Rush Rock The Key
Check out the gallery from the show right here!
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Rush. A very long time. So long, I had to go look it up on the interwebs: May 25th of 1975, in the Paramount Theater.
I was a Junior at Sammamish High School all of 16 years old, when a friend insisted I come with him to see KISS. “They’re the greatest rock band in the world”, he said. Dressed to Kill had just come out, and Rock and Roll All Night was one of the biggest hits on the radio, but I was getting heavily into my Progey-rock phase, listening to a lot of Yes, and I had just discovered Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, and I thought KISS were amateurish musicians (No, not you Ace Frehley) and mediocre songwriters at best, who needed the makeup and outlandish stage presentation to make up for it (I’ve warmed up to ‘em since). Still, he offered to buy my $7 ticket. After the show he said “Well? Were they awesome or what?”
They did put on a pretty good show, but my immediate reaction was “They were okay, but who were that opening band? Those guys were f***ing incredible!””Who, Rush? They sucked. They’re Canadians! What do Canadians know about rock music?” Quite a lot as it turns out, but for whatever reason events had always conspired to keep me from seeing them again. I’d always had to work, or didn’t have any money (seems I still don’t). It’s especially strange that I missed their next Seattle show when they headlined the Paramount in ’76 on the 2112 tour, considering how much time we spent listening to that record, rolling the seeds out of our lids on the Dark Side of the Moon gatefold, and playing air-drums along with the overture.
I did get to interview Geddy Lee when he released a solo album (My Favorite Headache) in 2000 while Rush were on hiatus after the tragic death of Neil Peart’s 19-year old daughter in a car crash and then his wife 10 months later to cancer (Neil went on a 55,000 mile ride on his BMW GS motorcycle, and wrote a book about it: Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road). Geddy looked for the next-best drummer he could find for that record, and settled on an old friend of mine, Soundgarden’s Matt Cameron. The three of us talked for what seemed like hours and Geddy, as most Rush fans already know, is about the sweetest guy in rock and roll, and funny as hell.
Fast forward almost 40 years, and Rush are Canada’s biggest rock band ever, one of the longest-running bands in rock history, and probably that nation’s biggest export next to shale oil, lumber, and B.C. bud. I took my daughter, ironically at the same age I was when I first saw them, and already a pretty good bass player. She was especially impressed that Geddy Lee plays with his fingers, never using a pick. She hates picks, but loved the show. “There sure are a lot of old people here though“. She knows all the words to Tom Sawyer. Their new album Clockwork Angels is the best they’ve done in some time. They opened last night’s show with a couple of radio hits, Subdivisions and The Big Money, then went into a long set of newer stuff I’m not altogether familiar with (The guy sitting behind us sang along loudly, knowing all the words to every song they did). Alex Lifeson is one of rock’s best guitarists, and Neil “The Professor” Peart was his usual awesome self, doing not one but two drum solos. He’s really the only guy who should be allowed legally to do them. I’m a drummer, and I hate drum solos. The new songs sounded great, but the crowd came to life toward the end when they dove into the back catalog, especially during an abbreviated version of 2112. My daughter went ape-s*** for Tom Sawyer, which is still new to her. Rush have always embraced new technology, and their stage show is a multi-media wonder, with a huge screen on which to show short movies and animations (which show off the band’s legendary sense of humor, but sadly included no Trailer Park Boys), they used pyrotechnics (fireworks and flame-geysers that seemed to come quite close to the 8 violin-viola-cello players who joined them in the second half…we could feel the heat halfway back and up on the side in the Key Arena), and elaborate “steam punk” sets. The refrigerators and chicken rotisserie that long ago replaced Geddy’s bass amp when he went directly into the P.A. system have given way to a huge fake popcorn popper and a prop “steam punk” dryer, but Geddy no longer pulls t-shirts from them to throw to the crowd…they’re tossed by the band as they come back from intermission (“We’re 1000 years old, and need to take a break!”, Geddy told the crowd.), and launched from a compressed-air cannon by the crew. Rush rocked the Key, their crowd clearly love them to death, and FINALLY they have been nominated to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (For the first time the hall is allowing fans to vote, Rush are cleanly out in front of the next two nominees: Deep Purple and Seattle’s own Heart). You can vote for them at www.rockhall.com
My ONLY complaints about the show:
- I think modern arena-size sound systems and their operators are sometimes too enamored with sound technology which often doesn’t match the music they’re working with. Subwoofers create low frequencies that are more felt than heard, and are great for hip-hop and pop bands that use recorded backing tracks I guess, but a drum set is an acoustic instrument, and the thundering boom that came out of Neil Peart’s kick drum often drowned out the intricacies of the playing of what is arguably rock’s greatest living drummer. No offense, but this show would have sounded much better in a small club with me running the P.A.
- The show didn’t happen in summer, squashing my fantasy of riding my motorcycle up the North Cascades Highway and meeting Neil Peart on the road: He often ditches his tour bus in favor of of his trusty BMW GS.