I saw Rush for probably the last time on Thursday night.
I’ve been meaning to write about it for a few days (obviously) but just hadn’t cut out the necessary time until now. Sorry for the delay. As a fun game, I will be hiding 8 Rush song titles throughout this post. See if you can spot them all! (Neither “Spirit of Radio” or “Xanadu” count, since I’ll be talking about those specifically.)
When the show was announced, I was reluctant to shell out for it. The Who was already scheduled to be here the week before Rush and my loyalties lie with Townshend. Even though it’s the 40th Anniversary tour and the band has been stated by their manager to be “somewhere between possibly and probably” never touring again, I was still thinking I didn’t want to go all that badly… But my friend Tim was very excited about it and determined to get us (“us” being Tim, my brother Dave, and myself) to the show, so tickets were purchased. Even as it was happening I was kind of trying to text my way out of it. “The most I’m comfortable spending is $80” and then it was more and Tim said I could pay whatever I could and he was cool with it. Tim’s a hell of a good guy. And in hindsight it turns out he knew better than I did–I would’ve kicked myself for a couple of decades if I’d missed it. I was wrong to Resist.
I have to admit that I still wasn’t that excited in the days leading up to the show. I was still bummed from the fact that The Who postponed (and have YET to reschedule) their show in St. Louis, and I was only so-so on going to see Rush in the first place, having already seen them a number of times and not being 100% sure if I fully believe the hype that they’re going to stop touring after this one. But as it got closer, I started to listen to some of their stuff to at least get In the Mood and I started remembering why I love the band so much. By Thursday morning, I was excited. All I had to do was get through work and wait for Dave to show up (we met at my office) so we could go meet Tim at the arena. My jeans and Chuck Taylors (a part of the Rush uniform, as far as I’m concerned) in tow, we set off…
We got in just fine and found the seats. It was a pretty good view.
Dave and Tim both spent a year’s wage on getting something to eat at the venue. (I’m exaggerating, of course…but I imagine anyone who goes to more than one Blues game and also wants a hot dog each time has got to be making Big Money to do it.) We wandered around to try to find a halfway manageable merch booth–an impossible feat before the band starts. While we were on that Mission, I bumped into my friend Scott. We’d found out several years ago that we had Rush in common and I had been wondering if he was going to the show. It was good to see him. We took a picture together. He hasn’t sent me a copy yet. 🙂
Okay…Okay…I know. Cut to the Chase already… You don’t care about me walking to my seat…how was the SHOW?
Rush does not ever disappoint.
The opening video montage was delightful and then they tore into some of their latter-day stuff. The theme of the concert was a “going back in time” thing, so they started with songs from the “Clockwork Angels” record (their most recent) and ended with stuff off their first record. It was a cool theme with plenty of rewards for being a long-time fan. Dave and I ventured out in the early part of the set (missing the first of Neil Peart’s TWO drum solos) to finally buy our merch. I bought the football (or hockey?) jersey. It was expensive, but still less than if it had said “Rams” or “Cardinals” on it, so I’m happy with it. I love the merch-booth at a rock show. You stand there and figure out which little Totem will be coming home with you to remind you of that night for decades to come… I’ve started buying the pricey stuff for the bands I especially like…
We got back to our seats just in time to start going back in time with the band. As the show rolled on, the stage set behind the band was transformed by stagehands to slowly look like older stage sets the band has used over the years, eventually looking like a high-school gym with big, blindingly bright lights on the sides of the stage that made Geddy impossible to see for the last three songs for our section…but nonetheless cool. They hit a lot of the beats you expect and want them to hit, threw in a few surprises, missed a few things you wished they’d have had time for…but at a three hour show, it’s hard to complain that they didn’t do some song you love when they did a bunch of other ones you also love.
…and they played “Xanadu.” They played ALL of “Xanadu.” I’ve never seen them do that. Both Alex and Geddy broke out double-necked guitars and the midi-effect started. I’m glad I was sitting down for that, because it probably would’ve knocked me over. The midi hiccupped briefly at the start and I think it threw Alex a little off his pacing for the opening solo, but as soon as he got it back, the band ripped through the piece with the kind of elegance that only Rush can produce. It was mesmerizing. The musicianship required to pull that off is mindboggling. When the song ended, Dave and I looked at each other and I said the only thing I could think to say, “….ridiculous!” 🙂
The band also hit on the crowd-favorite “The Spirit of Radio,” of course. It’s always a lot of fun. There’s kind of a clap-along part that it’s always great to be a part of. And it’s gratifying to know that “Spirit” was the first Rush song I ever learned how to play on the bass and they’re still doing it, and everybody loves it. Dave commented to me later that he was briefly sad after that song because “that song’s just instant joy for me when they play it and I’m probably never going to see them do it again.” (It might be Dave’s happy-place.) My response to that was that I didn’t get sentimental about any of it ending…because I had already thought it was over almost 20 years ago, and everything we’ve gotten since has been a gift.
