s concert (Credit: Jared Max)

In 1994, we attended the opening night of Rush’s “Counterparts” tour in Pensacola, Florida before driving through the night back to Russ’ house at Emory University.  While he was working as a TV sportscaster in Washington, D.C., we connected for Rush’s R30 concert in Bristow, Virginia. This time, it was R40 in New York City.

“Hey, Russ, wouldn’t it be something if every day, there were this many people walking around these streets wearing Rush shirts?” I joked as we looked to find a place to eat before the show. We got dinner across the street from the Garden and discussed Rush — as well as our careers. But, we kept going back to our favorite band. I wondered, “How could Rush present this concert in its backwards order, chronologically, and still make the second half more balanced?”

Because the earliest Rush material is so dense, so thick, the back end of the concert lacked ebbs and flows of a standard Rush show.

This concert was not entirely reflective of Rush’s range. It was mostly one flavor. Plenty of meat, not much roughage.

The concert set reminded me of a rodizio steakhouse; tasty cuts of beef were served in relentless fashion. While I love these restaurants, the dining experience works best with a side plate filled with lettuce. In this case, I might have preferred a song like “In the End” instead of “Anthem”. A couple of softer numbers like “Resist” and ”The Pass” could have been part of the first set. “Bravado” too.

As far as complaints go, they end here.

Every night, Rush brings it like it is Game 7.

The band’s performance on Monday surpassed Saturday’s show in Newark.

Aside from the audio quality being significantly better at MSG (including a clean opening guitar in “Closer to the Heart”), the band’s energy was spectacular. They were loose, relaxed and in a groove. I had never seen Geddy look happier on stage. After Violinist Jonathan Dinklage matched Rush’s spirit on “Losing It”, he received affections from the audience and Alex, who hugged him and kissed his cheek.

Madison Square Garden before the concert (Credit: Jared Max)

Madison Square Garden before the concert (Credit: Jared Max)

Following “Animate” and “Roll the Bones”, I remarked to my friend how these songs meant so much to us because they were released while we were in college — our most developmental years, cerebrally. This topic made me wonder if our favorite songs are based on environmental factors. Rush-food for thought.

Slightly disappointed that I did not get to hear “How it Is” again (replaced at MSG by “One Little Victory”), the band played two classics that were absent in Newark. “Red Barchetta” and ”Distant Early Warning” never sounded better.

Less penetrating, more pleasant to the ears than in Newark, “Lakeside Park” sounded better, vocally, too. And, “Headlong Flight” sent me into hysterics like a teenage girl back in the early 60s, screaming for the Beatles.

Like the show in New Jersey, the video close-ups complimented the audio experience perfectly. To see all this machinery making modern music — with such  precision — while hearing its results kept my eyes transfixed on the video screens. Russ and I joked that our experience as sportscasters — viewing several screens simultaneously with live action — allowed us to maximize Rush’s live show.

Toward the end of the concert, we moved from our original seat location in section 224 to the back corner of the stage. This perspective provided a unique view that nether of us had ever seen.

We shuffled behind the projection screen and snapped several photos and videos. Through “2112” and the encore, we danced and sang and acted like we were in college. The guys who rocked their brains out on stage did the same.

What a Rush!

——————————

Jared Max is a multi-award winning sportscaster. He hosted a No. 1 rated New York City sports talk show, “Maxed Out” — in addition to previously serving as longtime Sports Director at WCBS 880, where he currently anchors weekend sports. Follow and communicate with Jared on Twitter @jared_max.

Setlist

June 27, 2015
Prudential Center – Newark, NJ

  1. The Anarchist
  2. Headlong Flight
    (with “Drumbastica” mini drum solo)
  3. Far Cry
  4. The Main Monkey Business
  5. How It Is
  6. Animate
  7. Roll the Bones
  8. Between the Wheels
  9. Losing It
    (with Jonathan Dinklage)
  10. Subdivisions
  11. Tom Sawyer
  12. The Camera Eye
  13. The Spirit of Radio
  14. Jacob’s Ladder
  15. Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres Part I: Prelude
  16. Cygnus X-1
    (The Voyage Part 1 & 3 with drum solo)
  17. Closer to the Heart
  18. Xanadu
  19. 2112 Part I: Overture
  20. 2112 Part II: The Temples of Syrinx
  21. 2112 Part IV: Presentation
  22. 2112 Part VII: Grand Finale

Encore:

  1. Mel’s Rock Pile starring Eugene Levy
  2. Lakeside Park
    (only first half played)
  1. Anthem
  2. What You’re Doing
  3. Working Man
    (with “Garden Road” outro)

Setlist 

June 29, 2015
New York City

  1. The Anarchist
  2. Headlong Flight
    (With mini ‘Drumbastica’ drum solo)
  3. Far Cry
  4. The Main Monkey Business
  5. One Little Victory
  6. Animate
  7. Roll the Bones
  8. Distant Early Warning
  9. Losing It
    (with Jonathan Dinklage)
  10. Subdivisions

Set 2

  1. No Country for Old Hens
  2. Tom Sawyer
  3. Red Barchetta
  4. The Spirit of Radio
  5. Jacob’s Ladder
  6. Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres Part I: Prelude
  7. Cygnus X-1
    (The Voyage Part 1 & 3 with drum solo)
  8. Closer to the Heart
  9. Xanadu
  10. 2112 Part I: Overture
  11. 2112 Part II: The Temples of Syrinx
  12. 2112 Part IV: Presentation
  13. 2112 Part VII: Grand Finale

Encore:

  1. Mel’s Rock Pile starring Eugene Levy
  2. Lakeside Park
  3. Anthem
  4. What You’re Doing
  5. Working Man

 

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