Rush has announced that their 2015 tour is likely to be their last, and if their desire is to go out with a bang, then they're doing it. In honor of their stop at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre [thank the gods -- the name has been reverted back from Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre], sixteen thousand fans packed the joint in a sold out show, and while the age of the fans predominantly tipped the scale towards forty and fifty-year-olds, the forty-year-old act put on a spectacular show that made this tour stop one to remember.
Actually, the band was formed in 1968, making the act forty seven years old, but since drummer / lyricist / songwriter Neil Peart joined bassist / singer Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson in 1974, when they released their eponymous first album, it is likely that their first tour together occurred forty years ago. Given that this is a legendary band, which has never since altered its line-up of amazing musicians, too much scrutiny should not be given to this matter. The fact is that they still perform like the incredibly gifted youths that have since inspired many other musicians and pop cultural icons.
In one of the intermission films which buffeted the band's three sets (for a total of three hours of entertainment), a predominance of Rush's fellow Canadian-born entertainers acted out wacky scenarios or demonstrated tribute in other ways. Among these was a custom South Park scene (originally created for the band's 2007 tour), SCTV actor Eugene Levy in the role of a variety show host introducing the band, green screen outtakes of actor Jay Baruchel attempting to recite lines for one of their stage show films, and even actor Jason Segel was in there doing something or another -- Segel played drummer / die hard Neil Peart fan Nick Andopolis in the tragically short-lived television series Freaks and Geeks. These short film programs were a charming complement to the many colorful aspects of the stage show.
The outline and design of the stage show for the R40 tour has been steadfast enough that fans following the tour would basically know what to expect. The setlist was essentially a greatest hits in reverse chronological order. After they opened with "The Anarchist," "Clockwork Angels," and "Headlong Flight" from Clockwork Angels, they wended their way back through their catalog over the first set, until they arrived at "Subdivisions" from their 1982 album Signals. They played their hits in excellent form while the stage design changed around them. Perhaps taking inspiration from the Live Rust tour of fellow Canadian musician Neil Young, caricature crew members removed and altered set pieces to reflect the differences of the eras of the respective tunes. Variations in the effects applied to the live concert stream footage and the nature and degree of pyrotechnics [no pun intended] served to additionally punctuate the backwards in time theme.
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The second set was every Rush fanboy and fangirl's dream. It featured highlights and obscure selections from Moving Pictures ("Tom Sawyer," "Yyz"), Permanent Waves ("The Spirit of Radio," "Natural Science," "Jacob's Ladder"), Hemispheres (part of "Cygnus X-1: Book II"), A Farewell to Kings ("Cygnus X-1," "Closer to the Heart," "Xanadu"), and most of the title song from 2112. For the final set, the band arrived back at their roots, performing songs from their first album. By this point in time, all but a few stage props were left in place. Literally, there were just a couple prop amplifiers left sitting atop what looked like school classroom chairs. Geddy Lee's various keyboards had been removed and the band polished off the show with a terrific performance of their first hit, "Working Man."
The deconstruction did not end there, though. As the mob of fans walked the winding path that stretches from the amphitheatre to the parking lot, they were met with another wind-down of sorts. The concert t-shirts, which were available at official merch kiosks, were priced at the standard high rate of $40, but as the fans progressed along the way, they encountered first one tier of parking lot vendors, who sold the shirts for $18, then another who sold them for $10, and, finally, a woman selling cold water bottles for the low, low price of $2. By this time, the pedestrian fans had already resumed a life consumed by minor irritations revealed by phrases such as: "Dude, where's my car?" However, those audience members who truly respected the artists still glowed with that stoned religious look, and with a cigarette dangling loosely in one hand, one of those folks summoned the remaining energy, after what must have been his greatest orgasmic experience, looked me in the eyes and said, "What did you think of that? I've seen a lot of Rush shows in my day, and....dude!"