Review and Photos by Andy ArgyrakisLet me start off this concert review acknowledging that there are two types of people that listen to progressive art rockers Rush. First, there are the die-hard fans that know every word to every song, own every album, and see every tour when the band comes to their neck of the woods. Most everyone who trucked out to the United Center on Halloween Eve for the second leg of their Vapor Trails tour clearly fell into that category (while the handful of casual onlookers I met in the concourse admitted they were dragged along by a spouse or significant other). Second, there are those who've tried to keep up with Rush's musical and thematic evolution over the years, and although they acknowledge the trio's prominent presence, they just aren't swept away by the band's series of overblown jams, percussive ramblings, and conceptual abstractions.
Even though I fall into that second category of listeners I've always contested that any concert experience should be able to draw attendees in regardless of their interest and familiarity level of a band and at least curve them towards becoming a fan upon departing. After sitting through Rush's two set/three hour marathon concert, I can't honestly say that I'm a convert, nor can I fully embrace Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart's series of intelligently constructed yet incredibly intangible musings.
Before you stop reading my thoughts and start sending the hate mail claiming I'm an obnoxiously ignorant writer, please hear me out and make sure to keep reading. (Despite my preliminary round of lowlights, I also included a fair amount of shining moments to the group's credit). Starting the show with the '80s era defining hit "Tom Sawyer" wasn't exactly the most intelligent first push of a pawn for Rush as many fans hustled and bustled into the stadium, tromping over other patrons while frantically trying to find their seats. Besides just the general lights out chaos a concert can bring, Rush would have best unleashed the classic once they settled into their groove for the evening. In fact, it took Lee the first few verses and choruses of the song to warm up his vocal chords, and it wasn't until midway through "Distant Early Warning" that he got his full bearings on the gargantuan stage. Aside from the subsequently jolting version of "New World Man" and the textbook arena rocker "Free Will," the first half of the show was bogged down with pointless filler and pretentious tendencies.
Rush toted new material from Vapor Trails like it was the cream of the crop in their vast catalogue, bombarding fans with "Earthshine," "Ceiling Unlimited," "One Little Victory," and their latest single "Secret Touch," all of which seemed to get lost in the shuffle. As if David Leonard's noisy mixing job on the album wasn't overbearing enough, the United Center sound system had Lee's vocals cranked up to indecipherable wails while the instrumentation rambunctiously echoed around him amplifying the original versions' unpleasantness. Such a sound level didn't exactly help the cause of the early '90s cut "Roll the Bones," which in addition to coming across muffled and muddy, sounded insipidly dated and was marred by tasteless video screen projections of a rapping skeleton. Similarly annoying were the many times Rush went off on extended instrumental tangents, quite often soloing as long as a hippie jam band while airing an overly ostentatious demeanor. Out of all three of these musician's musicians, Peart was the most self-indulgent nestling in nearly 10 minutes of cerebral percussion arrangements with minimal regard for any of the band's agendas but his own.
Thankfully, the group switched gears following the extended showoff segment to perform an acoustic version of Test for Echo's "Resist," providing fans with a much-needed stripped down break and few moments of tolerable sound clarity. The audience was even more grateful to hear Rush dust off several of their deeper album cuts that haven't received as frequent concert coverage, including "The Trees" (backed by the on screen atmospheric imagery of a forest) and the epic encore cut "By-Tor and the Snow Dog." The more traditional and somewhat predictable "The Spirit of Radio" and "Working Man" acknowledged Rush's ability to stray away from such album oriented rock faire, but were still applauded as appropriate closers for both the initial performance and encore segment respectively.
Regardless of whether or not Rush is your cup of tea, they are by far one of the most generous bands on the road these days in terms of their set length, affording fans the opportunity to see and hear a seemingly endless array of material. If only members could get over themselves and lean towards more down to earth arrangements still incorporating their vast skillfulness, then perhaps their music could impact more than just the elitist niche they have catered to throughout their three-decade vaporous trail.
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