Love them or hate them “seminal album tours” have become a feature of the gig landscape over the last few years. In a way it is no surprise that one of the most enduring and prolific rock bands, Rush, have caught the nostalgia bug with their Time Machine Tour, which started in North and South America in 2010 showcasing their 1980 album Moving Pictures.
Strictly speaking though, Moving Pictures is hardly a seminal album having come some nine or ten years into the bands career, although it is perhaps their most significant and a favourite of many fans. It remains one of the most loved albums in their output even though its now 31 years old. Another significant difference between the gigs on this tour and your average album showcase is that the Moving Pictures section is only a small part of the whole set. As usual the band provided their two part extravaganza, no support just three hours interrupted only by a small break..
A feature of Rush gigs is the sandwiching of the live performances between films which generally involve significant numbers of puns and double entendres and members of the band in outlandish dress and exaggerated foreign accents. The Time Machine tour opened tonight with a scene in a diner where Neil Peart was an Irish New York cop, Geddy Lee a moustachioed diner proprietor and Alex Lifeson complete with fat suit playing a musical scientist from “the old country”. His time machine that they had hidden in the cellar transformed an embryonic polka band Rush seen on film into the live band taking to the stage with the distinctive opening riff of Spirit of Radio.
The stage set is the usual quirky mix of Heath Robinson crossed with sci-fi back-lines. Previously amps have been disguised as chicken rotisseries and washing machines. Tonight Geddy’s amps took the form of a massive sausage machine which was fed half way through the first set by a chef carrying a tray of rubber chickens. Alongside Geddy there was a life size model of the time machine, “the Gefilter” from the opening film showing their typical attention to detail. Add the usual pyrotechnics and it was pretty much a classic Rush outing.
All Rush gigs try to set the scene early on, which is quite important as the LG Arena crowd were sporting their usual “go on then impress us” attitude and the band had to work pretty hard through the opening songs Spirit of Radio, Time Stands Still and Presto. These are firm favourites of most fans although comments from early in the tour seem to indicate that some may have liked to have seen more established songs in the early part of the set., but you cant please all the people all the time.
There is always some doom-sayer on some forum somewhere at the end of every Rush tour saying this will be the last, that drummer Neil Peart doesn’t want to tour any more, they’re all getting too old and so on. It was a relief when bassist Geddy Lee announced during his recent visit to London for his Hall of Fame induction that there was to be a European leg of the tour. Even more significantly, the bands performances on stage including tonight’s, show that they seem to have the same appetite for playing live and seem to have the same camaraderie and playful approach to their music that they always had.
Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee have been friends since childhood and its remarkable how this still comes over on stage. They have been playing some of these songs for nearly forty years, yet they still seem to be able to get the desired response from even the flattest of audiences in the end. I think their personalities and the way they come over has always been a big part of that and tonight was no exception.
They carried on with the hard work with Stick it Out from the Counterparts album and newer songs Workin’ Them Angels and Faithless from Snakes and Arrows and the single from last year BU2B which will appear on the forthcoming Clockwork Angels album “whenever we get round to finishing it”. At this point the crowd seemed to wake up.
The first half may not be the best constructed set of songs in terms of building the atmosphere but Freewill, Marathon and Subdivisions kept the tempo up and kept the crowd on their feet. Subdivisions saw the band leave the stage, Geddy Lee explaining that they were all so old that they needed a break before the second half.
Cue another trade mark film with daft costumes and a horrendous pun involving three Beer Keller barmaids, large jugs of beer and comments about stopping “moving pitchers”, (ho ho). Alex Lifeson as a hot dog munching 80’s impresario complete with shiny suit and spiky mullet counted the live band into Moving Pictures which sped by with Tom Sawyer, Red Barchetta and Witch Hunt really standing out.
The final track on the album Vital Signs is a bit of a weak closer and actually that’s how it proved live. There was a pregnant pause before the crowd realised that the album section is over and Geddy was almost apologetic tonight and somewhat dismissive moving straight on to the other double a side from last year, Caravan.
The second set closed with favourites Close to the Heart, more than half of 2112 and a storming Far Cry from Snakes and Arrows. The encore was made up of a speedy La Villa Strangiato and a quirky version of Working Man, the first half of which was delivered in a reggae style before crashing into the classic rock style of the original. This actually really suits Geddy’s voice as it is now. A feature of tonight’s performance as has been the case over the last few years is that his trademark screech has been transformed into a more heady falsetto, presumably so that he can keep hitting the high notes.
The band display such showmanship and precision that sometimes the little things actually stand out like faulty Taurus pedals or Alex Lifeson clowning around and forgetting where he is in the odd song, but the excellence of the musicianship came over above everything. A personal point as a Rush fan is that I’d like some people in the crowd to stay and listen to the newer stuff or songs they don’t know rather than going for the frequent pee and beer breaks or choosing to talk all the way through songs and in particular Neil Peart’s drum solo, which is actually more of a one man big band performance these days.
The performance wasn’t actually over when the band left the stage, as the final layer of the sandwich in the form of another short film kept the crowd entertained as they were pushing for the exits. The two guys from the American “comedy” I Love You Man turn up in the Rush dressing room courtesy of fake access-all-area passes. Cue some lame comedy comments about the number of women in the crowd and some cringe worthy fawning about how great Rush are. Its actually the third time I’d seen this film and it didn’t get any better on the third viewing and although other people obviously like it I’m not sure it was worth the effort. I don’t know if it was all that funny in many respects, but some of the sentiments echoed the average geeky Rush fan – myself included.
Personally I’d rather the Scottish Geddy aka Harry Satchel from the Snakes and Arrows tour telling everyone to go home, so he can get back to eating his chicken, but you cant have everything!
So was it worthwhile doing Moving Pictures in a seminal album style? Well in my opinion it was a tremendous live experience and sandwiched between all the other material gleaned from a lot of their other albums it sounded fantastic. Personally I’d like to see them return to the Snakes and Arrows formula and have the next tour based on a lot of the newer material. So hopefully the Clockwork Angels tour will be with us within the next couple of years in spite of what the doom-mongers may say.
The Spirit of Radio
Time Stand Still
Stick It Out
Workin’ Them Angels
Leave That Thing Alone!
The Camera Eye
Closer To The Heart
2112 Overture / Temples of Syrinx
La Villa Strangiato (w/ Polka Intro)
Working Man (w/ Reggae intro)