All the World's a Stage
But it's more than just that. It's life and music and clips of monkeys running around. It's a rock concert!
The commuter rail rolls away, and finally, I have a chance to rest. But I don't. Instead, I panic even more.
"We missed our stop!" I yell to my companions. We take another look at the commuter rail map and realize I had the map upside down. Right after our realization, the conductor calls out, "Mansfield!"
After hopping off the train, we catch a local taxi where another Rush fan joins in on the ride. I try to spark a conversation with him, but all I get is an annoyed grunt.
Rush has been rocking together for over three decades and have recorded a span of 25 studio albums. Gaining recognition for exciting, passionate, and powerful performances, Rush made their name as a live music act in the mid 70s. Thus, I came to the show with high expectations. Yet, I also had my doubts. In the mid 80s, Rush began incorporating highly developed light shows, animations, and pyrotechnics. I feared that these stage tactics would simply come off as gimmicks and would detract from the musical experience of the concert, and I'd end up focusing on big screen iTunes visualizer-type graphics, multi-colored flashing bulbs, and fireballs.
We walk into the venue and we are greeted by legions of fans. There are the families of five, each member wearing a Rush Starman logo t-shirt. There's the motorcycle crew, who share Neil Peart's passion for biking. There's also the middle aged frowning devotee who's been to every single tour since 1974 but hasn't enjoyed one since 1981. There are also lots and lots of men. If you want to pick up girls, don't go to a Rush concert.
A Bud Light costs $8
Maybe the strikingly high beer price is correlated to the gigantic size of the Tweeter Center. With a seating capacity of 14,000, the trio from Canada manages to pack it to capacity.
The best part about concerts really is the entire experience. The fans, the smell of beer and cigarettes, the smell of other substances, the sticky floors, the ripping noise of your feet lifting off that sticky ground, and of course the music.
Peart personally chooses the pre-show music from his own collection. I am quite surprised to hear his picks, not because the artists are obscure and challenging, but because I actually know and love the music. Led Zeppelin. Genesis. The Mars Volta. I feel I've connected with the emotionally impenetrable drummer.
The concert starts off with an intro video based off the theme of "Snakes and Arrows" from their latest album. It is pretty pointless, but at least you know the band is about to come on. The boys arrive on time and in style.
I jump out of my seat when I hear the huge riff from "Limelight." Alex Lifeson struts out onto the stage playing what he considers to be the only "ultimate riff" he's ever written. Peart comes in with his stunning fills. Geddy Lee's bass punches through, precise and powerful.
My initial excitement fades when I realize I can't really hear Lifeson. The mix is completely off. The bass weighed down the amphitheater. Lifeson's guitar has neither volume nor girth, unlike his normal sound, which is powerful, bursting, and enormous.
And, on this night, it is really hot in Massachusetts. The accumulation of sweat on the back of my neck could bathe the whole band and their roadies. So I can't hear the band and I am sweaty. This concert is not going well.
Of course, I am happy to see one of my favorite bands playing, but the truth is this first set is passing by shabbily. I'm hot. The visuals are distracting, as I predicted, and where's the energy I was promised? Maybe its there, but I am just too distracted by the heat and lack of guitar in the mix to really bring my attention to the show.
Midway through the first set, the guys break out the classic "Freewill," and I'm hopping again. The mix finally sounds good with a loud guitar and thunderous bass. Lerxst really shines with his guitar solo in Freewill. He thrashes furiously and lets his harmonics soar.
Finally immersed in the music, I now enjoy the different templates revolving throughout the concert: the band, the lights, the videos. The "The Main Monkey Business," the first song played from their latest album, shakes the stage with its complex yet authoritative bass line and Peart's blistering fills. Clips of monkeys running around conclude the song. This time the video adds humor instead of distraction. Previously, during "Mission," the poorly animated visualizer effects made me laugh as well, but at them and not with them.
The band lowers "Circumstances," a track from their classic album Hemispheres, a wholestep down, but Geddy's voice cannot reach the range it used to. Maybe for some, this is a good thing.
The set concludes with "Dreamline." Lasers discharge from all angles of the stage and remind me that it's actually dark now! "Dreamline," a song about the adventurous nature of youth, comes off with sparkling energy and returned enthusiasm from the crowd screaming, "We are young!"
Invisible Airwaves Crackle with Life
"Far Cry," the first single of their new album, kicks off the second set with a bang. Literally. Explosions from stage left, center and right burst into burning waves. The amphitheater is illuminated. Lightning crashes on the big screen, and the song is heavy. Distorted guitar, big bass, lots of cymbals. YES! This is what I call a rock show.
They continue with more new material. The songs sound surprisingly fresh and energetic. Truly able to change to the times, Rush proves again that they can take risks and develop their music, and while certain stylistic patterns may remain, the vitality of the new material really shines.
After an array of new material, "Subdivisions," a staple song of their keyboard/synth era permeates through the Tweeter Center. The driving bass, the trotting hi-hat, and the great interaction between the band and the audience bring the venue to life and the concert, for me, is no longer just about the music, but has truly become about the people I'm sharing this moment with. I kiss my girlfriend and smile at my friend Kyle.
Ah! The Drum Solo! I believe Neil Peart has 8 arms. The drum solo entertains and enthralls the audience. I have seen many a drum solo go on for too long or just be plain boring, but Peart incorporates samples, MIDI marimbas, and playing which kept me on my toes and dancing instead of in my seat and pensive. Peart teaches me that a solo is not all about flash but about being intriguing, entertaining, and testing the limits of one's instrument.
This deep into the concert, my concerns of gimmicks have dissipated. The videos, the lights (which were stunning), and the band are part of it all. If you're tired of looking at the band, watch the videos. If the videos bore you, lose yourself in the lights.
I now know what Peart meant in "The Spirit of the Radio" when he says "invisible airwaves / crackle with life / bright antennae bristle / with the energy." During this part of the song, so many hands rise from the darkness and clap in unison. I swear sparks circuit between our hands and to the band's instruments. We are making live music.
Gritty and Great
And of course, they conclude the set with Tom Sawyer. It is gritty and great. Plus, it includes a hilarious South Park intro.
The three song encore concludes the show. I leave stunned and wanting more. I also want to play "YYZ" on Guitar Hero. Seeing Rush has truly changed my relationship with the band. I previously knew them as myths of my mind, musical giants, but when my heroes took the stage and had a good time, they became human. I leave feeling connected with the band musically and personally.
Leaving is a bit difficult, as most transportation has been these past few days. The last train from Mansfield has already departed, so we take a taxi to another town where we hail down a train. Yes. Hail down a train.