- At Molson Canadian Amphitheatre
- In Toronto on Tuesday
Beyond the Lighted Stage, this year's feature documentary on the Canadian progressive rock trio Rush, takes its name from the opening line of the band's thoughtful song from 1981, Limelight, which posited that "Living on a lighted stage/ approaches the unreal." Unreal is an adjective to describe the unlikely durability of Rush's 40-year career as well as its sharp, muscular performance Tuesday at a full Molson Amphitheatre.
Excellent, funny video vignettes and a handsome stage design played to the theme suggested by the group's current Time Machine Tour; this was a show for the ages, in more ways than one. Rush has outgrown its charming awkwardness, but has managed to keep its clan of outsider fans while recently gaining a wider approval - perhaps by outlasting its critics - that it never outwardly cultivated.
The words to Limelight, performed early in the second set (after Tom Sawyer, Red Barchetta and YYZ), were written by Neil Peart, the lyricist-drummer who sat in the middle of a kit so extensive that it seemed like a personal solar system. The lyrics - written during (and in reaction to) the height of the band's international popularity - clearly capture Peart's difficulty in dealing with the demands of fame. The members of Rush, Peart in particular, were stars of rock, but never wished to be rock stars.
Those of us of a certain generation felt younger at the sound of Peart's tinkling cowbell and Alex Lifeson's opening guitar riff - a simple ascending succession of firmly struck notes, followed by short chords. The familiar groove kicks in, and suddenly we're golden teenagers, remembering the good times even as a yelping Geddy Lee begins to sing lines about being uncomfortably cast as idols and being "ill-equipped to act with sufficient tact" toward the sometimes intrusive fans who unnerved the reticent Peart. He's the guy behind the massive drum set - "one must put up barriers, to keep oneself intact."
The chorus, about the popular desire to live in the rock 'n' roll spotlight, is dreamier to start, before rising and then quickly falling back into the main riff. The second verse is Peart's blunt no-trespassing sign to his fans: "I can't pretend a stranger is a long-awaited friend."
Musically, Limelight is Rush at its catchiest, yet still fairly quintessential, what with Peart's drum fills, Lee's bass-popping and Lifeson's time-standing-still solo that begins with wide, yawning notes and whammy bars, before moving up to top-of-the-guitar-neck screaming.
The final verse is more universal: The summation is that we are all merely poor players on a stage - "performers and portrayers, each another's audience." It's that kind of Shakespearian humanity that endears Rush to its ever-loyal fandom. The limelight, it can shine both ways.
Rush plays the Quebec City Summer Festival on Thursday, and Toronto's Air Canada Centre Saturday.
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Hits: In a splendid, two-set, career-spanning concert on the band's current Time Machine Tour, the hometown Rush was dialled into the show-starting Spirit of Radio, the Soundgarden-heavy Stick it Out, the new, rugged and philosophic BU2B (Brought Up To Believe), the well-received Freewill and Tom Sawyer, the Led Zeppelinish sing-along Closer to the Heart, and the triumphant encore which had singer Geddy Lee concluding "They call me the working man/ I guess that's what I am." He guessed right.
Misses: Lee, whose high voice could pierce armour, was in strikingly fine form except for The Temples of Syrinx, from the 1976 rock opus 2112, where he came up flatter than Saskatchewan.
Audience: 16,000 men and boys, and Linda, who showed up way too early for the big Lilith concert scheduled later this month.
More hits: The self-parodying video vignettes, with Lee, drummer Neal Peart and guitarist Alex Lifeson comically playing multiple roles, were smartly conceived, cheekily written - full marks for the "moving pitchers" pun - and surprisingly well-performed.
More misses: A note to the many air-drummers in the crowd: Stop doing that, because you look like dorky, arrhythmic chimpanzees.
Overheard: Not a thing. The instrumental YYZ was so loud that even Pearson International complained about a noise level that drowned out everything except the applause.
In a few words: Progressive rock marked by intense virtuosity, laser-focused energy and good nature, performed by three men with a single-minded command of their instruments.