Rush played the Greensboro Coliseum Saturday night for the first time since 1986. (photo by Ryan Snyder)
For connoisseurs of fine hyperbole, there’s no more a consistent source of amusement than Rush’s fan base. Neil Peart is the best drummer alive. Rush puts on the best live performance of any band ever. Geddy Lee’s voice is tolerable. It’s unacceptable to their collective esprit de corps to put any other artist before Peart, guitarist Alex Lifeson and bassist Lee, so the three members of Rush have thusly been cast as gods in the eyes of their uncompromising fans. Anyone who disagrees is simply unable to adequately comprehend the awesomeness unfolding in their eardrums.
Problem is, occasionally some fans forget to see Rush as just ordinary men like any others. When their idols contravene the values with which they’ve been imposed in the slightest, there’s little room for understanding. Such was the case when Rush postponed the Greensboro date of their Time Machine tour from Friday to Saturday, for reasons unan- nounced. On a few Rush online forums, a lot of posters chose indignation over speculation, some demanding an explanation from the oth- erwise mum band, and others simply criticiz- ing them for their silence. What wasn’t often discussed was that Rush might have a very legitimate reason for the postponement of the Greensboro Coliseum date and subsequently, the Toledo show — which they absolutely did, and respect of their privacy is essential in this case.
All seemed to be forgiven when Rush took the stage Saturday night, their first perfor- mance at the Greensboro Coliseum in 25 years. Roughly 40 percent of the throng proudly displayed some sort of Rush tour paraphernalia — T-shirts, bandanas, jackets. If not from this tour, then one from Vapor Trails, the 30th anniversary tour, or another that’s yet to be retired from the rotation. The funny thing about a Rush show is that no one seems aware of Jeremy Piven’s diktat in the college-stoner classic PCU to not be “that guy” — a gender-appropriate statement because ladies and Rush don’t really mix. If there were any in the house then they were there because they found love over the third part of “La Villa Strangiato” long ago.
A gigantic, astonishingly lucid LCD screen hung over the stage littered with steampunk-ish stage props bearing alchemic symbols as a farcical intro video starring the band members themselves introduced “Spirit of Radio.” The six-minute clip was classic Rush in-humor; not as clever as fans pretend it to be, mostly just bad accents and body jokes. Likewise, there’s nothing funny about the way the band plays. These guys can absolutely shred. You hear stories about the prodigious sound created by these three guys in a live setting, but you don’t realize how effortless they make it seem until seeing it up close. There’s a cold pragmatism to how Lee and Peart approach their hyper-methodical and hopelessly complex rhythms, but Lifeson’s pyrotechnics are reproduced in his body language. The crowd matched him move for move; dozens within throwing distance at any given spot in the arena lurched backwards wailing on invisible Les Pauls. Air guitar seems to be the primary outlet for elation among the Rush faithful, though many were gifted enough to switch to air drums on a whim when the moment called for it. Even less typical was air bass, as proper portrayal calls for some degree of dexterity in the joints of the fingers, which aging usually takes care of.
With Rush’s all-time classic Moving Pictures looming in the second set, it was a superlative evening to relive entire routines patiently developed in garages and basements on pretend instruments. This tour marks the first time the band has ever played the album in its entirety, and though it contains some of their most played material, it’s also the band at their most gratuitously indulgent. Yes, we know that “YYZ” is the Morse Code call sign for Toronto Pearson International Airport, though it hits like the Hammer of God live. And we understand that “Red Barchetta” is a weighty, anti-fascism allegory based on a Richard Foster short story. It’s also a moment when Geddy’s voice most plainly shows the withers of aging. There are funny little asides to most every Rush song that drive most people crazy when hearing them recounted for the millionth time, and Moving Pictures seems to have one for every track. When there’s not a show-goer in your ear explaining them to you as a first-timer, the band kindly reminds you via LCD backdrop.
But it’s the little things that bring the Rush crowd back for their 14th, 15th and 26th shows. Peart’s drum kit doing a 180, allowing him to work the back half for “Love 4 Sale.” The cutesy polka intro to “La Villa Strangiato.” The nod to Rush’s reggae influence in their encore of “Working Man.” All are quirky bits that feel designed as message-board fodder. Take it away, and it’s still three extraordinary players playing pretty good music, and really enjoying themselves while doing it. You could easily argue that there’s better music out there, that there are better performers than the three guys on stage Saturday night. Just don’t say it with a Rush fan in earshot.