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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Review: Rush - White River Amphitheatre - Auburn, WA - 8/7/10

This review is from the White River Amphitheatre show in Auburn, WA, that happened on 8/7/10. It's taken me a while to write this, but here it is.

The short review: This was one of the best Rush shows I've ever attended. The band played at a level I'd never seen before; the stage design was imaginative and fun; the crowd was electric. What more could someone want at a Rush concert. Or any concert?

Pre-show: 5:05 p.m

I stood in the rain outside White River Amphitheatre with my 10-year-old son, Cameron, listening to the sound check. I hadn't heard Rush do a sound check since the Roll the Bones tour in Vancouver, B.C. (Gone are the days when they had jam sessions during sound check. Here's one that Billy Sheehan posted of a jam he had with Alex and Neil [RealPlayer file]).

"Why does it sound so strange?" Cameron asked, referring to the booming sound echoing from the amphitheater.

"Because we're listening to it out here instead of inside," I said.

First, they played "Faithless," from Snakes & Arrows. Then came the title track from Presto, in its entirety. Finally, "The Spirit of Radio," from Permanent Waves, which would be the first song of the night. I heard a little bit of "Subdivisions" keyboard from Signals, and they were done.

Cameron and I gathered my wife Brenda and brother Erik from of the car and headed into the VIP entrance, the rain still beating down on us.

Living in VIP land

The VIP area at White River is a cordoned off section with a bar and free food (this is not the same thing as the VIP Rush package from Live Nation). We'd scored these tickets from Aaron, Erik's old roommate, and the VIP service came with them (thanks Aaron!). For us, this meant lounging around on a leather couch, eating BBQ sandwiches, chips, pretzels, and drinks.

Image: My White River Rush ticket

After an hour, we left the VIP area and headed to the mile-long line in front of the merch tent. Fortunately the rain had abated. I bought a new blue Time Machine shirt, and Cameron got a Moving Pictures shirt.

Time Machine: Set 1

Once we got to our seats, I said hello to all my friends, Steve, Monica, Dave and Keith from B.C., Paul, his son Nich, and Jen. It was nice to catch up, but there's never enough time before a Rush show.

Here's the view from our seats before the show:

The view from my seats

Here's a Photosynth that a friend of mine did from seats very close to ours, where you can see the entire amphitheater before showtime.

The show started with the intro film, which I'd seen on the Internet -- but it was even funnier with the anticipation of the show. And then Rush blasted into "The Spirit of Radio." A wave of energy released from the crowd, more intense than just about any Rush show I'd attended . 

Geddy Lee - Photo by John Arrowsmith

Our seats were dead center in section 103, row two, which had its advantages and disadvantages. First, these were great seats (thanks again, Aaron!) -- some of the best I've had at a show, and they worked well for Cameron, since he only had one row in front of him. However, because we were in front of an aisle, it was a little distracting to see a constant stream of people flowing by.

Alex Lifeson - Photo by John Arrowsmith

As Rush played through their set, which I'd read beforehand but hadn't memorized, I realized how different this show was from the previous years:

  • "Time Stand Still" hadn't been played in 16 years.
  • "Presto" had never been played live.
  • The funky, eclectic instrumental "Leave That Thing Alone" was back after a few tours, and it sounded better than ever. 
  • The opening riff to the new song "BU2B" was heavier than just about anything Rush had written in years, and the background visuals were stunning.

By the time the band got to "Marathon," I started to notice a confidence in Neil's playing that was fresh and exciting -- even a little dangerous.

Neil Peart - photo by John Arrowsmith

As most fans of Neil's know, his style and technique is always changing. When he joined Rush, his playing also had an adventurous quality, like Keith Moon, but more controlled. But as he and Rush developed over the years, his playing became more and more composed and confident. Since studying with Freddy Gruber before 1996's Test for Echo, I've heard a more improvisational style of playing creeping into Neil's performances.

Geddy Lee - Photo by John Arrowsmith

On this particular night, Neil seemed relaxed behind the kit, with new drum patterns emerging where another fill or beat once had been. I knew it wasn't just me: my brother and I kept sharing looks of disbelief. These new elements had the effect of lifting a song's intensity, and I think this is one of the reasons "Marathon" sounded so good.  

Rush ended the first set with "Subdivisions," which felt as smooth and powerful as ever. Geddy made the comment that Rush were "no longer spring chickens" and needed a rest, and it was intermission. I was surprised by how fast the first set had flown by.

Time Machine: Set 2

As the intermission came to an end, you could feel it in the air: the anticipation of hearing Rush's1981 breakthrough album, Moving Pictures. As many fans have pointed out since Rush returned to playing live 2002, they've played every song off Moving Pictures except "The Camera Eye." They've also played most of the songs off Permanent Waves, with the exception of "Jacob's Ladder" and "Different Strings." I was curious and excited to hear the original sequence of the the songs on Moving Pictures. After all, this album was from an era when song sequencing was an art form -- each song building on the last, like the stories in a book of short stories.

