Sunday, May 25, 2008

What a Rush! Rockers finally return to Winnipeg

Updated: May 24 at 11:54 PM CDT
By Rob Williams, The Winnipeg Free Press.

Rush made up for some lost time Saturday. It's been 26 years since the veteran Toronto prog-rock trio last visited Winnipeg, but they made sure no one could stay angry at them for their lengthy absence with a three-plus hour show filled with hits, new songs and classic album cuts that offered a little something for the 10,500 (mostly male) hardcore fans who filled the MTS Centre.

The group -- vocalist-bassist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart – were treated to a hero's welcome the moment they walked on stage and launched into Limelight, a 1981 single off Moving Pictures about the highs and lows of fame.

Canada's most famous prog-rock trio hasn't been to Winnipeg in decades, so to make it up to us, Geddy Lee (above) promised to deliver 1,000 songs to the 10,500 fans at MTS Centre. He didn't quite hit that mark, but a no-holds-barred show sent everybody home happy. (Kent Hart / True North Entertainment )

A third of their setlist was culled from their three albums released between 1980 to 1982 (they played five songs off Moving Pictures) when they were becoming worldwide stars; 1982 was also the last time the band was in Winnipeg so it's likely fans at that show heard some of the same material.

The roars for the group started even before they took the stage during an opening video segment featuring Lifeson waking up from a nightmare to find Peart sleeping beside him before a Scottish Lee barked at a different version of himself to get on stage and play.

"It's nice to back tonight after so long. Thank you for forgiving us. We'll repay you in kind with a thousand songs," Lee said to introduce 1987's Missions, which had him switching between bass and keyboard while playing effects with his feet in front of three chicken rotisserie ovens labelled The Henhouse (a man in a chef's outfit and a chicken mascot even came on stage to baste the roasting birds).

Both Lee and Lifeson did double duty playing effects, included background programmed synthesizers, while holding their own on their main instruments. Lee provided the rhythmic thrust, Lifeson stood workmanlike beside him while cranking out imaginative leads and heavy chords while Peart proved his status as one of rock's all-time great drummers with a dynamic performance that at times was a show in itself.

It's not often concert goers look forward to a drum solo, but when Peart's time came for his showcase on his rotating kit two-and-a-half hours into the show it was one of the most anticipated moments of the night and he didn't disappoint with some of his trademark gymnastics that made every other drum solo seem obsolete.

The new album was represented with nine songs. The instrumental The Main Monkey Business featured psychedelic imagery and some monkeys doing the "business" on three video screens behind the band. The video fun continued with Bob and Doug McKenzie introducing the Larger Bowl. The characters from South Park would appear later.

Fittingly for a band of their nature, the show was a spectacle of both sound and sight. The video screens were used for comedy gags and other various images while the spellbinding light show employed strobes, lasers and featured two multi-tiered rigs resembling UFOs that would descend from the rafters occasionally and add an otherworldly element to the visual eye candy.

Following a 20-minute intermission the band played five new songs in a row, which brought the energy level down a notch, but Subdivisions quickly turned things around and kick-started an end-heavy fan-favourites potion of the show with Natural Science, Witch Hunt, the Sprit of Radio, 2112 Overture/The Temples of Syrinx, Tom Sawyer, A Passage to Bangkok and YYZ ending the evening in climatic fashion.

Hopefully we won't have to wait another two decades before they return.

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