The evergreen Rush returned to Rotterdam's Ahoy on Friday, the venue used for the filming of their last DVD of the
Snakes & Arrows tour.
This was the first time I'd been to Ahoy and I was very impressed.
The arena has undergone renovation recently and I've never seen such nice facilities before: easy access, plentiful parking, lots of nice clean toilets,
many food outlets - all things us forty-somethings appreciate greatly! On a personal level this was a very special occasion,
not only are Rush perhaps my favorite band of all time, but I hadn't seen them live since the Roll the Bones tour back in April '92.
To be on the guest list was quite something, to find myself with a photo pass was, for want of a better word, awesome.
Rush, known as the "biggest cult band in the world", are part of the elite club of global acts that make big money from tours, off-setting the decline in CD sales.
It's quite amazing really that hardly anyone I speak to seems to have heard of them, and yet the show was packed.
On top of this it's gratifying to see that many of the audience were a lot younger than myself (although I'm relieved I wasn't the oldest too!).
There were a lot of teenagers present and many younger children too, some clearly with their parents, all having a great time.
Rush are on a real roll at the moment, they seem to have a real knack for marketing themselves and this was further reinforced by the excellent documentary
Beyond the Lighted Stage.
The house rule for photographers was the infamous "three songs no flash", on top of that we were confined to a small area stage-left.
Not only did that mean very restricted shooting angles (it wasn't possible to see Neil Peart's face at all really),
but also it was quite cramped and intense, meaning that I couldn't pay much attention to the opening songs.
Any nerves were nicely settled though by the pre-show video "The Real History of Rush", really funny stuff - you can see it on YouTube, it's pointless to try and describe it.
These guys have a great sense of humor and they love poking fun at themselves, one of the many reasons they're so popular I think.
After Presto I was very quickly hustled out of the arena, had to put my camera gear in the car and re-entered the arena half-way through Leave That Thing Alone.
I then spent the rest of the first set trying to find my seat - it's quite a maze in the dark and none of the staff seemed to know where it was!
Nevertheless there are many vantage points at Ahoy even without a seat and I was able to enjoy the show -
indeed from right at the back the sound was superb and the light show fantastic.
Good use being made of the projector screen with close-ups of the band, often all three at once.
From a musical point of view Rush seem to be at the top of their game.
They're so relaxed when playing it allows the music to shine, it was one of the best renditions of Freewill I've ever heard.
Very nice as well to hear Marathon from Power Windows, a sadly under-represented album IMO.
Rounding out the set we had Subdivisions, always played, always welcome. This track hits me deep inside, like many fans I imagine.
I was 17 when Signals was released and this one song more than any other I consider 'the soundtrack of my youth'.
I may be an grizzled old man, but my eyes dampen and throat tightens when I hear this track live.
Less convincing is the newer material, Faithless and BU2B.
Nothing wrong with these tracks instrumentally or lyrically, but I find a lot of the new material lacks any decent melody on the vocals.
The show paused for the break with Geddy's typical introspective humor, "Because we're like a thousand years old we need a break".
The intermission allowed me to find my seat at last - quite up-front on the side giving a great view, shame I didn't have my camera at this point.
Stupidly I didn't even have my pocket camera (unlike half of the audience), but at least that meant I could just take in the show.
After the video intro we were of course treated to the whole of the seminal Moving Pictures album which brought the crowd alive.
Tom Sawyer is perhaps a little tired, but the rest of the songs just shone.
Especially to hear Red Barchetta and The Camera Eye live again (I last saw these performed on the New World Tour in 1983) was tremendous.
YYZ is rolled out every show too, but I'm never bored to hear this track and if anything it's perhaps Rush's anthem.
What I did find surprising was that very little use was made of the big screen for showing the band during most of this segment of the show - this was a big shame.
I also started to get the impression that the band were out of time with each other, but I perhaps it was due to the acoustics of where I was sitting,
I think there was an echo from another part of the arena.
The other criticism of the sound I have was that it was way too bass heavy, especially with Geddy's pedals.
Every time he played them the sound went down the drain, the whole arena shook at though it was about to fall to pieces.
Sure they make one hell of a magisterial sound, but it was too much.
A bit the same can be said of the light show - too many lights.
Seems now the old-style lighting is mostly replaced with LED arrays.
This obviously leads to much lighter rigs and the mechanism above the band was dancing about like a deranged spider.
The lights were constantly flickering too, which I found rather distracting, sometimes less is better.
Maybe I'm getting too old, I don't know.
Caravan is another new track from the forthcoming album, Clockwork Angels, and it doesn't do a lot for me, suffering also from a lack of melody.
Well played though, a real riot of sound for a three-piece.
Closer to the Heart got things moving again and had Alex on the 12-string acoustic.
Now very strangely here the video on the screen was out of sync with the music.
Was this a video glitch of a symptom of the acoustics where I was sitting?
It looked like he was miming it was that bad, but I can't imagine Rush would ever do that.
Regardless it was a little unsettling, but all was forgotten as the main song kicked in and as usual they messed with the mid-section, slowing it down to half speed.
Neil's drum solo followed and expecting essentially the same solo that he has been playing for twenty years I was pleased to hear a totally new solo.
This time he incorporated a lot more electronic drums with a long oriental section.
He then launched into his Buddy Rich tribute in sync with a GCI animation on the big screen.
Most drum solos are boring and people tend to head for the bar - not in this case, rapt attention and a standing ovation at the end.
2112, the biggest crowd-pleaser of them all with the mandatory "hoi" punctuating the end of the Overture.
Rush left the stage, returning for the encore without making us wait too long.
We were teased with a Bavarian oompah tune which became La Villa Strangiato and then a slow reggae resolved into a very heavy version of Working Man
- this was very appreciated by the oldies in the audience and rounded up the show.
There was a last video, not to the standard of the first two, but a novel way to finish up before the house lights came on.
So the conclusions? Well a few niggles with the sound and the lighting, and perhaps some of the newer songs don't cut the mustard like the old stuff.
This aside Rush are an amazing band live.
You have to consider that these guys are nearly 60 years old, but they shame many younger bands with their energy and performance.
They put a lot of thought and effort into the show, the videos, the (too many) lights, there were pyrotechnics too - flames and fireworks,
lots of gadgets on the stage (time machines this time - no chickens) and as usual a few characters came on stage (there was a chicken during YYZ).
It really is a spectacle and a lot of fun.
Maybe even more important is the warmth and the humor the band bring with them - they are having fun up there, not just going through the motions.
They clearly love and respect each other deeply and it spreads from the stage.
Finally, not even mentioned at all in this review is the incredible level of musicianship as this is a given.
Many bands play with incredible virtuosity these days, what sets Rush apart is that aside being word-class players on their respective instruments,
they all have such a unique style that sets them apart individually and fuses into the sound of Rush.
Long may they continue.
Intro video: "The Real History of Rush Part 1"
The Spirit of Radio
Time Stand Still
Stick It Out
Workin' Them Angels
Leave That Thing Alone
Intro video: "The Real History of Rush Part 2"
The Camera Eye
The Rhythm Metod (Drum Solo)
Closer to the Heart
2112 Part I: Overture
2112 Part II: The Temples Of Syrinx