Rush kicked off their latest tour at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, New Hampshire last Friday night. Their latest album, Clockwork Angels, has been getting mostly good reviews, and I spent a lot of time listening to it over the summer in anticipation of this concert. Having bought two tickets in a simultaneous burst of passion and foolishness (though the two do often seem to go together, don’t they?), I was glad to have one of my brothers-in-law named Randy along with me to share the experience. (I actually have three brothers-in-law, but only two of them are named Randy, though maybe we can work on Brian and change that.)
After the Time Machine tour experience in 2010, I went prepared with ear plugs to sensibly limit hearing loss while, hopefully, still enjoying the music. Pulling into Manchester and finding parking (for a hefty price!) across from the arena I threw caution to the winds and left the ear plugs in the car. Inside the arena I was a little surprised at its size, which seemed small, though I guess it seats about as many as the Mohegan Sun Arena, and about half again as many as our local Cumberland County Civic Center.
The show setlist included more from the band’s late 1980s and early 1990s period than I would have thought, passing up a number of their classics. Still, kicking things off with “Subdivisions” was a good choice (I never get tired of seeing Neil play that!), and it was good to hear some of the better cuts from “Power Windows,” “Hold Your Fire,” and “Roll the Bones.” There was enough for everyone to like, I suppose, though some would have them play nothing but “A Farewell to Kings” and “Hemispheres” over and over again. When the band came back from intermission to the “Clockwork Angels” portion of the second set, the guy next to me called out, “Play something I f—ing know!” I felt like saying, “Buy the #@*&! album and listen to it!” But I didn’t.
Having spent so much time listening to the album myself over the summer I was very pleased with the live performance, especially with the addition of a live string section, a Rush first! “The Anarchist,” “Headlong Flight,” and “The Garden” were especially good, I thought. “Wish Them Well” was also done well, but it’s my least favorite song on the album. Still, it was great to hear them play both new and old and hear how their sound has changed but kept its distinctiveness.
The sound quality could have been better, even though the sound level itself seemed to be a little lower than it was at the Time Machine show. It was occasionally hard to hear Alex’s playing, and Geddy’s bass solos didn’t come through well. Even though they’d been rehearsing for a while, it seems there’s still some work that needed to be done at sound check. There were a couple of moments when things didn’t work – some kind of technical difficulty that gave Alex a little time to do some stand up, and a flubbed solo during “Tom Sawyer”.
Throughout the show I could feel the energy of the audience building and see how the guys were feeding off that. With the video on the rear projection screen you could see closeups of them playing and having a good time. Even Neil (the “Professor”), who is well-known for being serious and intently focused on his playing, smiled a few times. Even when Alex lost his way on the solo in “Tom Sawyer” you could see him deflate, then kind of laugh at himself, make eye contact with the crowd and pick it back up. Moments like that (as long as there aren’t too many, now!), as far as I’m concerned anyway, remind us that these performers are human and don’t get it right all the time, either. I’ve heard “Tom Sawyer” hundreds of times and, as spectacular as it is, I don’t need to see Alex play everything absolutely flawlessly to enjoy and treasure the experience of listening to “all this machinery making modern music.”