Rush bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee performs one of the band's biggest hits, 'The Spirit of Radio', which opened the concert Wednesday night at the Huntington Center.
The Blade/Lori King
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You know it’s a Rush concert when there’s a 10-to-1 male-to-female ratio at the show, no one uses a drum solo as an excuse to go to the bathroom, and you’re treated to some of the finest musicianship in rock and roll.
Nearly 40-years-strong, Rush returned to Toledo Wednesday night at the Huntington Center and proved to be one of the few remaining groups of the classic-rock era that can claim to be musically relevant. The trio of Geddy Lee (bass, vocals, keyboards), Alex Lifeson (guitar), Neil Peart (drums) is as musically tight as any arena-rock band from any era, and, save for a few warm-up songs for Lee’s now medium-high octaves, was in peak form as it ripped through a nearly three-hour show including intermission.
The band is calling this The Time Machine Tour because its set list features some of its older, signature songs, like “Working Man,” “Closer to the Heart,” “Subdivisions,” “2112,” and the entire “Moving Pictures” album from 1981, which itself is a near-greatest-hits record with “Tom Sawyer, “Red Barchetta,” “Limelight,” and “Vital Signs.” The album also features a 10-minute synthesizer-driven piece, “The Camera Eye,” which hasn’t been performed since 1983.
All of those songs were highlights for the crowd of nearly 6,300, which never left its feet. But just as warmly received were two new tracks — “BU2B” and “Caravan” — from a forthcoming album, as well as three songs from the previous record, 2008’s “Snakes and Arrows.”
After a clever and funny video intro involving all three members of the band, Rush launched with “The Spirit of Radio,” a crowd-pleasing opener if ever there was one. This was followed by “Time Stand Still” — about as close to a pure pop song Rush has ever recorded — and the keyboard-light “Presto,” both of which seemed largely out of place in the rock-driven set list. Rush has evolved beyond its synthesizer-fueled ’80s period; Lee didn’t even touch a keyboard until the 10th song of the show, “Marathon.” These days Rush is all about returning to its power-trio roots, a direction the band began with 2002’s “Vapor Trails.”PHOTO GALLERY: Click here to see more photographs from Wednesday night's Rush concert
Still, some synth-heavy songs remain vibrant for the band and its fans, such as set one closer “Subdivisions,” its ominous deep bass-opening synth just as fresh as when the song was released nearly 30 years ago.
The heart of the show clearly was “Moving Pictures,” which opened the second set. All of the album’s tracks, save “Camera Eye,” remain in frequent concert rotation, so it’s not as if fans were seeing something new. But hearing the songs packaged together end-to-end gives the illusion, at least, of something out of the ordinary. Certainly the band played each song as if it was new to the set list.
The hallmark of any Rush concert has always been the band’s skilled musicianship. Even on a bad night, the trio can play with anyone. Throughout the concert the band exceeded that reputation as Lifeson and Lee traded virtuoso licks on nearly every song while the drum machine that is Peart crashed away on a mammoth percussion kit in perfect rhythm. His nearly 10-minute drum solo was a work of showmanship and art, and remains a highlight of any Rush performance. When’s the last time you could say that about a rock drummer? Clearly Peart is no mere mortal, but a drum god-among men.
The Rush fandom devoured everything they were served of course; most songs were received with fist pumps, singalongs, and enough camera phone activity to power a small city.
A thunderous version of “Working Man” capped the show and featured some nimble guitar work by Lifeson, who at 57 may be playing at his highest level. The same could be said of the other two members as well, each of whom is also in his late 50s.
Lee acknowledged early in the show that Rush hadn’t performed in Toledo in nearly two decades. He left, promising to hopefully “see you again somewhere down the road.” Here’s hoping Canada’s trio of working men find their way back much sooner this time around.
Contact Kirk Baird at email@example.com or 419-724-6734.