Rush is a band with balls. I can’t think of another “classic” rock band that’s been around for a comparable time (their first album came out 38 years ago) that would dare rattle off nine songs from a new album, all in one swoop. But that’s just what the Canadian trio did last night in Saint Louis at the Scottrade Center, and have been doing all tour. Oh, and for these songs from Clockwork Angels (as well as a slew of older tunes), the trio were backed by a 9-piece string section. This, despite the fact that Clockwork Angels might be Rush’s hardest rocking album yet.
Of course it helps that Clockwork Angels is an outstanding album. In my opinion, it’s their best, and I’ve been a fan for 35 years. Not many bands that have been around for as long as Rush still put out exciting and relevant music. Bands like Journey or Foreigner must team up with other once big name bands (most seemingly without at least half of the original members) just to fill half an amphitheater, only to churn out all the songs that appear on a greatest hits album. Most of these ghosts of a former glory wouldn’t dare play even one new song, lest they start a rampage to the concession stands. (Okay, Journey and Foreigner never put out exciting and relevant music…What about Yes and Jethro Tull?) Last night Rush tore into their new material at full throttle. All of it was great, from a sublime “Clockwork Angels,” torrid takes on “The Carnies” and “Wish Them Well,” and a dead-on “The Garden,” possibly the most emotionally evocative song they’ve ever recorded.
But Rush doesn’t just challenge audiences with new material. As they’ve been doing for the last few tours, they dug deep into their catalog, especially in the first set. After the opening three hits, they rattled off 3 cuts from 1985’s Power Windows. I can’t say that “Grand Designs” and “Middletown Dreams” rank among my favorites, but they were a pleasant surprise. More welcome was “Territories.” Other first set highlights: “The Analog Kid,” which contained Lifeson’s best solo of the night, and “Where’s My Thing?” an instrumental from Roll the Bones. Missing this night were radio-friendly tunes like “Limelight,” “Closer to the Heart,” “Working Man,” and “The Trees.”
This tour continues the shift Rush began with on the Test for Echo tour in 1996. We are now treated to two sets and over two and half hours of music. When I first started listening to Rush in the late 70s their concerts could be painfully predictable. What you got on the current tour was essentially cuts from the new album grafted onto an abridged version of the previous tour. Only rarely would older songs they hadn’t played in a while appear, and more often than not you only got a minute or two of them as a part of some awful medley. And on this tour Rush has been using essentially two different setlists, swapping up to five or six songs. They’ve done this before, but usually with only one or two songs.
My only complaint about last night’s show? The sound mix wasn’t always up to par. Lifeson’s guitar was often louder than Lee’s bass. I think the string section was used to great effect, especially on “Clockwork Angels,” “The Garden” and “YYZ,” but oftentimes the sound man could’ve turn them up a notch. But one must live with this for an arena show. I only hope the boys add a domestic amphitheater run to their European run next year. If so, my wife and I will be there!
Complete set list:
The Big Money
The Analog Kid
Where’s My Thing? (with 1st Peart solo)
Headlong Flight (with 2nd Peart solo)
Halo Effect (with Lifeson solo intro)
Wish Them Well
Dreamline (with 3rd Peart solo)
Red Sector A
The Spirit of Radio
The Temples of Syrinx
The Grand Finale