After the hilarious intro film, Rush tore through the songs of Moving Pictures as if they were as excited to play them as we were to hear them. They all sounded great, but for me the real gem I was waiting for was "The Camera Eye." I wasn't disappointed. In particular, I enjoyed the visuals, showing scenes of New York and London -- "Grim faced and forbidding, their faces closed tight" vs. "Wide-angled watcher of life's ancient tales."

Once again I noticed how Neil changed fills or beats throughout "The Camera Eye." One of the most interesting was the way he expanded the "double-ride" beat bridging the two parts of the song (he usually goes into a more conventional Rock beat about halfway through). They also cut some of the more repetitive sequences.

In short, the performance of Moving Pictures exceeded my expectations. I wondered if they could play it with this level of intensity every night (I knew I'd soon get a chance in Las Vegas to compare).


The new song "Caravan" also sounded great live, with a jam session in the bridge reminiscent of "Free Will." The visuals on the screen were also jaw dropping -- a perfect backdrop for the music.

Drum Solo

After reading Neil's August, 2010, blog entry, I was curious how he would approach his solo. In his section about traveling: "I: The Art of Improvisation," he wrote:

This tour I have deliberately designed my drum solo to be more improvisational than ever before, and that has led me into some "adventures" that have their analogues to the art of traveling…

My solo is built on three rhythmic foundations, which I think of as "The Steampunk Waltz" (freeform melodies and rhythms in 3/4 time), "The Steampunk Stomp" (polyrhythms in 4/4 with upbeats against downbeats), and "The Steampunk Mambo" (a Latin ostinato, or repeating rhythm--regular readers will recall its root in the Italian word for "obstinate," or "stubborn"). Through a couple of different variations, including the electronic drums at the back, I continue to explore and stretch my limits in all of those frameworks, and all of them converge toward the end--the big-band climax of "Love For Sale."

On this night, the improvisation over the "rhythmic foundations" certainly made the solo a lot more unpredictable -- even though I recognized patterns and melodies. Considering how many years of solos Neil has played, it's impressive that he continues to change and refine it.

Mr. Ray Daniels

One of the interesting things I noticed at the show was how Ray Daniels, Rush's manager, was watching the show -- usually from the handicap section, which was right in front of us. He seemed to know a lot of the people there, shaking hands, hugging people. He also seemed to be patrolling around the front section of the venue.

Erik turned to me and said, "Is Ray Daniels now doing security?" and we both laughed.

This was the second time I'd seen Ray Daniels at the Rush show in Seattle. Perhaps he'd always been there, but I'd never noticed him. 

The Final Act

As Rush continued through their final songs and into the encore, I was once again surprised.

In the final verse of "Closer to the Heart," the band downshifted into 6/8 time (a fast waltz), stretching out the music and the lyrics. Gone was the long jam on three notes with Alex introducing the band.

"2112: Overture" and "Temples of Syrinx," followed by "Far Cry," created a wave of energy that took the band into the Encore. (One "nugget" as Geddy called it during "2112" is worth noting: During the "And the meek shall inherit the earth" bridge between the two songs, as Geddy tried to sing Alex played the wrong notes. Geddy finally exclaimed, "Where is that guy?" When they started playing "Temples," Alex hid behind his amps in mock shame, with Geddy and Neil laughing.)

"La Villa Strangiato" started off as a kind of post-disco Polka. Neil played bells on the midi-marimba during this section, too. I have to say I didn't recognize anything at all until the "La Villa" riff, which finally blasted into the heavy version we're all used to.

For some reason, I never grow tired of "La Villa." All of the different movements, all the amazing musicianship, it truly fits the subtitle of the song, "An Exercise in Self-Indulgence." Only "The Main Monkey Business" from Snakes & Arrows has come close to the same level of self- indulgence, but in a much more compressed way.

"Working Man" with its Reggae opening was a tour-de-force, and Alex Lifeson was particularly brilliant. While I know this song has been played much in the past 8 years, I enjoyed the new arrangement.

And then they were done.

The outro film, I Still Love You, Man, riffed on the move, I Love You Man, starring Paul Rudd and Jason Segel, and I thought it was absolutely hilarious. The two Rush fans sneak backstage into Rush's dressing room, and then Rush arrives after the show. I especially like how Neil gets really mad, with deep sighs, steely-eyed glares.

Also funny was when they call Neil "Mr. Part." Neil says, "It's just Peeert."

"Are you sure?" the two fans ask. "Because we're pretty big fans."

White River blues

Trying to get out of the White River parking lot is an exercise in futility and patience. Unless you leave the show early, it's just a sad reality with this venue. The infrastructure isn't set up for 15-20,000 people trying to leave the parking lot at the same time.

It took us 40 or so minutes to get out of the parking lot, and my brother swore he'd never see a show at that venue again. I don't blame him.

I was home by 1:00 a.m.


The next day I slept in. I mean really slept in. Cameron had tried to wake me up several times because he wanted to play all of Moving Pictures in its entirety on the drums. My wife kept him at bay until 11:00 a.m.

Just to hear Cameron playing along to those songs in his own way was one of the great benefits of seeing that concert. That's Rush and Neil Peart -- inspiring on so many different levels.

And, as Jack Black said in the documentary: Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage, they've still got the "Rocket Sauce."

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posted by AndyO @ 2:45 PM   0 comments