For those who are unaware, Rush almost threw in the towel a few years back. Drummer Neil Peart is widely considered to be the greatest drummer EVER (and I find it hard to disagree with that). But there was a time when he set down his sticks and no one was sure that he was ever going to pick them up again. Back in 1997, Rush had just concluded a tour when Neil’s daughter was killed in a car accident. Less than a year later, Peart’s wife would die of cancer. At her funeral, he said to his bandmates, “consider me retired.” And there was no thought of replacing him. You don’t replace Neil Peart. And per Geddy Lee in the “Beyond the Lighted Stage” documentary, “I don’t want to be in Rush without those two guys.” The band and the fans thought it was over. And no one could blame Neil for walking away.
Neil didn’t just walk away. He drove as far away as he could, setting out on a motorcycle journey that lasted him 55,000 miles. Think of that. During that journey, he met a woman who he would later marry, and with whom he had a child in 2009. And if that were the end of the story and he stayed retired, there would STILL be no one blaming him, and we’d all be happy for him…but thankfully, along that journey, he also came out of retirement in 2001. The resulting record “Vapor Trails” in 2002 was not my favorite Rush record. (It took me close to 10 years to come to the point that I don’t absolutely hate it and actually really like three of the songs.) However, knowing that the guy who had every right to walk away eventually walked back home was inspiring-not just as a fan, but as a person.
So when Rush plays “The Spirit of Radio” or “Xanadu” or whatever else for the last time in my town, there’s no way for me to be sad about it. All I could think was, “This never should have happened. It is IMPOSSIBLE that this happened…and that I’ve lived through all I’ve lived through since 1997 and I’m here, and they’re here, and I LOVE this song…this is incredible.” No sadness, for me. Just gratitude.
And I guess that’s important to write about too… Most of the time, I do a bad job of realizing it when I’m happy. I usually know in hindsight… The next day or the next week I’ll think about something I did and realize it was fun, but I often miss it in the moment. So in the past year, I’ve been trying to get better about realizing I’m happy WHEN I’m happy. Just to take a moment to make Time Stand Still and say, “Oh! This is happy. I’m feeling happy. Well isn’t this nice?” On Thursday, I more than once realized the smile on my face and the feeling in my chest and had occasion to think, “Well isn’t this nice?” That’s one of the things Rush does for me. They make me happy, and they make me appreciate being happy. And it would’ve been a shame to miss that–Tim was absolutely right to get those tickets.
After the show ended, we dropped Tim off at his office (he’d ridden the Metrolink there, but was wisely reluctant to ride it back at night–which is totally understandable). Afterward, because my phone’s GPS is an idiot, we ended up taking a confusing back-route to the highway and drove by a personal landmark. We were on Morgan Street and my brother heard me say, “Holy shit, I think this used to be the Bernard Pub…yeah, you can see where the sign used to be!” And I was 20 years back in time remembering playing there and seeing other bands there. I have a vivid memory of sitting with Dan Gorry, both in Rush t-shirts from the “Test for Echo” tour, talking about playing the bass and seeing the show. I couldn’t have asked for a more fitting end to the night than to have that memory. (Isn’t that nice?)
So…that was it. That was (possibly to probably) my last Rush show. And it was great. And it was worth it. I’ve been a fan for 20 years and when you get to sit in a crowd and watch them play, every moment of that was worth it…even though I’ll probably never listen to the “Feedback” EP again because I think covers-records are a waste of time. Even if I regularly have “but I just can’t stand his VOICE!” conversations with friends who don’t get it. Even if it makes me a gigantic nerd that I can still play all of “Red Barchetta” and “Limelight.” Even if…whatever… It was worth it.
If this is the end for Rush, all I can do is Wish Them Well and say thanks. Only the Who has been more amazing. And I think both bands would be okay with me saying that.