Powered by Peart, Rush hasn't slowed a bit

July 22, 2002


'Living in the limelight, the universal dream," Geddy Lee sang before a packed and adoring crowd at the Tweeter Center Saturday night.

The Canadian power trio Rush was back in the limelight for the first time in five years, and its version of the art-rock dream never seemed more enticing than during a thrilling three-hour set that found the group at the peak of its powers.

The show was not without its low points. The "trippy" computer graphics seemed horribly dated (very 1988), and the band's streamlined and tuneless '90s material remains wretched. Fans could easily have lived without the execrable "Roll the Bones" (Rush should never attempt to rap), the meandering "Between the Sun and the Moon" and the lame power ballad "The Pass."

There are only 50 songs we'd rather have heard. (Where was "Circumstances" or "The Trees"?) But these are quibbles.

For the most part, the propulsive energy of the new album "Vapor Trails" spilled into everything the band played, from the opening "Tom Sawyer" through a triumphant reading of the epic "By-Tor and the Snow Dog" during the well-deserved encore.

Finding catharsis in music after suffering the deaths of his wife and daughter, Neil Peart reinforced his standing as one of the most creative and powerful drummers rock has ever produced. The cult of Peart is a devoted one--fans gave a standing ovation before the show when a roadie removed the black sheet that covered his large, gold-plated drum set--but it is justified.

Peart's technical prowess is nothing short of amazing--even non-drum geeks find beauty in watching him move, the same way that one can't help but be impressed by the gait of a thoroughbred--but he never sacrificed the essential rock drive for the sake of flamboyant fills. Even his solo (which ended with a tribute to his hero, Buddy Rich) was all about forward movement, and he remains one of the few drummers in rock worthy of an indulgent spotlight showcase.

In contrast to Peart, who only grows stronger as he ages, Lee seems to have lost some of his famous higher-register vocal yelp (the cry of "Salesmen!" during "The Spirit of Radio" really wasn't there), and it was disconcerting to see him turning to a video monitor for lyrical cues. But his bass playing remained the perfect complement to Peart's drumming, and his singing on "Resist," delivered as an acoustic duet with guitarist Alex Lifeson, was absolutely beautiful.

Lee also won points for a sense of humor. Technology has eliminated the need for a massive stack of bass amps, but the stage would have felt naked without something set up behind him, so he brought along three clothes driers that spun throughout the show.

While Lifeson chose to eschew soloing on "Vapor Trails" in favor of more streamlined riffing, his guitar was in full force onstage. The band's most underrated member, his fluid playing is the missing link between Jimmy Page's heavy-metal crunch and Steve Howe's progressive-rock wizardry, and he shined on tunes such as the instrumental "La Villa Strangiato" and "Dreamline."

Thanks to the ambition of the material, progressive-rock veterans such as Yes and Jethro Tull continue to be exciting live acts, even if they've stopped crafting strong new material. On its last tour before the long break, Rush seemed to be headed in that direction.

On Saturday, the group proved that it is still a vibrant and vital force, a band that is "Driven" (to borrow the title of another of the night's strongest tunes) to continue to break new ground. Long may they revel in the limelight.