Music Review: Rush, even with all its noise, sounds pretty darn good


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Rush played what appeared at first to be a dinner theater show Wednesday at the Post-Gazette Pavilion. The stage was adorned, of all things, with large rotisserie ovens filled with chickens, not unlike those at George Aiken.

How that played into the "Snakes & Arrows" tour isn't clear, but let's just be grateful there weren't live snakes involved.

Which brings us to an obvious pun about how a three-piece band from the '70s -- all on the wrong side of 50 -- managed to get through its set never running afowl of its music or legacy.

Rush just might be the noisiest three musicians in the history of rock. There was a constant churn of metallic echo from Alex Lifeson, who may look a little bloated but is still a nimble guitar hero. Neil Peart, sporting a kit with no less than a half-dozen cymbals, is the world's busiest drummer, and he drove the machine with the ultimate precision.

And then there's Geddy Lee, with his long hair and sneakers, still looking like a teenager from my seat in the second tier (thanks, Live Nation). He provided a rumble on the bottom, some atmospheric keys in the middle and the melodic top, with vocals that have come down only a little from the ether. Make no mistake, Lee can still get up there, and he took those octave leaps to impressive heights on show-stoppers like "Free Will" and "The Trees."

The concert was pretty much an encore of last year's comeback show, with a similar set list, so I won't bore you with every detail. The Canadian band pulled from every phase of its catalog, and it's a tribute to the band's vitality that new songs such as "A Larger Bowl," "Far Cry" and "Armor and Sword" -- speaking of a troubled world -- held up nicely alongside the classics. Same goes for "The Way the Wind Blows," with its Zeppelin-esque blues riff and the two rousing instrumentals.

It was all ecstatically received by a crowd of about 10,000 men in their 30s and 40s, four women and a handful of youngsters who heard about the band either from their dads or Coheed and Cambria. Unlike at the more youth-oriented musical events, the only real danger was getting knocked unconscious by air drumming (the results of my MRI are due later today).

There was a lot of that going on when Peart took his solo -- which was a mind blower. He combined old-fashioned pounding with DJ-style electronics, furious cowbell (if that's possible) and an outrageous big band jazz finale that, with the old-time video clips, was as funny as it was impressive.

(Rush never seemed like a band that had a sense of humor about itself, but between the chickens, the guy in the chicken suit and the homemade videos, things obviously have changed.)

The show and the air-drumming hit its peak on the "2112 Overture/The Temples of Syrinx," which found the band in its truly epic prog-rock glory. It was smashed between a thrilling version of "The Spirit of Radio" and the ominous "Tom Sawyer," lightened by an introduction by the "South Park" characters. Perhaps a few songs could have been trimmed from the three-hour set to get to that peak even faster.

But, hey, this is coming from someone who went to high school with Rush (not literally) and, aside from a few mind-expanding moments with "2112," was never an obsessive air-drumming geek about them. That said, with all the garbage we've been subjected to in the decades since -- emo or nu metal, anyone? -- classic Rush is practically sounding like Beethoven at this point.

Now about those chickens: I'm told that Lee, who runs his bass through the sound system, uses them to balance the stage against Lifeson's amps. The guy in the chicken suit was the bass-ter. Makes perfect sense now, huh?


Scott Mervis can be reached at smervis@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2576.


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